‘Where are the Catholics hanging out?’

Catholic Chatt answers that question and others young adults are asking

By Claire Collins

Patrick and Margaret Hanus were just two young adults searching for a community in Chattanooga when they encountered Catholic Chatt, a ministry dedicated to serving young adults in the local churches.

Mr. Hanus, a native of New York and graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville in Steubenville, Ohio, wanted to move to a cool and upcoming city with exciting opportunities for entertainment.

“So, when I moved here in 2018, I pretty much immediately was like ‘OK, where are the Catholic people hanging out?’ And started going to stuff.”

Mrs. Hanus, a Memphis native and graduate of the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga, was invited into Catholic Chatt through Mr. Hanus before they were married after meeting him at an event at the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul.

“Patrick actually invited me to my first Catholic Chatt event when I was a senior in college,” Mrs. Hanus recalled. “They were studying Jeff Cavins’ The Bible in a Year before Father Mike (Schmitz) made it cool. Kind of a fun fact.”

Women taking part in Catholic Chatt gather for a faith-based women’s retreat on April 24, 2022.

“I was warmly welcomed in,” she continued. “And since then Catholic Chatt has steadily been a source of holy friendships for me. I’m so grateful for how many Christ-centered people I’ve gotten to know. I just wish there were more hours in the day. God has certainly blessed us with an abundance of genuine community, and that’s where my love for this ministry comes from. It’s hard to articulate how much I love the people in this group. They live out the body of Christ well.”

Catholic Chatt was started at St. Stephen Parish in 2015 by Robert Spangler with the goal of reaching out to young adults in all parishes throughout Chattanooga, primarily through formation and social events.

The Hanuses were asked to take over in October 2021 after the young couple who was in charge at the time moved away.

“The first thing that we wanted to do was to just get an idea of talking to everybody who had been involved in any way just to understand what people’s needs were. I think it’s really easy to start a group without considering what people are suffering with or enjoying,” Mr. Hanus said. “That was kind of the first step, having simple conversations with people and asking them, ‘What would you like more of?’”

From this initial investigation, the group has developed into a rhythm focused on three values: formation, fellowship, and faith in action. This is the criteria the Hanuses use to determine what events and opportunities would best suit the group.

In regard to formation, Catholic Chatt has had ongoing opportunities for Monday-night gatherings for guys and girls. Initially begun for fellowship nights, they eventually transformed into programs and studies because the groups were hungry for opportunities to learn and grow with one another.

The longtime host of the women’s nights, Cassie Groner, has provided a meal and fellowship in her home for many years.

“Serving others through a warm meal and comfy couch has always been an easy thing for me,” Ms. Groner said. “So being inspired by the example of those around me, it’s been a blessing to be able to continue to provide this ministry. We have formed deep friendships, had soul-searching conversations, explored difficult topics, and pushed each other to become better sisters in Christ. I am blessed to be surrounded by people who want this kind of environment, too.”

To Ms. Groner, Catholic Chatt has been a constant source of community and fellowship.

“Catholic Chatt has meant an incredible amount to me and my spiritual growth,” Ms. Groner said. “For me, I moved here from an area with no Catholic community at all, so being welcomed into a young adult group of Catholics from all backgrounds that were on fire for the faith and still down-to-earth, normal humans was life changing.”

“These people accepted me as part of the family, challenged me to grow and learn more about my Catholic faith than I ever have, and held me accountable daily,” Ms. Groner continued. “It was an almost overwhelming change of environment. It is a unique group because we have always been made up of a wide range of ages, backgrounds, current faith developments, life stages, home parishes, etc., and yet we all can find things in common and grow together in the faith.”

Leading the men’s nights are Jonah Coronis, Tyler Ross, and Aaron Kirkpatrick. Mr. Kirkpatrick initially encountered Catholic Chatt before his conversion to Catholicism, but he says that the group is what helped pave the way for him to enter the Church.

“Catholic Chatt has helped (my wife and I) grow closer to Christ Himself, and thus closer to His Church,” Mr. Kirkpatrick said. “Looking back on my life, I was such a lukewarm Christian in the past whose life rarely, if ever, reflected Christian values. It was coming into the One True Faith that guided me on my journey to receiving the sacraments, marrying my wife, and having our first child. My life is completely different now and I couldn’t be happier.”

Mr. Kirkpatrick’s wife, Anna, also shared the deep impact Catholic Chatt has had on her.

“While we were dating, my now husband was introduced to the organization through a friend from grad school,” Mrs. Kirkpatrick said. “And that essentially started both of our journeys toward the Catholic faith.”

“For me, Catholic Chatt helped me deepen my faith as a Christian in learning and understanding the Church’s theology through fellow peers, which changed my entire life in the best way possible. I then had the privilege to be confirmed at the basilica last February, with close friends from the organization as witnesses.”

Patrick, Margaret, and Gregory Hanus.

The Hanuses commented that the majority of the young adults in the group are actually converts, converting to the Catholic faith in the last five years.

“It’s insane,” Mr. Hanus remarked. “So, you end up with this vigor and this energy from people because their faith is new, and they want to explore it and they want to talk about it. It’s a fun wave to ride. When young adults are considering or ready to become Catholic, we’ve been blessed to be able to walk with them in that final journey up the mount.”

In addition to the Monday-night events, Catholic Chatt offers a range of social events.

“Typically, we have a big event once a month where everybody can get together,” Mr. Hanus said. “If there is a particular feast day or Catholic holiday, that takes precedence.”

Some of the events that have recently taken place included a 12 Days of Christmas-themed Christmas party, a Padre Pio Oktoberfest, and a Fat Tuesday potluck event.

The Catholic Chatt group also gathers at local breweries and bars for meetups, and the Hanuses host monthly bonfires for fellowship and community building.

Mr. Hanus is trying to inspire new friendships and relationships within Catholic Chatt through Lenten-based small groups.

“This Lent we’re trying to promulgate the idea of quads,” Mr. Hanus said, “which is a group of four people of the same sex. They basically meet once a week throughout Lent to dive deeper into their faith and hold each other accountable, pray for each other, and just leverage the fellowship that the Christian faith should have but often doesn’t.”

The group also offers workdays and service days as opportunities to serve the community. Some of the work they’ve done includes helping others move or doing household projects and clean-up projects at the basilica.

This is an effort that Mr. Hanus hopes to continue to develop and improve, especially as needs in the community are made known. He hopes that when people in the community do have needs, they will voice those to the parish or the group so that those who are excited and willing to serve are able.

For Mr. Hanus, serving the Catholic Chatt community has been a blessing.

“The greatest fruits are really seeing people grow deeper in their faith, especially seeing people come home to the Catholic faith,” he said.

Anyone interested in being a part of the community can visit its website, www.catholicchatt.com, or visit the Catholic Chatt Facebook page.

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