Relationships are the most effective evangelization tool in Fr. Patrick McConnell’s ministry.
“Programming is good, but only as good as the relationship you develop,” he said. “You have to do that by entering into their world.”
Ordained in 2012, Fr. McConnell serves as associate pastor at St. Patrick, Hudson. There, he endeavors to evangelize the young by going beyond church walls.
“I myself … have seen a major increase in our youth’s involvement when we personally invite them,” he explained. “These young people come when we invest in a personal relationship. This requires us being outside of the church rubbing shoulders with them. Going to local ‘joints’ where they might be. Being visible and approachable, especially by wearing a collar.”
He summarizes his strategy: “Inviting, inviting, inviting.”
He’s also learned the importance of leading by example.
“The more I and other … people live out their faith in an attractive way, the more young people will want to share in it,” he added.
Before they can reach others, adults in ministry must be “living lives that are worth living, no matter who it is, or what ministry you do,” Fr. McConnell said. For him, being approachable means going out of his way.
“I do most of my college ministry going to places where they work,” he said.
College kids, he commented, “are so vagrant.” Some come home for summer, but it’s hard to find work in small towns, so many don’t. Those who do make it back to Hudson are working, and the priest might stop by their workplaces, often on weekends, and invite them out for a pint or food.
Around a table is also where he meets younger students. About once a week, the priest eats lunch at the public school, which “has brought about many powerful encounters.”
Young adults have different needs, according to Fr. McConnell.
“Those people are looking for more established relationships,” he said.
College kids seek a positive environment, but married and single adults who are just starting out in their careers “are looking for a more established community.”
They’re also “seeking something deeper than human relationships,” he explained. “They are seeking Christ.” And, he added, “If Christ is the root of the relationship, it will necessarily grow into a relationship.”
He does his best to reach out, but Fr. McConnell still believes that, by far, the greatest evangelization tool for young adults is having parents who love their faith.
“If our parents are living holy and lives that are in Christ, that’ll do great things for them as well,” he said.