Being a Catholic single has its benefits

By Claudia Mathis
SUN staff writer

What do Susan B. Anthony, James Buchanan, Florence Nightingale and Sir Isaac Newton all have in common? They were all single.

Choosing to be single can be just as satisfying as thriving in a healthy marriage. Because many people are marrying later and living longer, a great number will spend most of their adult lives single. And, if they outlive a spouse, they may spend many years on their own. With increased divorces, fewer births and growing female independence, more and more people find themselves single. For the first time, more women in the U.S. are unmarried than married. In the 1950’s, about a third of women were unmarried. Now, that number is more than 50 percent.

Researchers focusing on the growing number of unmarried Americans are finding social benefits to singlehood. One study found that singles are more connected to family and friends than their married peers. Another found that unmarried offspring help their parents more than those who are married. Another shows that marriage lifts the spirits, but only temporarily.

Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, co-director of the National Marriage Project, said it is important to de-stigmatize singlehood because people don’t have to marry to have fulfilling lives. Singles “want their place in the demographic picture of America,” she said.

Being single affords one the opportunity to discover who one is, what one does and doesn’t like, how one deals with things, what one wants out of life, what one’s expectations are and what one’s potentials and limitations are. The goal of being single is to develop as a human being.

Karen Grella, parishioner at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Syracuse, is a 34-year-old single woman who is doing just that. “Not having a family right now is helpful because of the time involved in pursuing my doctorate degree in special education,” said Grella. She has just begun her dissertation. In addition, Grella works as a school psychologist at Syracuse University and teaches special education courses at Le Moyne College.

At the Cathedral, Grella serves as lector, extraordinary minister of Holy Communion and wedding procession coordinator. “My faith is very strong,” said Grella. “I try to live it in the way I treat other people. I feel a sense of community in my parish and enjoy my relationships with them, especially Sister Maureen D’Onofrio.”

Even though Grella enjoys her single life, she’d like to have children someday and wonders whether she will meet the man that is right for her before it is too late to have them. Her friends have introduced her to some men, but she hasn’t met the man that she considers suitable for her yet. “Sometimes I long for a companionship that feels right,” she said.

Grella said she enjoys her independence as a single person. “I can travel whenever I want,” she said. “I’m hopeful about the future.”

Cindy Fallon, a parishioner of St. Patrick’s in Oneida, has been divorced five and a half years and single for over eight years.

For the last year, Fallon has served as diocesan coordinator for the separated and divorced ministry out of the Family Life Education Office. The ministry offers support groups, an annual Day of Renewal in the spring, a Retreat and Healing Mass in the fall and a Separated/Divorced Weekend, among other things. “I venture out to find things of interest for the separated and divorced,” said Fallon. “It’s such a blessing for me to be in this ministry and to see people’s happiness and self-esteem restored. I’ve found new friends that I have fun with and I’ve connected with God in a deeper way.”

Fallon said she knows of eight couples who are now engaged in the separated/divorced community, but realizes that some people are happy being single just as she is.

“I’ve met so many lovely people over the years through the retreat,” said Fallon. “We’ve become a community of our own — we have bonded with one another because we’ve shared our pain and hope and faith.” She said the friendships that are formed provide companionship for such activities as hiking, going to a movie, attending lectures, going out to dinner and meeting at one another’s homes. “Everyone I meet — they know of some other interesting thing that is going on somewhere,” said Fallon. She explained how she recently visited Beaver Lake Nature Center and Highland Forest at the suggestion of friends.

Fallon completed the Formation for Ministry program and was commissioned three years ago. Her faith is extremely strong. “My relationship with God is the single most important thing to me and everything else I do flows out of God,” she said. “I want to make a difference in the world through my interactions with other people.”

Fallon said she finds the single life very interesting. “There are many things I like about it, like the freedom to make choices about what I do with my time,” she said.

She does, however, find single life challenging, especially when home repairs exceed her abilities. Fallon said she’s very competent as a school nurse, but she has very little mechanical ability. “At times it’s lonely,” she said, “If I talk to God in my prayers, He creates opportunities for me to share things with others in my community. For instance, I might ask someone over to my house for dinner.”

Fallon said she has found dating to be a challenge partly because she is so faithful. “God has found lovely men for me to date and I dated them for a while, but it wasn’t the right time for me to have a lifetime commitment,” Fallon said. “I think I’ll marry again someday, but right now I’m happy and content. I am assured that God will provide me with someone.”

Pat Tucker is facilitator of the Healing Hearts support group at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Baldwinsville. The group meets the first and third Fridays of each month and provides support and a social network for the divorced/separated from all over the diocese. Tucker said the group encourages the positive aspects of moving forward. She schedules occasional speakers and the group discusses topics that are pertinent to the divorced/separated. Sometimes the group goes out to dinner after the meeting. On Valentine‘s Day, the group plans to go bowling and is hosting a pot luck dinner.

Tucker said her recent divorce tested her faith in the beginning, but eventually her faith was what helped her get through the divorce process.

Tucker said she has adjusted to being single and is discovering things about herself that she wasn’t aware of before. “I started taking art classes and I found that I am talented,” she said. “I’m getting lots of positive feedback. I’ve found something that I can call my own.”

Dean Brainerd, of St. Mary’s Church in Minoa, facilitates the Safe Harbor Divorce Care support group. It meets at St. Mary’s Parish Center every other Thursday. Brainerd said the meetings include a video and discussion about such topics as anger, depression and legal issues. “The people who come to the group find a community where they feel they belong and are understood,” said Brainerd.

Brainerd has been divorced for six years and it has been a time in which he examined his dreams and hopes and made choices on his own. “I’ve grown to appreciate the freedom, but sometimes I miss the companionship,” said Brainerd.

Brainerd works as a trainer, consultant and executive coach for business leaders. “My relationship with God is the primary foundation for all aspects of my life,” he said.

Mary Olmstead started up a singles group at her parish, Holy Trinity in Syracuse in September 2007. The group of 10 meets once a month at Holy Trinity Parish Center to plan activities. The singles have bowled, gone to the movies, gone out to dinner and attended Masses as a group. They have also contributed funds to Francis House, UNICEF and Sarah House through various fundraising events. “The group serves as a social, spiritual and community service resource,” said Olmstead.

Olmstead has never married. She said she hasn’t found the right man yet. “I don’t mind being single,” said Olmstead. “Faith is what’s keeping me going.”

Many people, because of their single status, have developed into strong individuals who lead very fulfilling and satisfying lives.

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