Up Front and Personal

Where Can a Young Adult Find the Church?

by Stefanie Gutierrez

My husband Manny and I have no family in New York. We moved here from Florida as recent college graduates, with Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” rolling around in our heads. I look back on our first months here as both providential and full of what I endearingly call “Godsequences.”
The first few years here were lonely and the culture shift was difficult. I was adjusting to marriage and to being a new mom. I found myself running home to Ohio any chance that I had – long weekends, holidays – the nine-hour drive didn’t scare me even if it meant only being able to stay for a day or two.
My life was turned upside down in 2008. In July, our daughter Anna was born. She was beautiful, with ten fingers and ten toes. She was the perfect daughter. We had a few short months with her before she became very ill. And to make a long story short, after endless consultations with doctors, she was diagnosed with Rett Syndrome in February 2010.
Though I had been a New Yorker for almost four years, I felt completely isolated and alone. Manny and I grappled with the diagnosis and the aftermath, and looking back, it was the darkest period of our lives. It was a stress upon our marriage and we were not only concerned for Anna, but for her big brother Gabriel who was 4 ½ years old seeing Mom and Dad spending all of their time with doctors and therapists trying to help his sister.
Every night, we would talk about our options. Our families were concerned. Do we move back to Ohio? Do we move back to Florida? Is there work for us in Miami, Orlando, Columbus, Pittsburgh? Job searches in geographical sites that would put us within an hour or two of our families proved fruitless, considering the economy at the time, and our professions.
For many reasons, we decided to stick it out. The best doctors were here. At Mass, I was grateful for the people who took the time to welcome us. Your simple hellos helped to lighten the burden of overwhelming loneliness, which dissipated with the comfort of unity and communion. As transplants into the New York community, it was you who took us in with the only common fabric between us being our faith. In the end, it’s the only one we needed.
At a recent meeting about the diocesan Year of Faith, which begins in October, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio wanted to ensure that the young adults – ages 23-35 – now living in Brooklyn and Queens were included in special planning.  What are we doing for young adults who move from Kansas, Michigan and Missouri?  It is imperative that those – often from strong Catholic families – moving into Brooklyn and Queens in order to make their way in the Big Apple find a place in the Catholic Church and in their neighborhood parish.
I am 29. I work for the Church.  And the truth of the matter is, I felt spiritually isolated. If that is the case for me, I can’t imagine how it is for those whose only contact with the Church is on a Sunday morning if they even get up to go to Mass.
How can we reach out to my peers, who are ages 23-35? Is it purely the responsibility of the Church or does some of it lie with them? One of the reasons people like New York is the anonymity. And yet, in some sense, this is precisely what is hurting us.
I speak from my own experience. It is only now – with my sixth anniversary as a New Yorker approaching in June – that I refer to New York as home. Just last month, I finally switched my license and car registration. It was a bit of a personal victory. Frank Sinatra was right. If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. But is it possible being part of the Church enriches the journey? I know so.
Stefanie Gutierrez is the press secretary for the Diocese of Brooklyn. She is co-hosting a discussion with other New York transplants on how they can better reach the Church and how the Church can better reach them as the Year of Faith’s opening approaches. It takes place on Thursday, May 31, at 7:30 p.m. at St. Joseph’s Rectory, 856 Pacific St., Brooklyn. If you’ve moved to New York from somewhere else in the United States, RSVP to 718-517-3112.