Fosters faith and connection among young families

CEDAR LAKE – Imagine this. A fussy infant cries in the pew two seats ahead; the parent bounces and sways, shushing and patting the baby’s back, offering a pacifier and soft toy, trying anything to soothe the newborn child, until finally stepping out of Mass and leaving others present undisturbed. The parent believes they are showing compassion and caring.
For one young Catholic couple, that scene portrays the initial anxiety they felt in attending church after having their first daughter.
“I was nervous for us to go to Mass because of what people might think if the baby was crying,” said Rachel McNamer, parishioner at Holy Name of Jesus. “Now I know that people don’t really care.”  
She and her husband, Jeremy, who have two girls, Noelle and Audrey, and are due with a third child in July, shared that they’re quite comfortable going to weekly Mass and raising their children in the Catholic faith, and they are involved in parish life. 
“We like to be able to meet other families and recognize faces at Mass. It’s just fun to be able to know people and make friends,” Rachel McNamer mentioned. “Helps with the kids, too.”
The McNamers gathered with other young families of Holy Name of Jesus in Sacred Heart Hall for a Parent Social on Feb. 18.  The kick-off event, which welcomed seasoned and expecting parents alike, grew from an expressed need – one that may also “bridge the gap” in young adult ministry and faith formation.
“The need came about when many of our active young adult couples became first-time parents,” said Matt Kresich, director of young Catholics at the parish. “They were looking for a place of community in this new stage of life…Our group looks to be a place where parents can share their challenges and grow together in faith.”
Kresich explained that some of the resonant challenges voiced by young parents centered on aspects of connection and involvement, i.e. balancing schedules, connecting with couple's in similar life situations, wanting to be involved in ministries without leaving infants at home, and finding places to have conversations of faith.
“The local parish can be a place where a diverse set of people can gather in community.  It can be a place where those struggling adjusting to parental life can find support. It can be a place of hope, which is so much needed,” Kresich continued. With the new group at Holy Name, the hope is that parents with young families will “feel more connected to the parish as a whole,” and thus "‘keep’ young people in Church.”
“Each one of us plays a vital role in making a parish warm and welcoming,” Kresich added.  “If you feel like you belong, it is much harder to leave.”
Kresich’s wife, Carissa, who helped set up for the parent social, chimed in as well. “Fostering a welcoming community and supporting young parents is about meeting them where they’re at,” she said.
Being intentional and gaining insight from many young parents of the parish informed the framework of this new young adult ministry.
“The basic approach is to make young families feel as welcome as possible – they are the future of our Church,” said Father Patrick Gawrylewski, O.F.M., administrator of Holy Name of Jesus.  “Beginning a group of families who get together and share faith, talk about experiences of being parents and learn from each other, I am very happy with this.”
Several of the young parents who attended the parent social spoke of the sense of community they experience. Many were married at Holy Name of Jesus and have had their children baptized in the parish.
Karla Romo, of Wheatfield, was thrilled to have found the parish again and become part of the “homey” community with her family. She and her husband, Francisco, have a 15-month-old daughter, Sophia, and are expecting again.
“Everyone knows Sophia by name, and we’ve been able to share the news and excitement of our pregnancy with others,” Romo said.  “It’s a very welcoming feeling.”
For parishioners Nina and Al Recupito, coming together with other young parents fulfills the need to connect. “We like getting to know the parents and have our kids grow up together,” said Nina Recupito, mother of one-and-a-half-year-old son Zander, and four-month-old daughter Carmela.
Angela and Paul Rodriguez of Cedar Lake, who have been active in the parish since 2016, shared similar sentiments.
“This was a good transition for us from the young adults group to young parents,” said Paul Rodriguez.  “It was helpful for getting the little ones involved and socializing – and for us, too. It was a way to continue to be involved in something.”
“We are excited to be part of something again,” agreed Angela Rodriguez, explaining that previously they had been involved on the parish council and the finance committee. “Getting together after church like this, it’s like it was during our childhoods, and something we want to share with our daughter.” The Rodriguez’s have a six-month-old, named Sylvia.
Next time a child fusses in church, consider offering the parents an understanding smile – a way to encourage and praise their efforts to attend Sunday Mass, to be involved in parish life, and to raise their families together in faith.
For more information on this new ministry or to share ideas on how to incorporate support for parents and young families in parish life, contact Matt Kresich at


Caption: Father Patrick Gawrylewski, O.F.M., administrator of Holy Name of Jesus, engages with parents of young families at a Parent Social held after Sunday Mass on Feb. 18. (Angela Hughes photo)