Martin Sellers and Chad Hansen were strangers when they met at a Lincoln Park eatery in the summer of 2014, but the two have since created a movement they hope will connect hundreds of young Catholic professionals across the Chicago area. On Feb. 2, the Chicago chapter of Young Catholic Professionals (YCP) debuted with a festive introductory event at the University Club in downtown Chicago. More than 550 attended the gathering, a sign of young Catholic professionals’ interest in an organization that can help them navigate issues related to personal, professional and spiritual development. “The Holy Spirit was at work in bringing Chad and I together and it’s created something that can fill an existing gap in the church with the young adult crowd by providing community and formation for young Catholic professionals,” Sellers said. Designed for young professionals in their 20s and 30s, both single and married, YCP looks to bridge the divide between a person’s spiritual life and professional journey, helping young professionals strengthen their Catholic faith while tacking their demanding careers. The group’s mission is “to encourage young adult professionals to work in witness for Christ.” Sellers and Hansen initially connected at the recommendation of YCP executive director Jennifer Baugh, who founded the organization in Dallas six years ago. After their initial meeting, both Sellers and Hansen reached out to their own networks and formed an exploratory team charged with investigating the feasibility of a Chicago chapter. “We visited other young-adult ministry leaders to take suggestions and gauge interest, and soon realized that a lot of these groups were not that connected,” Sellers said. “That seemed a real opportunity and need.” Later, the exploratory group worked with the Archdiocese of Chicago, including its Young Adult Ministry office and the Department of Parish Life and Formation, to gain the formal — and necessary — approval of Archbishop Cupich. After receiving the archbishop’s blessing last August, the group began solidifying its leadership team and building its executive board. “It’s certainly been a process, but one that has worked to our benefit by engaging the right people and building trust,” said Sellers, who works in city government. Katie Joy was among the group’s early volunteers and is now the chapter’s president. “There was nothing like YCP in Chicago, so I immediately saw the need and value and wanted to be involved,” said Joy, a Chicago- based marketing professional. “Amid the challenging early years of one’s professional career, I think a lot of people want to find a community of others serious about pursuing their careers and their faith and YCP definitely aims to have a positive impact here.” Chicago is YCP’s ninth U.S.- based chapter, joining existing groups in the Texas cities of Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio, as well as groups in Denver; Omaha, Nebraska; and Orange County, California. From quarterly networking happy hours to half-day retreats, Sellers said YCP Chicago will host various “non-intimidating events” designed to provide insights on spiritual and professional growth. On March 1, for instance, YCP debuted its inaugural Executive Speaker Series event at St. Clement, 642 W. Deming Pl., featuring Bob Parkinson, chairman emeritus of health care giant Baxter International. Joy said the monthly Executive Speaker Series exists to spotlight the practical ways young professionals can pursue holiness in the workplace. “Having established, successful professionals share how they have lived out their faith while pursuing demanding professional lives can provide a model for many of us to follow,” Joy said. Next year, Sellers added, YCP Chicago hopes to launch a mentoring program linking older Catholic professionals to younger ones in the same career fields. “The goal is to implement a little at a time,” Sellers said. “We believe a lot of great things can happen when Catholic professionals connect and support one another.” Ultimately, YCP Chicago hopes to build a vibrant organization where young Catholic professionals do not feel so alone, something that can happen in work environments where speaking about one’s faith is discouraged. “We are the next generation of business, church and family leaders and an organization like this can help build a stronger spiritual foundation for all involved and lead to some rich and inspired contributions,” he said. For more, visit www.youngcatholicprofessionals.org.