August 14, 2020

New director of young adult ministry wants to share the gift she found

Madison Cipoletti (Submitted photo by Emily Mastronicola)

Madison Cipoletti (Submitted photo by Emily Mastronicola)

By John Shaughnessy

As the new director of Young Adult and College Campus Ministry for the archdiocese, Madison Cipoletti has a natural connection—and an uplifting personal story to share—with the people she is trying to lead to a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.

At 29, she’s right in the middle of the 18- to 39-year-old age group that the ministry wants to reach.

She’s also experienced life and her faith as a college student, a single young adult and a newlywed, with the added perspective of moving 10 times in 10 years while living in three different cities.

“The 18-to-39 age group has the most transitional and transient life changes that anyone ever makes,” she says. “One of our main missions is to bring the truth, beauty and goodness of the Church into the world in an accessible way because so many young people are not coming to church.

“I want young adults to find a community and a family that they want to have in their life. They have their unique gifts that God has given them to build up the Church and the kingdom. So not only are we missing out on a generation of young people, the Church so dearly needs their gifts. The only way that is going to happen is if people come to know the Lord and see the Church as a loving father who wants nothing but your good.”

Cipoletti has found that path toward Christ and the Church in her own life, starting when she was a student at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind.

“When I was in college, I had missionaries on my campus who formed a relationship with me and were hanging out with me throwing a Frisbee or drinking a beer on a Friday night, but they were also attending daily Mass and praying a holy hour every day. They had an intense and deep love for Jesus. And that relationship impacted everything in their life. They just had more joy than I had ever witnessed.”

After graduating, she wanted to share that joy and love for Christ so she joined the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) and became a college missionary herself—spending two years each at the University of Illinois in Champagne and DePauw University in Greencastle. Still, the biggest impact on her faith came when she traveled to Poland in 2016 for World Youth Day, an event that drew millions of young Catholics from across the globe.

“That was huge for me,” she recalls. “The biggest takeaway for me was that the saints were human. I love St. John Paul II, and I got to walk in his footsteps and walk in the footsteps of St. Faustina and St. Maximillian Kolbe.

“I went to John Paul’s hometown and saw the apartment where he was born and grew up. I remember just having this moment where I saw his bed and I thought, ‘It’s just like the bed I sleep in, and those plates look like the same kind I eat off of.’ I realized, ‘Wow, I have the same ability to become a saint and be holy as John Paul and St. Faustina.’ ”

A year later, she joined the archdiocese’s Young Adult and College Campus Ministry as its associate director, working with director Matt Faley and Rebecca Kovert, event and volunteer coordinator. And when Faley was named director of the Secretariat for Pastoral Ministries for the archdiocese earlier this year, he recommended that Cipoletti take over the leadership of the young adult ministry.

“She has a great way of being able to build relationships, not only with young adults—she’s really gifted at that—but she also has experience working with priests and parish staffs,” Faley says. “We just had a good working relationship. And she became a good confidante in ministry for me. She’s a great fit.”

She officially became director on March 1, never thinking that everything was about to change.

“I just didn’t know two weeks later a global pandemic would strike and the world would shut down,” she says with a laugh.

Many of the young adult events and programs in the past few years have focused on using social situations to draw people to the Catholic faith, including a hugely popular intramural program and a Theology on Tap series that involves speakers, social time, and food and drink.

In fact, it was at one of those large events that her future husband, Alex, introduced himself to her—an introduction that led to their marriage on Nov. 23, 2019, at Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Indianapolis.

“We have hundreds of young adults who participated in our intramural leagues, and we’ve outgrown every bar in Indianapolis for Theology on Tap, and we’re outgrowing our retreat facility,” Cipoletti says. “These events bring in a lot of people on the fringes—the disengaged or the non-practicing. When the world was shutting down, I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, what do we do?’ ”

That’s when she made one of her first and most impactful major decisions—changing the focus to build on the small, faith groups the ministry has also strived to develop in recent years.

“I’ve felt like I have to trust that God is going to care for those people who may have been reached through our large-group efforts,” she says. “Since we can’t do that right now, let’s use this time to connect with the people who may be willing to take a deeper step in their faith and their spiritual leadership. Having some kind of leadership institute or something that people could journey through—to learn about different virtues and prayers and truly how to be a missionary disciple.”

The seeds of that approach began to bloom in the small groups that continued to meet during the pandemic.

“I know numerous small groups that met every single week throughout the entire quarantine,” she says. “I led a group myself, and everyone was there every week for two months. And it was really special to journey with them through that, to process everything that was going on through a spiritual lens.

“It was a gut check that it’s not about programming, it’s not about events. This ministry is about relationships and helping people grow closer to Christ. The bigger events are needed to draw in new people, and community is a very big part of being Christian. But this was a case of the rubber hitting the road, that you can’t always do what you’ve done. I’m seeing this now as an opportunity to not only have our ministry get bigger, but to go deeper.”

At the same time, she will continue to lead the effort to connect with young adults through social media.

“I heard a talk one time where evangelization was being referenced and the question was raised, ‘What’s the next continent that needs to be evangelized?’ And they said that the continent that needs to be evangelized right now is the digital continent. I really believe that.

“We get a lot of comments that our website is cool. So many young people move to Indy. It’s one of the youngest cities in the nation. If they’re interested, they’ll Google ‘Catholic’ and ‘young adult’ and they’ll find us. Or they’ll find us on Facebook. It’s always affirming. That is a necessary part of our ministry.”

For Cipoletti, everything—the large events, the small groups, the social media connections, her own life story—all lead to one point.

“I have had my entire life changed by coming to know Jesus—not as this far-off, distant man that I just pray to when I need things, but as a very close friend and my creator who wants to know me and bless me.

“I’d love that for everyone.”
 

(For more information about the archdiocese’s Young Adult and College Campus Ministry, visit www.indycatholic.org.) †

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