July 20, 2012

New director strives to stoke fire of faith in college students and young adults

Matt Faley gives a talk to Catholic high school students during the archdiocesan A Promise to Keep: God’s Gift of Human Sexuality peer mentor luncheon on April 23 at the Archbishop O’Meara Catholic Center in Indianapolis. Faley was appointed the archdiocese’s director of young adult and college campus ministry on July 1. (File photo by Mary Ann Garber)

Matt Faley gives a talk to Catholic high school students during the archdiocesan A Promise to Keep: God’s Gift of Human Sexuality peer mentor luncheon on April 23 at the Archbishop O’Meara Catholic Center in Indianapolis. Faley was appointed the archdiocese’s director of young adult and college campus ministry on July 1. (File photo by Mary Ann Garber) Click for a larger version.

By John Shaughnessy

Matt Faley knows what it’s like to be a college student who sometimes feels lost, trying to make sense of where he’s headed and what he should do with his life.

He also understands when young adults reach the point where nearly everything in life can be a challenge—jobs not working out, relationships breaking apart and faith being tested or falling away.

And he also appreciates the struggles that young people in the 18- to 35-year-old age group endure as they try to figure out their place in the world, their relationships with others and their connection with God.

“With my own journey and my own struggles, I’ve experienced what these college students and young adults are experiencing,” says the 29-year Faley, who was appointed the archdiocese’s director of young adult and college campus ministry on July 1.

“I also know that God is calling me to an authentic, joyful life. And that’s what young adults are looking for. The Lord put a fire in my heart to be in the trenches with my peers.”

Faley’s fire has been stoked in the past two years by serving as coordinator of young adult ministry in the archdiocese under the direction of Father Rick Nagel. As the previous director of young adult and college campus ministry, Father Nagel now serves as the chaplain.

Katie Sahm joined the team on July 16 as coordinator of young adult ministry.

“Matt is so passionate about his relationship with Christ,” says Father Nagel, who is also the administrator of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis and the Catholic campus minister of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. “I’m struck by his authenticity in his faith and his desire to bring his peers on board. He also seeks holiness in his life. It’s evident in his actions and his journey.”

Faley’s journey began with an uncertainty about his faith and his future that many young people understand.

‘Looking for God’s purpose in my life’

When he recalls his college years, Faley says, “I was involved with my faith, but I kept it at arm’s length.” After graduating from the University of Illinois in 2005, Faley considered pursuing a graduate degree, but instead did a year of service that involved teaching in St. Louis and volunteering in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina left a trail of destruction and devastation there.

“After that year of service, I was really looking for God’s purpose in my life,” he says. “Jobs weren’t coming through. Everything fell apart. I had a moment of surrender where I told God, ‘Do with me what you want.’ I kept taking steps, and he kept telling me to come.”

His journey led him to the University of Illinois at Chicago as a missionary for the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), a national outreach program with the goal of forming Catholic communities on college campuses so students can live their faith and develop their relationship with Christ.

“It was two of the greatest years of my life, and two of the most humbling years of my life,” Faley says. “Every day, I began by spending an hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament. I always knew there was a need for young adults to live their life in a courageous way. But I didn’t really become on fire until I spent those two years on a college campus.”

The need to spread that fire of faith on college campuses is crucial, Faley says, because “statistics show that 85 percent of college students—from the time they were freshmen through their senior year—fall away from their faith.”

It’s why the archdiocese has placed an increasing emphasis on creating connections with students on college campuses in central and southern Indiana, Faley says. And it’s all part of the realization that nurturing and developing the faith of college students and young adults is such an important ministry for the archdiocese and the Church.

“It’s answering the universal call to holiness in a very real way,” Faley notes. “Young adults and college students can flounder about and feel lost—that they don’t have a place in the Church. And the opposite is true. Parishes and the Church not only need young people for the future, we need them now. We need holy young adults, people who are striving to that universal call to holiness.”

From his own journey, Faley knows that development takes time, even years, so he sees one of his ministry’s main goals as reaching out to “fallen away Catholics and to souls who are lost.”

“We have a responsibility in our office to plan our events accordingly,” he says. “Events like Theology on Tap are an open invitation to those who feel curious or lost to see that the Church is relevant in all areas of their life.”

Making the connections

Faley has a gift for that kind of outreach, according to his friends.

“At events, he’s always searching for people he hasn’t seen before to reach out to them,” says Scott Williams, 25, a youth minister at St. Jude Parish in Indianapolis who also is a part of Faley’s Bible study group. “A lot of times when people come to these events, they’re not comfortable. They come by themselves. If you don’t feel welcomed, you won’t come back. He looks for these people, and connects them with other young people.”

Those efforts to connect young people reflect Faley’s overall desire to live his faith in all parts of life, Williams says.

“I went out to lunch with Matt one day, and he was 15, 20 minutes late,” Williams recalls. “I asked him about it, and he said he was talking outside to someone who was homeless. At the end of our meal, Matt got a to-go order of a cheeseburger, fries and a drink that he took to the homeless man.”

Asked about that moment, Faley views it as another step in the direction of who he wants to become as a follower of Christ.

“In my personal journey, something I’ve been focusing on a lot is responsibility,” he says. “Saying yes to live a life in Christ means we’re called to be all things to all people. We’re called to be Christ to all people, not just young people. It’s something I’ve been praying about a lot. I’m a firm believer that Christ gives us a lot of opportunities every day to be followers of Christ. It’s not just a job. It’s an opportunity.”
 

(For more information about the archdiocese’s ministry for college students and young adults, log on to www.indycatholic.org.)

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