By Jill Kruse
Witness Editorial Assistant
DUBUQUE — A 2014 report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that, for the first time in the nation’s history, more than half of American adults were single – 50.2 percent. Included in that increasingly large demographic of “the unmarried” are many Catholics, who for reasons of choice or circumstance, find themselves living a single life. But in a church that rightfully places a great deal of emphasis on marriage and strong families and stresses the need for more priests and religious vocations, the single life can sometimes be an underexplored topic.
An important thing to keep in mind when discussing Catholic singles is that they are by no means a monolithic group. Some people are single because they never felt called to marriage, the priesthood or religious life. Others wanted to get married, but never found a spouse. Some people are single at the moment, but doing everything in their power to change that as they date and search for Mr. or Ms. Right. Others are single because they have a disability that would make marriage difficult, or are widows or widowers who don’t wish to remarry, or are single parents focusing on raising small children, or are gay or lesbian Catholics choosing to live a celibate lifestyle, etc.
Regardless of why they are single, single Catholics of all varieties can and do live full and active lives in the church. The question that might arise, though, is whether the single life is an actual vocation, in the sense that the Catholic Church understands the meaning of the word. The answer is both “yes” and “no,” depending on how and why a person is living the single life.
As Archbishop Jackels explains in his column this week, “vocation” is a universal calling from God to heaven, to holiness, to mission and to a particular state in life. Whichever state of life a person is called to, it always involves a giving of oneself completely to someone or to something. A married person gives themself to their husband or wife. A priest gives himself to the service of the church. A religious sister, brother or consecrated person gives him or herself to a religious community and to those they serve in that community. In a vocation, the gift of self is total. The gift of self is permanent.
Therefore, single people who want to live their lives free of commitment, responsibility and obligation are not living the single life as a vocation to which they’ve been called. They happen to be single people, but theirs is not a dedicated single life.
However, single people who have, with intentionality, devoted their lives to the service of others can truly be living the single life as a vocation. Such people commit the time and freedom and resources they have more readily available as single persons to the service of their family, friends and coworkers, to people in their church and community and the world around them.
“The church is coming to rightly recognize that the dedicated single life is a holy vocation, a way of serving God,” said Father Jon Seda, who often encounters young adults discerning their life’s vocation at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish and Catholic Student Center in Ames, where he is pastor.
For it to be a vocation “one needs to find a specific way of structuring self-forgetful love into one’s life,” Father Seda said. “Otherwise there is the temptation to settle for a comfortable life. As St. Basil once said, ‘If you live alone, whose feet will you wash?’”
Living as a Dedicated Single
One woman in the archdiocese living out her vocation as a dedicated single person is 37-year-old Sarah Otting of Dubuque.
“For me, I have no desire to be married, so that left either religious or single life for me,” Otting said. “I explored religious life in college while at UNI but it was while I was there a sister mentioned how single life is also a vocation, because we mostly only heard of priesthood and religious life, and that is really when I began realizing my life in the church would be as a single person.”
While Otting said she would still consider religious life if she felt that it’s what she was being called to, she said she believes strongly the dedicated single life is the vocation God has intended for her.
Otting has devoted her life to being a single person serving the church. She is an active parishioner at St. Raphael Cathedral in Dubuque and works for the Archdiocese of Dubuque where she is the secretary to the archbishop, vicar general and the chancellor, as well as to the Office of Continuing Formation of Priests.
For the past decade, Otting has also been a Franciscan associate with the Sisters of St. Francis in Dubuque. “It is like being a lay member of the community as I try to live out the charisms of Francis and Clare in my daily life,” Otting said. “I meet with a group of Franciscans and a couple of other associates at least once a month for prayer and faith sharing.”
As a dedicated single person, Otting said she tries to live each day to the best of her ability, doing “whatever work the Lord has in store for me that day.” “I try to live simply and quietly, but still enjoy myself in the world as I’m sure God laughed and wants us to do the same as well,” she said.
Singles Open to Marriage
While Otting has found her vocation in the dedicated single life, many other faith-filled single Catholics find themselves currently single as a status, but feel called to marriage as their vocation.
In an article with the Catholic News Agency called “Beating the Single Catholic Blues,” author Emily Stimpson offers advice to Catholics who feel called to the vocation of marriage but who are currently single. She acknowledges that a good number of Catholics today find themselves remaining single longer than they had planned because many find it difficult to find a potential mate who shares their faith and values. “We’re Catholic,” she says in the article, “and the culture is not.”
But she believes it’s possible to find the right marriage partner, and until that happens, Stimpson tells single Catholics to “seize the day” and to take advantage of the freedom offered by their single years to do things they may not be able to do later in life such as travel or pursue further education; she encourages single Catholics to make a gift of themselves through volunteering and parish involvement, to count their blessings regularly, to spend time in prayer and delve deep into their faith, and, perhaps most importantly, to “hope always.”
Anna Hoppmann, 32, of Dubuque, is an example of a single Catholic who feels called to marriage but is living her single years to the fullest.
An active member of St. Joseph the Worker Parish, Hoppmann said, “Speaking strictly for myself as a single person, since I really have only me to take care of (vs. a spouse, or spouse and children), I may have more time to volunteer my time and talent at my parish.”
She helps with music ministry at St. Joseph the Worker, playing the piano as an accompanist for weekend Masses. “It’s a way that I can participate in the Mass in addition to being a member of the congregation,” she said, “and I hope that the music I play can have a positive impact on the overall experience other parishioners have at Mass.”
Hoppmann said as a single Catholic, her family and friends and faith are critically important to her, and together make up a support system that is there for her “through good times and the bad.” She said she feels the church provides her with guidance, as well as support in her faith life and a strong sense of community.
Admitting that the single life is not always without its challenges, Hoppmann said, “Sometimes you might find yourself feeling envious of others in happy relationships with their life partner, and wonder ‘why can’t that be me?’ But at the same time, being single gives you the opportunity to really get to know your true self and discover what brings you happiness.”
Whether they are single Catholics who feel called to someday marry like Hoppmann, or are dedicated singles who are already living their vocation like Otting, Father Seda said that most parishes in the archdiocese have more single people in their midst than many might realize.
He encouraged the church to “be a community that challenges and supports single people in their desire to live for God and for others.”
(CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec) (July 24, 2014)