May 3, 2024

Volleyball league serves up a winning set for young adults to soar in friendship and faith

IndyCatholic volleyball league offers a winning combination of community, faith and friendship for young adults, including the teammates of “The Yellow Swarm”: Allison Hildebrand, left, Kurtis Wagner, Derek Sanders, Kevin Bedel, Mary Kate Thatcher and Michael Frausto. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

IndyCatholic volleyball league offers a winning combination of community, faith and friendship for young adults, including the teammates of “The Yellow Swarm”: Allison Hildebrand, left, Kurtis Wagner, Derek Sanders, Kevin Bedel, Mary Kate Thatcher and Michael Frausto. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

We all want that feeling of home—a place where we are welcomed, where we feel we belong.

For Norm, it was the Cheers bar.

For Dorothy, Kansas.

Maybe you find it in your family’s actual home, or in the smile of a friend, or in the arms of a loved one.

On a cold night of sleet and rain in early April, 26-year-old Kevin Bedel entered a place that has provided a sense of home for him.

He walked into the brightly-lit gym of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis, smiling as he anticipated the connection of friendship, community and faith that has unfolded nearly every Wednesday night this spring for him and another 159 young adult Catholics who participate in the IndyCatholic volleyball league.

And while Bedel’s involvement in the league gives him a setting where he feels he belongs, it also reflects an even more significant homecoming for him—his return to his Catholic faith.

“I was part of a Protestant group for a while, and I found there was something missing from their worship,” says the red-headed, bearded Bedel. “You’d go to church, and it was very feel-goody. But something was missing.

“And what was missing was the body and blood of Jesus Christ. The Catholic reverence and our celebration of the Eucharist is what I was missing—the real, true presence of Jesus Christ. It hit me at a Good Friday service at St. Monica two years ago. Getting to adore the cross, it was like, ‘Yep, this is home. This is where I grew up. I was away, but now I’m home.’ ”

His participation in the volleyball league has enhanced that connection.

‘I was so welcomed by everyone’

Growing up in Holy Family Parish in Oldenburg, Bedel went to the University of Alabama for college. After graduating in 2021, he moved to Indianapolis. Even though he is outgoing by nature, he initially didn’t make the connections he longed to have.

“For the first year I lived in Indianapolis, I was actually kind of lonely,” he says as he talks near the entrance to the gym. “I was really struggling to make friends.”

The reconnection to his faith became a bridge to increased friendships for Bedel, a member of St. Christopher Parish in Indianapolis.

“I said, ‘Well, if I’m going to pursue my faith, I need to be involved in the community.’ And coincidentally, it worked out to get into volleyball. I found out about it through a friend at St. John the Evangelist Parish downtown. He said you should sign up for volleyball.

“I had a lot of fun and made a lot of really good connections. You know by nature of everyone being Catholic that they all have the same values and that they generally have the same morals. You know it’s a good group of people before you even step foot into the building. After being around the community only a few times last year, I was so welcomed by everyone.”

That’s the essence of what the IndyCatholic volleyball league is striving to accomplish: Giving young adult Catholics a place where they can have fun, make connections and grow in their faith.

To make those goals available to people of different athletic abilities, the league features 12 teams in a competitive division and eight in a recreational division.

“One of the beautiful things about the league is that it has a lot of opportunities for people to get involved with it,” says Emily Mastronicola, event and volunteer coordinator for the archdiocese’s Young Adult & College Campus Ministry.

“If you’re a really athletic person or you like sports, there’s a spot for you in the competitive league. If you just want to be social and meet some people and make new friends and you really don’t care about the score, the recreation league is perfect for you. There are also opportunities for people to volunteer as scorekeepers or work in the concession stand. You can meet people and still feel part of the community.”

The volleyball league also provides another opportunity for outreach.

