PROVIDENCE — One unfortunate fact of Church life in contemporary society is the decrease in religious affiliation reported among the youth and young adult population. Affiliation with formal religious institutions and regular church attendance among these age groups is at an all-time low.
A 2014 survey from the Pew Research Center shows that only 17% of people between the ages of 18 and 29, and only 32% of those between the ages of 30 and 49, attend religious services weekly. A similar survey from Pew published that same year found that only 28% of Catholics between the ages of 18 and 29 attend Mass weekly.
This reflects a broader trend in the Church: for example, the Catholic organization CARA (the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate) found that, between 1970 and 2022, the number of students enrolled in Catholic primary schools declined from 3.4 million to 1.2 million, and in that same time period the number of students enrolled in Catholic high schools has declined from just a little over 1 million to roughly 500,000. The number of children receiving First Communion has declined from over 800,000 in 1990 to just a little over 500,000 in 2022.
Yet, one young local Catholic represents a sign of hope in this bleak situation. Hannah Kline, a native of Rhode Island and a theology student at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, located in Steubenville, Ohio, has dedicated a large part of her time in recent years not only to her studies but also to holding lecture events at local parishes.
In these lectures, she attempts to share the faith with her fellow Catholics, with the hope of deepening the knowledge and zeal for the faith found among the average Catholic.
“I’ve always been interested in theology. My parents work in the Church. Faith was always something we talked about, and not only talked about, but we lived,” Kline said in an interview with the Rhode Island Catholic.
“That was the identity of our family. Faith was so intertwined with everything that we did, that I truly just loved it, because I saw how on fire my parents were for the faith, and that really just made me love the faith.”
Kline, a parishioner at St. Philip Parish in Greenville, noted how her current path was a natural result of her deep involvement in the Church early on. As a high school student, she helped to organize retreats and lecture events for her parish, which resulted in her interest in theology being solidified. This, together with her ability to articulate the truths of the faith with ease, led her to realize a calling to devote her life and career to service to the Church.
This desire to serve the Church led to a very practical approach to teaching the faith. Kline is currently studying both theology and catechetics, a decision inspired by her belief that understanding effective ways to communicate the faith is just as important as understanding the faith itself.
“You can learn the dogmas, and you can learn the doctrine, but you need to know how to apply it, and you need to know how to teach people.”
Hannah’s father Keith Kline serves as principal of St. Philip School, in Greenville. But even long before that, her father, along with her mother Lisa, were very involved in parish youth ministry.
Kline said that the strong Catholic environment at Steubenville has only further solidified the foundation created by her family and parish life.
“It’s so prevalent at Franciscan, that everybody wants to be there for faith,” Kline explained. “You walk onto campus, and it’s different. There’s something about the atmosphere where you know the Lord is present. What the school does a really great job of is forming disciples.”
The two primary elements of Christian discipleship that Kline says are emphasized with particular fervor at Franciscan are, firstly, the need for an unapologetically orthodox approach to theology, and secondly, the need to bring the faith into every aspect of life, not restricting it to the purely academic study of theology.
“Faith isn’t compartmentalized. Faith is something we do, it’s an identity,” said Kline.
The understanding that faith is the defining feature of the identity of a Christian feeds into a broader theme that Kline hopes to emphasize in her lectures, namely that faith is not merely understanding a set of propositions or doctrines, but rather includes being on fire for the faith.
“When I teach, I want to promote an encounter with Him. Because, when you encounter the Lord, you cannot help but be completely transformed,” Kline said.
Such an approach is the motivation behind Kline’s most recent lecture series, centered on the Eucharist.
Over the course of the summer, Kline has been offering a series of lectures at several parishes throughout the diocese in which she explains the traditional theology and spirituality of the Eucharist. These lectures were inspired both by broader issues within the Church as well as elements of her own spiritual journey.
Kline notes how she was inspired to organize these lectures, first and foremost, because of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Eucharistic Revival initiative, which attempts to counteract the decline in a proper understanding of and belief in the traditional Catholic doctrines surrounding the Eucharist.
Yet, there was a strong personal element that inspired her lectures as well.
“I’ve noticed a disinterest in the Eucharist. And it’s not intentional. I think it’s because we’ve grown accustomed to Mass, to Adoration. It’s easy to fall into routine,” Kline explained.
“It’s easy to fall into this routine, without deeply understanding why we’re Catholic, why we have the Mass in the first place.”
It is easy to have an overly mechanistic view on the Mass, or view Church attendance as an obligation without understanding why we have an obligation to attend Mass, Kline explained. She also noted that the best way to get the greatest spiritual benefit from the Mass is for Catholics to rediscover what the traditional teaching on the Eucharist is, why Christ established the Eucharist, and to have a personal encounter with Christ in the Eucharist.