Why is Catholic dating so hard? Find answers at the NEC

3 mins read
A couple holds hands as they cycle in Cambridge, Mass., June 15, 2017. The Catholic Project, an initiative of The Catholic University of America in Washington, will host a panel on Catholic dating on July 19, 2024, at the National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis called "Catholic Dating: Why Is It So Hard?" (OSV News photo/Brian Snyder, Reuters)

(OSV News) — The Catholic Project, an initiative of The Catholic University of America, will host a panel on Catholic dating July 19 at the National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis.

The event — titled “Catholic Dating: Why Is It So Hard?” — seeks to fill a “gap in the programming (at the Congress) … for young professionals,” said Stephen P. White, executive director of The Catholic Project.

Addressing isolation among young adult Catholics

“There’s plenty of programming for families. There’s programming for young people. But we thought, ‘What about these 20- or 30-somethings?’ This is the age where a lot of Catholics find themselves isolated. You see people falling away from the faith at this stage,” said White.

For many Catholics who are single in their 20s and 30s, the topic of dating and finding a spouse is of particular interest. As reported previously by OSV News, Catholic weddings per year plummeted dramatically between 1970 and 2021. While much of the decline can be linked to a decline in church attendance and belief generally, even Catholic young adults who are engaged with their faith encounter significant obstacles to finding a Catholic spouse.

“Why is something that has been so natural for so long, the most natural thing in the world — boy meets girl, they fall in love, they start a family — why is that suddenly something that our society seems to be really struggling with?” said White.

The panel, which includes six unmarried Catholics, will discuss this question. To Sara Perla, communications manager for The Catholic Project, it was important to find panelists who are still single themselves, giving them a unique insight into the Catholic dating scene.

She started her search for panelists by scouring social media platforms for people who are talking about dating. “But most of those people are married. And so I was looking specifically for people who are not,” said Perla.

Ultimately, a panel of three men and three women came together. “It was very organic: someone led us to someone else,” said Perla.

Unique insights from single Catholics

The panel includes Lillian Fallon, author of Theology of Style; Chika Anyanwu, speaker and author of My Encounter: How I Met Jesus In Prayer; Mari Pablo, Ministry Consultant for The Evangelical Catholic and presenter at Ascension Press; Lucas Kaliszak, a medical student and content creator for CatholicMatch; Cody Etheridge, a marketing and communications specialist at Catholic University; and John Mittel, co-founder of the beverage Phocus. Perla and JD Flynn, editor of The Pillar, will moderate the panel.

Perla and White hope this diverse panel of single Catholics will spark much-needed conversations in a welcoming — even fun — environment. Audience participation is strongly encouraged. “It’s going to be a funny event. We’re going to make you feel welcome. We’re going to give you a few laughs, feed you,” said Perla.

“We know it’s hard out there. We’re all wounded. We’ve all been wounded in this process (of dating). But we also need to not take it as seriously, maybe, as some of us are taking it, and we’re going to approach it with a light heart,” said Perla.

Besides the primary audience of single people, the event is open to a limited number of priests, religious and married couples who want to observe as well.

“This is something that interests lots of people,” said White. “Pastors are interested in this. …They’ve got people in their parishes who are struggling with this, and you know, most priests don’t have an extensive history or study of Catholic dating these days. Grandparents, aunts and uncles, parents with children who are on the dating scene — this really does interest everybody.”

Impact on university community

The university staff themselves hope to gain insight into how they can help students navigate the Catholic dating scene. “A university is a place where you have a lot of young people. This does touch our own campus community. And hopefully we can come away from this with some food for thought about what we can do on campus, or that other groups might be able to do, in this same area,” said White.

But the primary focus is bringing as many single Catholics together as possible. White and Perla hope to get 300 registrants for the July 19 event, which is free of charge for attendees of the Congress. The event will not be livestreamed.

On what they hope singles will take away from the event, Perla says, “Encouragement. Motivation. A few phone numbers!”

She laughs, but then confirms that she would love to hear a married couple in the future say that they met at the dating panel. “That would be fantastic.”

Rachel Hoover Canto

Rachel Hoover Canto writes for OSV News from Tennessee.