By RENEE WEBB
Last fall the Sunday evening Mass in Sioux City was moved to Mater Dei Parish – Immaculate Conception Church in part due to its location near the campuses of Morningside College and Western Iowa Tech Community College.
Sometimes referred to as “last chance Mass,” for years it was offered at Cathedral of the Epiphany on Sundays at 5 p.m. and then was moved for a brief time to St. Joseph Church. With the move to Immaculate Conception Church, the time was also changed to 7 p.m. to make it more accessible for the college students on that side of town.
“It’s good to be able to serve the college students – to give them the opportunity to attend Mass when they are coming back from a busy weekend,” noted Father Dan Rupp, pastor at Mater Dei.
He explained this Sunday evening liturgy is technically not a parish Mass. It’s a city-wide Mass and for that reason various priests from Sioux City preside at the liturgy including Father Brad Pelzel, Father Shane Deman and Father Andrew Galles.
Mary Sam Hacker, youth minister at Mater Dei, explained after Immaculate Conception began to host the Mass, they opted to use that as a springboard to young adult ministry, serving as a Newman Center of sorts.
“We are trying to help them feel welcome in the parish and let them know that this is their parish away from home – get them involved in more activities and have them know we are here,” the youth minister said. “We want them to keep going to Mass wherever they are.”
After the Mass was moved to the parish last fall, they hosted a dinner for young adults. Hacker said there was an excellent turnout, with even some non-Catholics attending because they wanted to meet other good Christian people their age. The gatherings were opportunities for youth to connect with one another as well as speak with priests and deacons who often attended.
Father Rupp has seen value in allowing the young adults to come together to talk “and giving us a chance to listen. It’s all about relationships.”
Mary Lehr, director of faith formation at Mater Dei, said they are still trying to ask questions of the young adults to find the right formula for the ministry.
“As we begin this new year, we are going to talk more with the students to find out what their needs are,” she said. “Then, whatever their needs are, we want to be able to serve that need. It is a building process.”
In September, they plan to start up the young adult gatherings the second Sunday of the month before the 7 p.m. Mass. Typically they will meet at 5 p.m. and often will include a meal in a young adult gathering space at Immaculate Conception. They do plan to hold a couple of the meetings off-campus at a local restaurant as suggested by young adults.
Mater Dei also plans to alert the young adults of other parish activities they may wish to attend. For instance, the Pit and The Priest will be held Aug. 12 at 8 p.m. at Immaculate Conception. Young adults are invited to join Father Shane Deman around a firepit for a Q&A session.
The parish has also initiated an Adopt a College Student Program, Hacker noted, whereby families from the parish could attend church with a college student, possibly have an occasional meal with them and serve as a family away from home. These families have taken part in the VIRTUS safe environment training.
As a new school year approaches, the catechetical leaders at Mater Dei are hopeful to get the word out that they do want to reach out to college students. Hacker noted last year they were able to attend some welcoming activities at WITCC and hand out parish packets with devotionals, prayer cards, staff contact information and more. They hope to grow even more connections this year.
Lehr said she sees value in college students having the opportunity to get together with other people of faith.
“I have children that age, so I know what they are up against when they head out of their home,” the faith formation director said. “It can be a difficult journey. What I hear from some of the kids is that it is nice to come into an environment where they can share their faith and feel comfortable doing it because they can’t always do that in the college environment.”
In a day and age when teenage depression rates have risen and people are looking for ways to find happiness, Father Rupp said, “We know Jesus is the answer.”
While the diocese moved the Mass to Mater Dei for the college students, the Mass is open to everyone. It generally draws about 125 to 150, including many travelers during the summer.
“The doors of this church and both churches in Mater Dei Parish are open to anyone,” said Hacker.
With questions about the Pit & The Priest or to let her know that you or your college-age child are attending school in Sioux City, contact Hacker at firstname.lastname@example.org.