It’s just a normal Thursday evening. A group of friends gather to hang out, grab a bite to eat, and chat. It’s what they’re chatting about that makes them different. One week it’s developing a personal relationship with Jesus. The next, how to discern a vocation to religious life or the priesthood.
They are Ignite Young Adults, a group of Hudson Valley Catholics aged 18-35 who meet at Mount Alvernia Retreat Center in Wappingers Falls. “We want to ignite the love of God in people’s hearts,” says Kerry Conboy, the group’s coordinator. Their network has close to 400 members, though only about 40 attend regular meetings, as many are away at college.
A typical meeting begins with the attendees trooping into a chapel where chairs and cushions face a small wooden case. When they see it, they genuflect, for it contains the Blessed Sacrament, what Catholics believe is the true presence of Jesus Christ contained in the appearance of bread. Voices raise a Latin hymn, beginning a half-hour prayer service known as Adoration. Next, someone breaks out a guitar. All heads are bowed. A few of the devout close their eyes and move their lips in silent prayer. A priest reads from Scripture, followed by a reflection. A second Latin song concludes and all leave the chapel — genuflecting on their way out.
The evening then turns to theological discussion. On these occasions, a priest, nun, or scholar talks about literally anything related to Catholicism — from the role of the Virgin Mary to the church’s views on chastity. “That’s a great topic, especially with this age group,” says Conboy. Often there is time for small conversations about the material, which Conboy says members find most helpful. “It’s not a matter of just absorbing the information, but also reflecting on it. That’s what’s great about Ignite: It gives people the tools to live out their faith and apply it to life,” she says.
The evening ends with a group prayer and then a mass exodus to find food, usually at the Dutchess Diner, Umberto’s, or Double O Grill. “That fellowship is really important because you connect with other people who are thirsting for relationships grounded in something deeper,” says Conboy. Ignite also organizes community service projects, like building a Habitat for Humanity house in Poughkeepsie, organizing a toy drive in Ulster County, and volunteering at local soup kitchens.
“There’s something for everyone, whether you’re really into your faith or not so much,” Conboy says. “It’s okay to take away what you can, if it’s just the friendships or the prayer time. Ignite is whatever you need it to be.”