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Theology series sets its sights on 30th anniversary next year

August 15, 2009
Julie Hurt kneels in prayer during the service at Madonna della Strada Chapel. Theology on Tap, she said, was "a great thing to do" during the week.

Julie Hurt kneels in prayer during the service at Madonna della Strada Chapel. Theology on Tap, she said, was "a great thing to do" during the week.

Cardinal Francis George called it “one of the most creative initiatives” in the Roman Catholic church. This year’s “Theology on Tap” series closed with a mass and picnic at Loyola University Chicago. Meanwhile, organizers said they are looking ahead to the event’s 30-year anniversary in 2010.

During the mass, Cardinal George said “Theology on Tap” offered “a space where young Catholics in their 20s and 30s can come together … not just to socialize, but as a matter of thinking things through.” About 300 people attended the mass at Loyola’s Madonna della Strada Chapel, according to the organizers.

 Participants of Theology on Tap signed ribbons with their names and parishes.

Participants of Theology on Tap signed ribbons with their names and parishes.

“Theology on Tap” started in 1981 out of a casual meeting of students at the University of Illinois. The series, called TOT, is aimed at young Catholics in their 20s and 30s and offers speaker sessions and seminars over the course of four weeks each summer.

This year, it was held at more than 40 churches across the Archdiocese of Chicago. The mass on Sunday concluded the event.

Afterwards, participants moved to a nearby university hall for food, soft drinks and music (the “tap”, apparently, is not always taken literally).

Julie Hurt, a member of St. Clement parish, in Lincoln Park, said she attended three of the four TOT meetings at her church. The name and setting, she said, “makes [Theology on Tap] seem like a social atmosphere” and “less scary” for people who usually do not go to church. “It makes it seem more fun,” she said.

At St. Clement, she said, between 60 and 100 people attended each of the four sessions, and about 40 of them had come to the final event at Loyola.

Organizers from two churches on the Northwest Side, while not sending as many people to the final event, said they want to build on the TOT events to connect young people in their parishes.

Joanna Deane, chairperson of the organizing committee at St. Bartholomew parish, in Portage Park, said that Theology on Tap “is suppose d to break down barriers in a way.”

About 20 people had been at St. Bartholomew’s TOT meeting on August 3, but only Deane and Michael Giordano had come to the final event. However, attendance at their church has grown, Giordano said: “We’re really happy with that … every year, it got bigger and bigger.”

Giordano said St. Bartholomew’s group will have a closing meeting the following week to set up plans for the fall. “I would like to keep the group together,” he said.

Steven Birello of St. Sylvester parish, in Logan Square, shared similar plans in a phone interview Friday. At St. Sylvester, the TOT series has been held for five years, he said. 2009, Birello said, was their “best year”, with about 20 people at each meeting.

“It was very encouraging that so many people wanted to see Theology on Tap [at St. Sylvester] just because our parish doesn’t have that young adult group yet,” he said. He added that he wants to continue organizing events “along the lines of Theology on Tap” in the fall.

While churches are hoping to retain their flocks throughout the fall, Katherine F. DeVries of Young Adult Ministry for the Archdiocese of Chicago, said she is looking toward next year, when “Theology on Tap” will celebrate its 30-year anniversary.

She said the organizers had “just started talking about holding a national conference” to mark the date. Further ideas include a “super-Theology on Tap session” to focus on key issues concerning young adults. The most important one, DeVries said, is relationships.

The Rev. John Cusick, director of the young adult ministry office, said he has “big dreams” for the anniversary. “I want to try to invite anybody who has ever attended to come back and celebrate,” he said at the picnic. “We will see if we can make that happen.”

By Jessica Binsch

You can find more information about Theology on Tap Chicago at the website of the Young Adult Ministry.

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