Alumni Named to Vatican Pre-Synod Gathering on Youth
Date Published: Feb. 26, 2018
On Jan. 25, 2018, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) announced
that University of Dallas alumni Nick López, BA ’12 MTS ’16, director of campus ministry
at UD, and Katie Prejean McGrady, BA ’11, were selected to serve as delegates at an
upcoming pre-synod gathering in Rome. The March meeting is in preparation for the
October Synod of Bishops called “Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment.” As a result of their
expertise in youth and young adult ministry, López and Prejean were put forward by
the USCCB Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth and confirmed by Cardinal
Joseph Tobin, C.S.S.R., and Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M.
After receiving his bachelor’s in theology from UD, López studied at the Claremont
School of Theology for a year and interned in the USCCB youth and young adult ministry
office. He was a parish young adult minister and has served as an Ann and Joe O. Neuhoff
School of Ministry Catholic Biblical School instructor. López is a guest columnist
for the Catholic News Service’s In the Light of Faith Series and has appeared on Relevant Radio. He took on the role of UD’s director of campus ministry this past summer.
Since her graduation, Prejean has served as a parish youth director and a religion teacher in the Diocese of Lake
Charles, Louisiana. She is a popular youth speaker who frequently travels to retreats,
conferences and rallies and has been interviewed by a variety of Catholic media networks,
including EWTN, Catholic TV, Radio Maria and The Catholic Channel.
Both alumni believe a synod on the youth could not come at a better time.
“Young people today are hungry: they want to be seen (hence the rise of social media),
they want to be heard (and their ideas and opinions are valuable), and they are yearning
for love (both to receive and give it),” said Prejean.
"As much as I think there is a small spark or renaissance in this particular generation’s
natural reaction against secularism, our young people today need to be guided and
empowered by church leadership for their zeal to be able reach its potential."
“As much as I think there is a small spark or renaissance in this particular generation’s
natural reaction against secularism, our young people today need to be guided and
empowered by church leadership for their zeal to be able reach its potential,” said
López. “Whatever renaissance there may be is still not overwhelming the amount of
people who are leaving the church. I’m looking forward to us having that particular
conversation, since it is on youth, young adults and vocations. How do we bring back
young adults who have left the faith? And how do we keep those in the church from
leaving? As much hope as I have for our generation, the numbers coming in aren’t matching
the numbers leaving. How do we bring those who have left back home?”
For Prejean, that task entails leading young people straight to Christ, who sees them,
hears them and loves them abundantly.
“The best youth ministry happens when youth ministers and teachers and pastors really
get out of the way and just get young people to Jesus. When we teach young people
to pray, read Scripture, attend to and love the sacraments, and invite them to serve
others, we get them to Jesus best,” she said. “So, I hope the pre-synodal gathering
really addresses the practical ways to help inspire and create authentic encounters
"I hope the pre-synodal gathering really addresses the practical ways to help inspire
and create authentic encounters with Jesus."
These authentic encounters do not always come to fruition, according to Prejean, and
she hopes the pre-synod will address that difficulty while also looking to an area
that seems to be filling the void in young people: culture.
“What is it in the culture that fills the gaps in young people’s lives, and how can
we, the church with the fullness of Truth, fill those gaps better?” she asked.
López devotes much of his ministry to answering this particular question. Just as
UD’s Core curriculum studies the cultural works of ancient Greece and Rome or medieval
Tuscany, López uses modern culture to address the needs of today’s young adults.
“I don’t think the culture has ever been as pervasive as it is now. You carry around
the digital age with you on your phone all the time,” he said. “Knowing how to live
in this culture at this moment is more important than it was in the past because we
just can’t remove ourselves from it. We can’t separate our faith lives from our cultural
lives. My approach is that of St. Paul, who preached at a time when temples and statues
of pagan culture still stood, but he was able to demonstrate the beauty of Christ
within that culture. We don’t need to obliterate one to have the other.”
López hopes the conversation can also address how to better minister to the largest
and fastest-growing demographic in the global Catholic Church.
“A majority of those being baptized are Hispanic or Latino,” said López. “Even within
the Spanish-speaking realm, there is a large spectrum of experiences, which is both
beautiful and a challenge. Just as you have Irish Catholics or German Catholics, there
are Mexican Catholics, Cuban Catholic and Dominican Catholics with specific pastoral
While Prejean looks forward to gaining insight into how youth ministry happens worldwide,
she has two specific hopes for her trip to Rome. One relates to her ministry, while
the other reminds her of her time at UD.
“Very selfishly, I hope to meet the pope at the pre-synod,” said Prejean. “And then
again, selfishly, I’m hoping to pop over to Due Santi for a quick visit. It will be
10-day for the spring Romers while I’m there, so I know campus will be quiet, but
just to see it again and pray in the chapel and walk through the vineyard would do
some good for this ever-Rome-sick heart.”
López and Prejean both credit their undergraduate educations with preparing them to
meet the needs of young people and articulate substantial answers to deep questions.
“Obviously, UD gave me a solid, orthodox and wide-ranging theological knowledge. I
could articulate what we believed, why we believed it, and how to practically live
those theological realities,” said Prejean. “My degree in theology from UD has served me remarkably well in helping young people know and understand the faith. And young people want those answers, grounded in substance.”
López said the same, while also coupling the merits of his undergraduate theology
education with his Master of Theological Studies (MTS) from the Ann and Joe O. Neuhoff School of Ministry. The intersection between
both curricula was critical to his formation as a minister.
“I cannot imagine a better undergraduate program in academic theology than UD provides.
The School of Ministry does an amazing job of teaching students how to practically
apply theological concepts, which you need if you want to go into ministry,” said
López. “You get the full academic theological formation from the undergraduate theology
program and then the best practical formation in the School of Ministry.”
“I do not think I could be as effective a minister if I hadn’t been able to attend
both schools,” he said.
In Prejean’s case, although she learned much from the classroom, the most valuable
gift UD gave her was not academic.
"UD taught me how to live well, as an educated individual, and being able to share
that with young people has been incredibly valuable."
“It was the formation of the person. UD taught me how to read well, think critically,
and write with precision and clarity,” she said. “But most importantly, UD taught
me how to live well, as an educated individual, and being able to share that with
young people has been incredibly valuable. It is a balance and blend of the goodness
and strength of a solid, thoughtful, liberal arts education and the joy, frivolity
and passion for friendship and fellowship.”
Photo credit: Pope Francis walks with World Youth Day pilgrims as he arrives for a
July 30 prayer vigil at the Field of Mercy in Krakow, Poland. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
See POPE-POLAND-WYD-VIGIL July 30, 2016.