Hundreds of young professionals from across the country will gather Sept. 7-9 in Cleveland for the annual Young Catholic Professionals Conference. Cleveland was chosen as the 2018 conference site from among 18 potential locations that have YCP chapters.
“Mary, Star of Hope” is the conference theme. Sessions and guest speakers — including Bishop Nelson Perez, who will give the keynote address on Sept. 7– will center on spiritual connection to Mary during difficult times and provide a deeper understanding of the Blessed Mother.
Even those who are not YCP members are invited to participate in the conference. Cleveland YCP chapter members Carl Russo and Teresa Shumay share some of their experiences from the 2017 conference in Dallas and the 2016 conference in Houston.
Q: With the world today relying so heavily on social media interactions, what did you feel was benefit of being face-to-face with other Catholic professionals from across the country?
A: Theresa — For all social media’s capabilities, nothing can replace a face-to-face experience. The conference hosts high-level Catholic executives and phenomenal priests and religious not just to give talks, but to interact with the attendees who come from all over the country. As Catholics in our 20s and 30s, we can often feel alone in our efforts to live the faith — especially in the professional world. The national conference expanded my network with contacts and friends I could depend on for advice and support from all over the country.
Q: While attending a previous conference, did you step out of your comfort zone?
A: Carl — Given that I’m somewhat of an introvert, talking with so many people I didn’t know seemed intimidating at first, but everyone at the conference was inviting and we all had common interests to discuss, so it became quite easy to talk with anyone and everyone.
Teresa — I was never a fan of business networking. It felt shallow and utilitarian — and intimidating. I did so much networking at the YCP conference, but I didn’t really have to go outside my comfort zone. Attendees had so much in common and were genuinely looking to meet people.
Q: What did you embrace while attending the conference that was an “agent of change” for your life?
A: Carl — One speaker, a former executive at a Fortune 500 company, spoke about how he realized that the more he learned to be humble (often through difficult life events), the more he allowed God to work through him; his talk challenged me to regard others and their needs highly so that I might serve God’s will in them.
Teresa — I still find myself referring back to several of the talks that I heard at the conference in Houston in 2016. Our faith in Christ isn’t something to confine to Sunday Mass, and it’s not something we have to hide in a professional setting. I think many Catholics confuse openness about our faith for proselytizing, and many default to hiding their faith at work. If other coworkers are around, why do we hesitate to say grace in the break room? If we’re going to Mass on our lunch break, why do we hesitate to say so when someone asks? Seeing successful professionals openly and unapologetically living their faith was memorable and continues to be inspiring.
Q: In your own words, encourage a Clevelander (YCP member or non-member) to attend this year’s conference
A: Carl — People from all over the U.S. will be descending upon Cleveland — don’t miss the chance to show off our hidden gem of a city to them. Cleveland Rocks! It’s also a great chance to engage with your hometown family, friends and acquaintances in immersive, fun and faith-filled time.
Q: Share your best memory from the previous conference
A: Teresa — I remember meeting two fellow attendees on the second day of the conference who were apparently best friends. They made it their mission to meet everyone they could and introduce people to each other. They were, as a unit, the life of the party. It was only later that I found out they had met each other for the first time the day before. This conference is so unique in that way. There’s so much joy in finding others committed to witnessing to Christ.
Q: Young Cleveland Professionals – what was the professional takeaway and how did this conference sharpen the professional skill set?
A: Carl — I learned about how and why to build a Christ-like “giver” culture in your workplace, and how integrating an active prayer life into your daily routine can support this.
Teresa — I was especially struck by CEO Jeff Schiefelbein’s commitment to and success in founding his HR procedures in radical openness and honesty and the God-given dignity of each employee. A leader builds up his team and openly admits and learns from his mistakes. Jeff and other executive presenters had concrete, practical advice that was applicable in a variety of career levels and industries. They also fielded specific questions from the audience that took the discussions even deeper.
Q: Do you have any tips for conference goers or those considering registering for this year’s conference in Cleveland?
A: Carl — The days of the conference are filled with speakers, social time and the sacraments. Embrace that by the end of each day you will be simultaneously physically tired and spiritually energized. Also, make sure to connect with the speakers. I was so fascinated by one speaker’s talk on the topic of how an economy should serve people and not the other way around that I asked him for more information, so he recommended a book that I found to be intriguing: “Toward a Truly Free Market” by John C. Medaille, if you’re interested.
Teresa — If you’re tired of always being the token Catholic at work or the token young person in a Catholic organization, just come and see this. This is not a youth conference or some pop-up event for the young people. This conference brings together driven young professionals who are trying to live out Christ’s extraordinary call. We’re so lucky to host this here in Cleveland.
Russo, a software developer, lives in Stow and is a member of St. Joseph Parish in Cuyahoga Falls.
Shumay was a commercial accounts manager for an insurance agency in Cleveland but recently transitioned into education. This year she will teach fourth grade at St. Rocco School in Cleveland. She lives in Cleveland Heights and is a parishioner at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist.