First Place Award for General Excellence, Catholic Press Association, 2013-2016

Ignite Young Adults of Dutchess County on Fire With Faith, Fellowship
By ROSEMARY O. FERNANDEZ
Nate Whitchurch
Introductions break the ice at a gathering of Ignite Young Adults at Mount Alvernia Retreat Center in Wappingers Falls.

It’s a safe bet many people in their 20s and 30s spend a chunk of their free time getting drinks and socializing with friends. The members of Ignite Young Adults are no exception—but for them a Holy Hour comes before happy hour and a theological discussion precedes the trip to the bar.

The group consists of roughly 40 Catholics, aged 18 to 35, from various areas in the Hudson Valley. They meet twice monthly at Mount Alvernia Retreat Center in Wappingers Falls, which is run by Franciscan Friars of Immaculate Conception Province—for Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, a group discussion about the Catholic faith, and general camaraderie.

Begun back in 2010, Ignite first formed when young Catholics in the upper counties gathered for Eucharistic Adoration at Catholic Underground: North, then held at St. Columba’s parish in Hopewell Junction, which made some long for increased fellowship and faith formation.

“A lot of us wanted something more and wanted to delve deeper in our faith,” said Kerry Conboy, Ignite’s coordinator.

A stalwart group of 12 (“Which is kind of a cool number,” Ms. Conboy said, referring to the 12 Apostles) “core” members decided to form Ignite and fill this need. This group met frequently with Auxiliary Bishop Dominick J. Lagonegro, episcopal vicar of the northern vicariates, for spiritual guidance. With him, they created their mission statement: to follow Christ the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

“To do that we make sure we have prayer, formation, discussion, fellowship, and service in everything we do,” Ms. Conboy said.

Bishop Lagonegro said, “The great thing about the Ignite group is that they formed themselves. It is an outlet for them to share their faith. Those who are involved have really grown spiritually.”

The core team still assembles at the bishop’s Newburgh residence for guidance. There, they determine which spiritual topics they will discuss with the larger group at the regular Mount Alvernia meetings.

At these large group gatherings, following Adoration, a priest, religious, or learned layperson gives a talk on some aspect of the Catholic faith—anything from statements made by the Holy Father to specific questions raised by Ignite participants.

“We like to do a balance of contemporary issues and more deeper theological, ancient truths,” Ms. Conboy said. “A great topic is chastity and modesty. We talk about how we can live by the teachings of the Church, how we can live out purity in our culture.”

Father Thomas Garone, O.F.M., serves as Ignite’s moderator at Mount Alvernia. “(The discussions) are always on very Catholic topics, which engenders a spirit within the members so they can go out and minister to others about their faith,” he said.

Participants spread the faith to other young people by providing presentations and organizing retreats at local colleges, high schools, and parishes.

“So many young adults don’t go to Mass or have formal formation, so when they hear about what the Church teaches it’s kind of hard to wrap their heads around. But when they meet someone who’s actually living it, it’s a totally different story,” Ms. Conboy explained.

Ignite is also instrumental in putting on Catholic Underground: North, which is now held at Mount St. Mary College in Newburgh. Open to the general public, the monthly prayer night consists of a Holy Hour followed by a coffee house style performance by modern Catholic artists.

“It’s one of our biggest ministries,” she said. “It illuminates the truths of Catholicism through the lens of contemporary culture.”

Group members also spend a great deal of time volunteering. They have assisted Habitat for Humanity in building a house in Poughkeepsie; organized a Christmas toy drive in Ulster County with Catholic Charities; done painting and landscaping labor for the Friars at Mount Alvernia; and frequently given their time to soup kitchens across the Hudson Valley.

“All this service is a really effective way to live out the Christ the Life aspect [of our mission],” Ms. Conboy said.

But by far the best part for many members is the friendships Ignite fosters. “It’s so nice being with a group of like-minded people,” says member Kathleen Enkler, who attends St. Martin de Porres parish in Poughkeepsie. “You’re not encountering resistance, negativity, or even snide comments about something that is so central to who you are.”

“When people find Ignite, they’ve been starving for fellowship,” Ms. Conboy said. “It’s enlightening when people who are part of the mainstream culture connect with us and say, ‘Wow, here are these vibrant, normal people who just want to live their faith.’”

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