Thirty years ago, three young Catholic adults were looking for a place where they could belong. Their search and open hearts led to the establishment of a group now known as C.A.B., Catholic Adults of Brooklyn.
The group has a committee of 21 people and about 700 members who pray and play together. They host dances, organize picnics, go to ball games, attend retreats and volunteer together, among many other activities. They care for each other and welcome all with open arms, including those who are not official members of the Catholic Church.
Father Michael Tedone, parochial vicar at St. Bernard parish, Mill Basin, which is one of the host parishes of C.A.B., said the group embodies what evangelization should be. A parish, he explained, is a community of communities, and C.A.B. is one of the strongest communities at St. Bernard.
“All those things that C.A.B. is doing is a way to help people know that they are welcome in the Catholic Church,” Father Tedone said.
The group originally started when Mary Ann De Luca from Our Lady of Grace, Gravesend; Joanne Sechiano from St. Thomas Aquinas, Flatlands; and Michael Somma from St. Bernard, decided to join forces.
De Luca and Sechiano both said they reluctantly accepted the leadership position at their parish’s young adult group for what they thought would be a short period of time. Each woman was new to her group and wasn’t sure if she was the best candidate for the job, but each liked the sense of community their groups provided and decided that they would do what was necessary to help.
Somma met the two women when he was visiting the neighboring young adult groups to see what it would take to start one at his parish.
Soon the three young leaders agreed that it didn’t make sense to host competing groups. Their first joint venture was a Mardi Gras dance in 1989. It was held in the St. Bernard Gym, and almost 100 people came.
The group, initially named C.Y.A.C. for Catholic Young Adult Committee, really took off after that. Each parish held a meeting once a month on a different night to give people options. Somma soon started organizing trips. He also hosted meetings at his house to discuss Mass readings and the Gospel, much as he does now as a leader in the “Arise Together” adult faith-formation program. He said the transition to a parish group was natural thanks to the campus ministry he belonged to in college and graduate school.
Part of the appeal of the young adult group for many participants was the possibility of a romantic relationship, explained Sechiano. The idea was always to create close bonds, and many marriages have followed. In fact, Somma married Sechiano’s sister, Kathy. She also became very involved in ministry and in C.A.B, and currently puts together the organization’s newsletter, which ran 35 pages in the last quarterly issue. In that edition, Kathy explained one of the group’s most popular events.
“We call it Italian Night at the Races, because Michael makes his famous Sicilian tomato sauce, with 400 meatballs,” she wrote.
Marriage is not the only sacrament the group inspired. Sechiano said one of her fondest memories was when one member, Linda Urlich, asked Sechiano to accompany her to RCIA classes. Sechiano said she learned much at the classes herself and was truly moved during the Easter Vigil when Urlich received her sacraments.
De Luca said the group helped her faith. Although she was always a practicing Catholic, she didn’t really pray the rosary, for example. Sechiano said she also learned a lot about her faith from informal discussions and from the witness of her fellow C.A.B. members.
When De Luca was a young adult, she said was not that connected with her parish. When she first joined her original parish group and was taking care of her ailing mother, she would drive with her mother to the area parishes on Sundays. Then Sister Jane, who was the spiritual director of the parish, explained to her that it was not good for her to deny herself real roots. At the nun’s advice, De Luca started volunteering at the parish during and outside of Mass. Now, she, like many members of the group, are also active volunteers at the parish.
De Luca said this was a surprising development for her.
“I was the kid who never raised my hand in school,” she said.