‘It’s made such a difference in my faith’

“It’s really easy to invite fallen-away friends or people who aren’t even Catholic to come and just play sports,” says Mastronicola, who coordinates the league. “It’s an opportunity to build relationship, and then from relationship, you can have those deeper conversations with people as you get to know them.”

With an emphasis on deepening personal relationships that hopefully will lead people to a deeper relationship with God, Mastronicola has made two major changes to the league this year, starting with moving its location from a community sports complex to the St. Luke gym.

“We wanted to go back to a parish-school gym model because it’s really close to the sacraments,” she says. “St. Luke has a 5:30 p.m. Mass, so if you have a 7 or 7:30 game, you can go to Mass with your team before the game. Or if you had a really rough game, you can go to the 24-hour adoration chapel on the way home and say hello to Jesus. We really want to give people the opportunity to not just play sports, but also to connect with the sacraments.”

The other emphasis involves coaching the team captains. They lead prayers with their team before the game. Opposing teams also come together in prayer after their match. And team captains are encouraged to go deeper in the bonds they have with their teammates.

“When you have a league as big as ours, it’s easy for people to get missed or fall through the cracks,” Mastronicola says. “So, this season we really wanted to invest in our captains. We always encourage them that you are your team’s shepherd, that you can walk with them during volleyball season but also outside of volleyball as well. We encourage teams to go out and get dinner together, to hang out a couple of times outside of a scheduled game.”

At 28, Lauren Coleman loves the impact that the league and the young adult Catholic community overall have had on her life.

“It’s just been so amazing,” says Coleman, a physician’s assistant and a member of St. Joan of Arc Parish in Indianapolis. “This is a huge time of formation for anyone that’s graduated from college or is trying to figure out what you want to be involved in, and how you want to spend your time, and who you want to spend it with outside of work.

“And these are just such amazing people—so driven, friendly and kind. And everyone is on fire for God. That’s something that’s just hard to find. There’s clearly a lot of people who have worked really hard to get this community going. It’s really awesome.”

She’s also seen the impact the community has made on her faith.

“I can name so many people who have been examples to me, have become my friends and have challenged me to go outside of the box and do things I wouldn’t have done—going on retreats, lectures, adoration and socials. It’s made such a difference in my faith. It’s made it stronger year by year.”

‘You feel like you belong’

That community connection is not only important to young adults, it’s crucial, says 32-year-old Dan Nield as he stands at one end of a volleyball court after his game.

“I feel that people of my age are struggling with community, with mental health,” says Nield, a husband, a father and a member of St. Joan of Arc Parish. “I feel that this is one unique community that you can go to, and you feel like you belong and you have a purpose.

“This league is different from other leagues I’ve played in, where people just come for the game and leave right away. People will come here, play, stay and hang out. I finished my game a half hour ago, and I’m still here. Last week, I was here all night, just chatting with people. I love the fact that there are 150 people over the course of the night, and you eventually know about three-quarters of them. After getting to know them, you can call most of them your friends.”

Kelly O’Brien flashes a smile as she recalls the start of her involvement in the young adult Catholic community after graduating from Purdue University in 2021.

“I was trying to figure out more ways to meet more people,” says 25-year-old O’Brien, a nurse and a member of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis. “I realized I don’t have school anymore. I found IndyCatholic on social media. I decided to go to the volleyball league for the first time. I met a bunch of people and really enjoyed it. I’m a scorekeeper this year.

“It’s really nice being able to meet people who are in the Catholic faith, because in the regular world you don’t always meet people from that view. It’s nice to have a place where you can meet people who think like you and make good friends.”

Kevin Bedel knows the difference that being invited into the young adult Catholic community has made to his life and his faith. Now, he extends an invitation to other young adults.

“Once you start meeting people, it’s like, ‘Come to my small group, come to church with me; hey, we’re having a Super Bowl party at my house.’ The community is always looking to absorb new people in. It’s very easy to find your group of people once you get involved.”

(For young adults wanting to learn more about the young adult Catholic community in the archdiocese, visit

Local site Links: