When Tristen Seagondollar moved to Orange County five years ago, she had broken up with a boyfriend and hoped to date men who shared her Catholic faith.
The professional photographer, a graduate of UC Santa Barbara, tried an online Catholic website but discovered that many men who said they were Catholic did not practice a Catholic lifestyle.
She thought of joining a young adult group at Our Lady Queen of Angels Church in Newport Beach, but learned it had become defunct.
So Seagondollar, with the support of Queen of Angels Pastor Father Kerry Beaulieu, reactivated a group called Rise, which now has 250 members between the ages of 21 and 39 on its Facebook rolls, including 60 to 80 active participants.
“We mostly focus on creating a community where people can start as friends,” says the 28-year-old Seagondollar. “It is a really comfortable way to start a friendship that becomes a romance.”
Armando Cervantes, Director of Youth and Adult Ministry for the Diocese of Orange, says he discourages parish young adult groups from blatant matchmaking. “But we do love it when people meet through ministry…It is a beautiful way for a couple to begin.”
About a third of the county’s 62 parishes and centers have English-speaking young adult groups and two-thirds have young adult groups that are Spanish speaking. Also some 20 parishes have Vietnamese groups and a few have Korean groups.
And there are a variety of countywide Catholic organizations and events where couples can meet, including sports leagues and a group called Theology on Tap, where Catholics 21 and older convene once a month at a local brewery or bar to hear speakers on faith issues.
Some young adults drive far from their home parishes to find a group that fits their personalities.
Seagondollar, who lives in Huntington Beach, says while some groups exclusively focus on a religious theme, such as Bible study, Rise mixes religious and social activities.
“They might spend a day hiking up a hill and when they get to the top they pray a rosary together,” she says, and after Mass they may share a glass of wine and conversation. In February the group was planning a two-day ski trip.
Rise and other Catholic young adult groups also get involved in social service work, such as raising money for charities.
Along the way, members date. Seagondollar says at Rise she has seen considerable dating and one marriage. She says the breakups that go with dating leave no hard feelings because “you are asking God to lead you.”
Seagondollar, who currently is seriously dating a Lutheran man she met on vacation in Italy, figures 90 percent of people at Rise joined in hope of finding a prospective spouse.
At St. Angela Merici Church in Brea, Nina Lee Baumgartner of Fullerton, 39, leads a young adult group with 10 members in their early college years. She says they are not thinking about marriage right now but have found that people they date outside the Church often “don’t get the religion.”
Eighteen years ago, David Nevarez founded the dating Internet site CatholicSingles.com, for single Catholics in their 30s through 50s, an age group that he says is typically underserved by parishes. “Some people want to share their love of movies or food. People here want to share their love of faith,” says Nevarez, who met his own wife on the website.
Nevarez, 49, estimated that CatholicSingles.com has produced several hundred marriages. He says he has received photographs of the children of his former clients.
Marriages are nurtured at the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Society over decades, with children joining and staying on as adult leaders in charge of passing to the next generation a tradition of faith and service to the needy.
Teresa Nguyen, 38, says she has a picture of herself and her husband, Kenny, when they were children, taken shortly after they joined the Vietnamese Eucharistic group at St. Bonaventure Church in Huntington Beach.
The Nguyens married in 2003, and now three of their four children are in the same organization. “My son who is 10 has crushes on girls in his group,” Teresa says with a chuckle. “He has crushes on them and says one day he will marry one of them.”