July 31, 2012
Rolling Out the Welcome Mat
Some of the most important moments in life happen when a person least expects them. Two years ago, Andrew Giles visited the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, where he met Marianist brothers and priests. Later this year, he’ll enter the Marianists’ formation program for men interested in joining the order.
Each March, 40,000 Catholics attend the L.A. Congress for liturgical celebrations, networking, workshops and talks given by leading Catholic educators, writers and activists. It’s easy to get lost in a crowd that large, but Andrew says he felt at home after meeting the Marianists. “What drew me to the Marianists is their booth,” Giles said. “It’s an inviting place, a place to take a load off and have a real conversation.”
To meet young people interested in religious life like Andrew, Marianist Brothers Dennis Schmitz and Jim Wisecaver began staffing a booth at the L.A. Congress over a decade ago. They wondered how their booth could stand out in a way that would reflect the Marianist mission and values.
“Someone said to me, ‘Hey, you guys are known for hospitality. Bring your living room furniture,’” Brother Jim recalls.
This year, the Marianist booth featured four chairs, a coffee table, a television and even a small electric fireplace. The unique setting does not go unnoticed by Congress attendees. “This is a cozy, welcoming place,” said Judas Ochoa, a young man in his early 20s. Like dozens of other young men and women at the Congress, Judas filled out a contact card so the Marianists could stay in touch. Giles says this approach was unique.
“They were the only order that took my contact information and reached out to me,” Giles said, adding that other orders asked him to make the contact.
Seeking something more
The Marianist Sisters also attend the Congress to meet young women interested in religious life. “Folks who come to the Congress are already followers of Christ,” Sister Gretchen Trautman, FMI, says, “but they are seeking something more. They are people we like to meet.”
Brother Tom Wendorf, national vocation director for the Marianists, wants to pique the interest of young men looking into religious life. “We try to give them a taste of life as a brother,” says Brother Tom. “We invite them to come and see.”
Marianist Brother Brian Halderman called the Congress a unique experience. “Rarely do we have a chance to gather with other Catholics and celebrate our faith,” he says. “That’s what draws young people here.”
The comfortable feeling Giles experienced the first time he met the Marianists two years ago has not faded. “I still haven’t seen anything that pushes me away,” Giles says. “I finally said to myself, ‘If you don’t see any reason to say no, why not just say yes and see where it goes?’”
An except from the Summer 2012 edition of Alive Magazine. Story by Michael Bittner