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Culture Project brings virtue into the center for Catholic dating – and life

01 10.19.17_Catholic Dating.CultureProjectgroupphoto.cultureteam PAGEFive young adults from the Culture Project arrived in the Archdiocese of San Francisco in mid-October for a seven-week evangelizing mission initiated by the archdiocesan marriage and family life and youth and young adult ministries. The organization founded by young adults takes an approach of personal encounter in engaging peers on such topics as dating in an over-sexualized culture. (Courtesy photo)


Team of 5 in archdiocese for 7 weeks beginning mid-October

October 19, 2017
Valerie Schmalz

The term “hookup culture” has entered the lexicon for just about anyone out in the dating world. That’s because hookups, which skip dating and forego the values of chastity and commitment, are so accepted that an advice book for young girls explains how to “be a lady” after a third-date hookup.

“Something is not functioning right. People really don’t know how to date anymore,” said Megan Harrington, co-producer of a soon-to-be-released documentary, “The Dating Project,” which premiered at the Downtown Los Angeles Film Festival Sept. 24 and is a selection of the Heartland Film Festival Oct. 19 in Indianapolis. Harrington found the “advice” book while browsing for something to read in a local bookstore. The film follows five adults, from college to a 40-something single man, and is scheduled for general release on Valentine’s Day 2018.

“The over-sexualization of the culture has created some issues – what does it mean to be dating?” said Harrington. “A lot of people would like to go on a date and not have a lot of pressure.”

The Culture Project

The Culture Project was founded to address those questions, and five Culture Project missionaries will be in the Archdiocese of San Francisco for seven weeks beginning in mid-October. It is an initiative of the marriage and family life and the youth and young adult ministries.

“The Culture Project missionaries bring a message of affirmation and encouragement to our young people, who are surrounded by a culture that can be toxic,” said Ed Hopfner, archdiocesan director of marriage and family life. “They invite young people to become more fully alive, reminding each of their human dignity as children of God and extolling the richness of a life of virtue.”

The organization founded by young adults takes an approach of personal encounter.

“It’s definitely tough in our culture,” says Lindsay Fay, leader of the five Culture Project missionaries, ages 22-27, who will be here. “Pope Francis says the best way to evangelize a young person is through another young person. We go in there and share our own stories of living in that same culture.”

“The end goal is to have a face-to-face encounter, ultimately to form communities throughout the country where this virtuous life can be lived out,” said Fay.

Fay, 25, says toward the end of high school her desire to fit in “meant going out to parties and drinking” so when she went off to Santa Clara University she continued in that direction initially. “I just remember making a lot of mistakes and really quickly seeing the emptiness of that lifestyle, seeing the emptiness of the hookup culture,” Fay said.

But the hookup culture is not as prevalent as news reports would indicate, said Fay. Researchers found just 15 percent of undergraduates enjoy the hookup culture and a third of undergraduates never participate in it, Fay said in a September Culture Project YouTube video “Avoiding Peer Pressure in College.”


Dating an endangered practice
The whole world of dating has gone a bit askew, Harrington said, noting “The Dating Project” was inspired by real life. She and her friend Catherine Fowler Sample pitched the concept to Mpower films. “We had been at a dinner party with 14 women. Two were married and the rest were single. And most hadn’t been on a date in a long time,” said Harrington.

On its Facebook page, “The Dating Project” producers state: “Fifty percent of America is single. The way people seek and find love has radically changed. The trends of hanging out, hooking up, texting and social media have created a dating deficit. Dating is now ... outdated.”

That appears to be close to true – but not inevitable.

Still, actual dating is not common among Catholic young adults, said Amanda George, youth and young adult ministry director for the Archdiocese of San Francisco. “They’re not hooking up, but they’re also not asking people out,” said George. Young adults at times seem to have trouble moving from friendship to dating.

“I would say in general for people my age, millennials, I guess, connectivity is really hard,” said Kiley Sheehy, 26, who moved to the Bay Area two years ago after graduating from the University of Kansas.

But, Sheehy said there are advantages to living in the Bay Area. Sheehy joined St. Dominic’s young adults group last Christmas, and she said the fact so many young adults are transients and professionals actually makes it easier to connect in the Bay Area because very few of those she’s met are entrenched in a way of life.

“Just showing up and being active and letting people know you want to be involved is the best way to make friends,” said Sheehy.


Marriage still a goal for Catholic young adults
While finding the right person to marry has always seemed impossible, until he or she suddenly appears – the current cultural milieu in the U.S., and the San Francisco Bay Area, do make it harder, observers say. The statistics bear that out.

Nationally half of all U.S. adults are married today, down significantly from 72 percent in 1960, according to the Pew Research Center in a Sept. 14 article based on newly released U.S. census data. Marriages are down 9 percent over the past 25 years, Pew reports.

In the Archdiocese of San Francisco, the number of sacramental marriages declined by 57 percent from 1996 to 2016, while the number of people registering in a parish as Catholic rose slightly. The 2016 Official Catholic Directory, published by P.J. Kenedy & Sons, lists 877 sacramental marriages for a population of 451,579 Catholics. In 1996, there were 2,068 Catholic marriages in a population of 420,567 Catholics.

“It’s not like when you go to a bar all the Catholic guys and girls are wearing a badge that says, ‘Hey I’m into my faith,’” said Ken Staal, 27, who lives in San Gregorio, outside Half Moon Bay, and just married his wife Yesenia a year ago. He runs a small excavation business. “You have to try a lot of trial and error, awkward conversations. I would say our age group in this area are pretty hostile to living out the Catholic faith. Polite – but when it comes down to it, pretty hostile.”

“A friend, she got advice from a priest: ‘If you want to get married, you should not be living in San Francisco,’” said Claire Herrick, who is from the Bay Area. Still, said Herrick, despite the odds, she has met someone special who shares her values.

“A year in, I realized I needed to establish roots,” said Eric Jackson, 26, who works in marketing and came to the Bay Area from Sacramento after earning two degrees at Boston College – and is dating Claire Herrick. “I started joining young adults groups around town.”

“The difficulty is the culture in general overall is not a faithful one,” said Jackson. “It is little harder to find maybe a suitable person to date but on the other hand, if you do, it’s likely to be a stronger partnership.”

And Harrington said marriage is still happening. During the movie research on online dating sites, her co-producer Catherine Fowler Sample met her husband and now is pregnant and living in the Southeast, Harrington said.

“We hope this film inspires a movement. Let’s bring back dating,” Harrington said.


18 10.12.17_Catholic Dating.KenStaal.wife.HalfMoonBay PAGEKen Staal, 27, who lives in San Gregorio, outside Half Moon Bay, and his wife Yesenia

18 10.12.17_Catholic dating.Eric.Claire PAGEClaire Herrick and Eric Jackson

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