The Right Time

By Sally Anne Flecker | Fall 2015

Little did they suspect that their faith would unite three young Mendoza grads in Houston. Their connection, in turn, would bring hundreds of young people together in faith through an organization called Young Catholic Professionals (YCP).

Kyle Smith (MSB ’14, ND ’12) didn’t meet Mason Bashaw (MGT ’12) and Katherine Kavanagh (FIN ’12) when he was a student at Notre Dame. But by fall 2014, each had found a career in Houston. Smith, a native of Rochester, New York, works as communications director for the newly launched Frassati Catholic High School. Bashaw works for her father’s wealth management firm in her hometown. Kavanagh is currently on maternity leave from PricewaterhouseCoopers.

It was Smith who first reached out. He had joined YCP while teaching in Fort Worth following his undergraduate commencement and was intrigued about starting a chapter. His timing was perfect in contacting Bashaw. Though her career was off to a great start, she was feeling restless and longing to connect with her faith in a more meaningful way. So when Smith called, she jumped right in with both feet, even though she was learning a new job and planning a wedding.

As it turns out, the idea of YCP has been met with just as much gusto by many other Catholics in Smith’s and Bashaw’s age groups. The organization was founded in 2010 by Jennifer Baugh, a 27-year-old Texan who had felt the void for opportunities to live out her faith. “She started with this mission to encourage young Catholics in their 20s and 30s to work in witness for Christ,” says Smith, “and with an idea that Catholics should be Catholic not just on Sundays, but in all aspects of their lives.” It wasn’t long before Smith started talking to Baugh, Kavanagh, Bashaw and three others about setting up a chapter in Houston.

“We got so excited that we got ahead of ourselves, planning two happy hours in the fall of 2014,” Bashaw recalls. “We had 60 or 70 people show up at each, which was great for a chapter that technically was not even up and running. There were six of us, and now, all of a sudden, there were 70, which made me feel as if I was not the only one who had this yearning for a greater depth in my professional life.”

Things snowballed from there. Last February, the new chapter kicked off its Executive Speaker Series with Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston. They told the cardinal to expect around a hundred and fifty people. More than 300 came. “He was more shocked than we were,” Bashaw says. “I think, for him, it was flattering to know that people really do want to be involved with the church and find ways to network and mingle with other Catholics.” The three Notre Dame grads are part of YCP Houston’s volunteer leadership core, with Smith as a vice president and director of marketing; Bashaw as development director; and Kavanagh as finance director.

“YCP aims to serve young adults from parishes all across the archdiocese,” Smith points out. “We’re not associated with any single parish. We’d like to bring young adults together from different communities so that they can connect with and learn from one another, and share their excitement for their faith. Our goal is for individuals who come to our events to be inspired to go back to their own parishes and contribute in their local communities.”

The backbone of YCP is its monthly speaker series. “We bring in executives or experienced professionals from a variety of industries to speak to us about their journeys and give advice about how to confront challenges we may face in our lives and our careers. They talk about how they’ve lived out their faith in the workplace and how they’ve lived our mission: to work in witness for Christ,” Smith says. “Another pillar of YCP is building community, so we also host quarterly networking happy hours and biannual St. Joseph the Worker retreats. St. Joseph is our patron, and the retreats are focused on the spiritual aspect and the Catholic identity that is so central to our mission.”

As YCP provides a way for young professionals to interact meaningfully with others who share their values, warm friendships also result.

“When I started with YCP, I thought the organization was going to be about networking opportunities with fellow Catholics in the Houston area,” says Kavanagh. “As time went on, I realized that the relationships fostered by YCP go so much deeper than the typical business relationship. I am most pleased with these deep relationships that you don’t always hear about. We were out at dinner with my sister, brother-in-law and a few of their close friends. I was shocked when they told me that they had all met at a YCP event. It made me so happy to hear that people were attending YCP events and extending their friendships far past the actual events.”

As the YCP franchise takes off, chapters have launched in Fort Worth, San Antonio, and Denver, and are beginning to form in Austin, Cleveland, Omaha, Orange Country, and Phoenix. A Chicago chapter expects to launch in 2016.

“So many people think that young people have gotten away from the church. Obviously, the time when people drift is after college and before they start a family,” Bashaw says. “Part of Jenn Baugh’s idea is that if you can get people involved in YCP and they’re coming and meeting other Catholics, then maybe they go to Mass together and start going regularly. We’re hoping that we’re pushing people back into the parishes.”

Says Smith, “We’re the next generation of Catholic leaders. We’re the next parents, politicians, lawyers, teachers, religious, and philanthropists. Our goal is to help establish a strong foundation for the leaders of tomorrow’s Church not only in Houston, but also nationwide. It is a movement that truly has the potential to set the world on fire.”