Courtesy SPIRITUS
Gemma Cowan of Brookings, center, enjoys a moment with young Catholics. She is taking a year to try to help youths stay in the faith. 

Courtesy SPIRITUS

Gemma Cowan of Brookings, center, enjoys a moment with young Catholics. She is taking a year to try to help youths stay in the faith. 

Gemma Cowan of Star of the Sea Parish in Brookings is serving in Wisconsin with a group of young adult missionaries seeking lost sheep.  

SPIRITUS was founded in 2009 as a missionary disciple formation program with the goal to inspire Catholic youth and form lifelong missionary disciples to be leaders for the church.  

Cowan is one of 15 missionaries from all over the country who serve in the nine-month program. The missionaries are between the ages of 20 and 29, which they say is the ideal range to reintroduce the power of Catholicism to other young people who have started to drift away from the church. 

During the nine-month program, Cowan and the other missionaries will spend 500 hours in prayer, 132 hours in formation classes, receive 65 hours of ministry skills training and participate in 450 hours of direct ministry.

“Giving fully of myself has allowed me to grow in my talents and relationship with Christ,” says Cowan. “SPIRITUS has given me leadership experience that will help me share God’s love even after this year.”

“There are quite a few programs in the Catholic tradition of going to another country and being a missionary, but missionaries to our own youth might be a newer concept,” said Eden Foord, who founded the missionaries with wife Katherine. 

A recent study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate reports that 63 percent of those who left Catholicism did so between ages 10 and 17. The group is designed to show youths the joy of fully living the Catholic faith. 

Each year, the missionaries lead 160 daylong and overnight retreats and reach 5,000 youths.  

“SPIRITUS is helping young people see their faith as not just facts but a personal relationship with God,” says Cowan. “Coming to the understanding of Christ’s love for them has been life-changing for many of the students we work with.”

Cowan welcomes notes of support from Sentinel readers sent to her at [email protected]