WISCONSIN -- The Dead Theologians Society of La Crosse, a Catholic group which focuses on studying the writings of the early church father and lives of saints, is attracting many students, as it provides a unique opportunity for the members to grow in Catholic faith.
"I enjoy it. I enjoy the people. I enjoy learning what we learn," said Andrea Thompson, a University of Wisconsin-La Crosse student who has been meeting with the college-age group since it started last summer.
The program is part of a nationwide initiative started in Newark, Ohio, in 1997 by two parish youth workers, Eddie Cotter Jr. and Michael A. Barone.
What is very unique about the meeting is that the meeting is held with a candlelight and pipe tobacco. Melanie Frei, director of one of the DTS chapters, said the candlelight environment for the meetings is reminiscent of the catacombs where early church leaders met. The pipe tobacco is used to provide a "story-telling atmosphere," like young people might encounter while hearing stories from an elderly relative, she said.
Usually the meetings proceed with prayer, discussions of Roman Catholic Church teachings and personal sharing and reflection, study of early church leaders from popes such as St. Clement of Rome to more recent leaders such as St. Therese of Lisieux, the "Little Flower of Jesus."
"It's such a simple concept," said Tom Frei, husband of Melanie, who together coordinates the program.
Besides teaching young people about their faith, the society has a mission to pray for the dead who have not yet entered heaven. The members also pray for each other and for their friends and family outside of the society.
"It's interesting to learn about the Catholic faith, the people in the beginning of our church history," said Andy Teska, a recent Western Wisconsin Technical College graduate who plans a career in firefighting.
Erika Deniger, an Aquinas High School junior and one of the few members still in high school, said participating in the Dead Theologian's Society has helped her finding answers to the questions she had in theology.
"Everything people are questioning now, people have questioned before and found answers to," Deniger said.