The gift of single Catholics

After giving a homily on vocations, Father Jeffrey Kirby, vicar of vocations for the Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina, was approached by a member of the congregation. The woman was grateful for Father Kirby’s inspiration but was disappointed by one thing. “Father, you missed my vocation,” she told him. She was single.

Father Kirby took the woman’s words to heart and made certain never to omit the single vocation again in one of his talks. In fact, he began using the phrase “single for the Lord” in his reference to single Catholics, and that term has caught on and spread to other dioceses.

“There are men and women (who are) called to a particular mission in the single state,” he said. “They answer the universal call to holiness just as much as the other states of life. It’s a misconception that if there are no vows, there’s no vocation.”

Transient and permanent

Although being a single Catholic is nothing new to the Church, Father Kirby points out that the rise of the ecclesial movements in the years since the Second Vatican Council has in turn given rise to a greater presence of Catholics who make a promise to Christ to remain single and serve the Church in that capacity.

“When we talk about single Catholics, we must distinguish between transient and permanent single Catholics,” Father Kirby said. “Transient single Catholics are those who are single because they are still searching for their spouse or are discerning the religious life or ordination. Permanent single Catholics are those who are single by choice, and this can include those of same-sex attraction living chastely.”

Although distinguishing between transient and permanent singles is helpful, Emily Burds, director of youth and young adult ministries at the Basilica of St. Josephat in Milwaukee, cautions against labeling or pigeonholing them into stereotypes. “I think it’s very important to recognize that we are all human beings, living, loving and journeying through this life together, regardless of the vocation we’ve chosen,” she said. “Those who are Catholic and single are immensely valuable. What’s beautiful is that a person who is single can bring their discernment, their seeking, their longings into the Church.”

Valuable members

While their state of life often allows them more time and energy to contribute to parish life, their availability and experience offer much more. Single Catholics are a rich resource for leadership, ideas and community building. Their work experience and interests give them expertise in areas that are valuable to the entire parish.

“They may have a specialty or craft that they are an expert at that can be of benefit to the parish or diocese,” said Jennifer Brown, coordinator of evangelization and discipleship for Immaculate Heart of Mary parish in Lansing, Michigan. “That can be anything from being a lawyer to woodworking or speaking on topics of faith or training others in public speaking.”

Additionally, Brown cites Catholic singles’ contagious excitement for the Faith as an asset. “Their energy and excitement for the Faith, especially if they are on the younger side, is valuable. They want to grow, and they want to love what the Church loves and they want to learn how to bring it to others!”

Single Catholics have many gifts for the Church, but one capacity in which they excel is building community.

Pete Burak, director of the young adult ministry “i.d.9:16,” which stands for Intentional Disciples (1 Corinthians) 9:16, sees this on a daily basis. The missionary communities of i.d.9:16 are a blend of both single and married Catholics.

“The singles provide the life to our events,” Burak said. “They offer a continual challenge to those of us who are married to reach outside of our homes, to have some fun from time to time, and to be more social. They stretch us to reach out in a God-willed, holy way.”

Feeling overlooked

In spite of their value, single Catholics can feel overlooked in their parishes.

“The focus for singles seems to be on religious vocations, and if that isn’t a possibility, there seems to be little else (of) use for us,” said Katrina Ebersole, a real estate leasing agent from Charlotte, North Carolina. “There are single groups, but they are targeted toward younger, college-aged kids who are vocation-picking. For the older singles, there’s nothing. Everyone assumes we’re married or divorced, which, in that case, we are (treated as) contagious.”

Melissa Guerrero, a novelist from Los Angeles, feels similarly. “I think it’s wonderful that the Church shows us the beauty of vocations such as religious life and marriage, but not all of us fall into either of those categories all the time,” she said. “There are some people who will become consecrated singles and some who have discerned their vocations and feel called to marriage but have yet to meet their future spouse. For this group of people, which I fall into, I feel like there’s not much done to help us continually grow in our spiritual lives. I would even venture to say that we’re amongst one of the most unintentionally neglected groups.”

Because of this, singles can be hesitant to reach out to others in the parish.

“We can often think the solution is making singles feel more welcome when they come, but the main issue is going out to them and inviting them to come,” said Washington, D.C.-based Legionaire Father Matthew Schneider. “The Church needs to go out to singles instead of waiting for them to come to the Church. I think that the way that parishes can make singles who do come feel welcome is by welcoming them. This goes beyond saying ‘hello’ at the front door to actually inviting them to take part and having something for them to do — either with other singles or with other parishioners.”

‘Take action’

Part of the reason singles might feel left out is that, for centuries, the Church’s focus has been on families, according to Dave Cervini, president and founder of New York Social Network, which organizes events for singles in New York City.

“Today there are more single people in the Church because people are waiting longer to get married or have been divorced,” he said. “Naturally, they may feel like an outsider because they feel like mostly families or couples are doing things with the Church’s already established programs.”

Cervini pointed out that single Catholics who feel isolated should search for parishes that have established programs for singles or are open to starting something themselves.

“The biggest way that a single person can serve the Church is to find ways to bring together other Catholic singles who feel the way they do so that in years to come the singles community will be just as established as the culture that already exists,” he said.

Mary Rose Verret, director of marriage and family life for St. Joseph Parish in Cecilia, Louisiana, is married with three children. But she remembers what it was like to be a Catholic single looking for the best way to serve the Church.

“God gave me so many amazing opportunities to serve him in others while I was single,” she said.

“Too often I was focused on the future, overlooking the needs of the people around me. The times I felt most fulfilled as a single person were the times that I forgot about myself, my plans, my future, my needs, my dreams, and placed myself at the service of others.”

Single Catholics who do feel overlooked should be bold and approach their pastor about their needs. This alerts the pastor to the fact that they don’t feel valued so the parish can look harder at how to correct the situation.

Father Kirby cites the example of the single woman who approached him after his homily on vocations.

“Step up,” said Father Kirby. “Be bold and take action. Be vocal. Tell your pastor, ‘This is what we need as single Catholics,’ and then offer your help to make that happen.”

Marge Fenelon writes from Wisconsin.

Ways to Live Your Faith
In preparation for the Jubilee Year 2000, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops published “Nine ways to Live Your Faith as a Single Person,” which gives practical advice for those looking to use their time and talent to live out their vocation as a single Catholic. Here is an excerpt: