John Jensen used to take trips with friends but now that they’re all married, he sometimes travels alone, making weekend trips to New York City from his home in Timonium, Maryland.
For single Catholics such as Jensen, who is in his 30s, planning a vacation involves the added variable of figuring out who to travel with. Solo travel is on the rise among Americans, but for some Catholics, including Jensen, creating and finding a place in faith communities with other singles can open doors for sharing life and taking vacations.
From joining parish groups to going on singles’ mission trips to attending an annual national singles conference, single Catholics are coming together for spiritual growth, fellowship and to offer their unique gifts to the entire Church.
Along with Jensen, single Catholics in their 40s and 50s talked about vacationing and finding community.
“Love is really one of our greatest callings out there, even if we as Catholic singles are not ever able to love just one individual — a spouse maybe — like many of our friends,” Jensen said. “There are many different ways of loving God, ourselves and others that point back to the same Spirit and God who loves us.”
In his 1988 exhortation Christifideles Laici, Pope St. John Paul II affirmed these differences. He wrote that the states of life “are different yet complementary, in the sense that each of them has a basic and unmistakable character which sets each apart, while at the same time each of them is seen in relation to the other and placed at each other’s service.”
Catholics who aren’t married make up a significant segment of the Church. Of the estimated 72 million U.S. Catholics, 40 percent surveyed were never married, or were separated, divorced or widowed, according to 2014 Pew Research surveys. That compares to 35 percent in 2007.
Being single in the Catholic Church can be challenging, Jensen said, citing his parish’s reluctance to support a single adult group. Mark Pennington of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, said while he sometimes feels out of place at church events because he’s not married, he believes singles need to take initiative to create solutions. Pennington fosters singles community by organizing parties and other events.
“I think the first step to finding community as a single person is to really ask God to be joyful and to find that joyful community,” he said.
Pennington travels with family, friends or alone, including visiting other singles he meets at the National Catholic Singles Conference (see sidebar) held this year June 8-10 near Minneapolis.
The Church doesn’t plan for singles, so they have to plan for themselves, said Paige Taylor, of Portland, Oregon, who has organized parish study faith formation gatherings centered on Pope St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body for Catholics in all states of life at several parishes.
|Coming Up: National Catholic Singles Conference
Catholic singles can grow in faith with others who share their state in life at the National Catholic Singles Conference, June 8-10 near Minneapolis.
Hundreds of singles of all ages and backgrounds will come together for talks by Catholic speakers — including Mary Beth Bonacci and Deacon Ralph Poyo — as well as prayer, Masses with local bishops, socializing, dancing, dining and fun, all inspired by the Theology of the Body, Pope St. John Paul II’s teaching on the human person.
Attendees can turn the weekend into a vacation by coming early and staying later after the conference. They can choose from excursions highlighting art and architecture, including to museums and churches in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, such as the Cathedral of St. Paul.
When the conference ends, single Catholics can go on a Wisconsin mini-pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse or to the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help near Green Bay. Outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy boating on Lake Minnetonka or a river cruise down the St. Croix River, among other options.
Taylor also has helped create community with other singles within her broader Catholic community. What started as a potluck gathering to watch Theology of the Body talks 13 years ago has grown into a Catholic study group of friends who now socialize and vacation together.
The group of as many 10 single friends has traveled around the country together, including caravanning to one of the NCSC conferences. Taylor, who is self-employed, said if it weren’t for these trips she probably wouldn’t take vacations.
“What’s great about this community of singles is that the friendships foster intimacy in faith, in chaste brother and sister relationships,” Taylor said. “The purpose of marriage is to help one another get to heaven, help one another be better people. This closeness [as singles] creates opportunities for growth, but in a group of friends.”
Value of conferences
Luke Bauman of Delano, Minnesota, seldom takes vacations because of work and because of the challenge of lining up time off with friends. “I have friends all over the country but that doesn’t mean our schedules sync up.”
Bauman said he’s developed close friendships at the NCSC, which many singles attend for the fellowship and prayerful experience, he said.
“These conferences are almost as much a retreat as they are anything else,” Bauman said. “The confession lines are always long. That tells me that peoples’ hearts, their lives, are being touched by what’s going on there — the talks, the fellowship, the Mass and the adoration.”
When Jennifer Valenzuela of San Diego travels, she goes on an annual mission trip to a Mexican orphanage with other singles, or she visits friends. She also attends the NCSC and appreciates the chance to extend the weekend into a vacation by attending sightseeing events before and after the conference.
Besides taking solo trips, Jensen said NCSC conferences have helped him grow in faith. “It’s helped me continue the relationship I have with God — not like, ‘why are you not giving me a partner or spouse?’ — but ‘God, where are these opportunities lying for me, where are you leading me?’”
Whether serving or vacationing, single Catholics find meaning and support in community.
Taylor noted the providence running through it all: “You build this sense of community and it’s with holy, Catholic, chaste people looking to give — and it stumbles into vacationing together.”
Susan Klemond writes from Minnesota.