Recent college grad spreads message of human dignity, sexual integrity

| Jessica Weinberger | December 4, 2017 | 1 Comment
Jesse Orenge

Jesse Orenge, a parishioner of St. Hubert in Chanhassen, is spending a year serving with The Culture Project, a Pennsylvania-based initiative that promotes virtue, human dignity and sexual integrity through presentations aimed at teenage audiences. Courtesy The Culture Project

Transforming the culture

As he anticipated tossing his cap on graduation day, University of Minnesota Duluth biology major Jesse Orenge envisioned transitioning right into medical school. But after joining the Catholic Church as a junior, his plans shifted, along with his outlook.

“Ever since coming into the Catholic Church, God looked at my plans and my heart and said, ‘I have a script for you to follow,’” Orenge said.

That script involved a call to missionary work. Now the 22-year-old Mound native and parishioner of St. Hubert in Chanhassen travels the country with The Culture Project International, an initiative that promotes virtue through presentations aimed at young people on the dignity of the human person and sexual integrity.

The organization’s mission invites young people “to become fully alive,” in part through living out one’s faith with integrity. It was a concept that Orenge struggled with before becoming Catholic. Growing up in a Pentecostal home, he understood the importance of faith and God’s word, but he’d often abandon his nice-guy reputation on the weekends and join the party crowd.

He carried that double life into college, but the disconnect between his beliefs and his actions caused him to reassess his priorities and faith.

He began attending Mass at the Newman Center alongside his roommate, a future Fellowship of Catholic University Students missionary. Together, they soaked in UMD chaplain Father Mike Schmitz’s messages, especially on St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, which articulates an integrated vision of the human person, including love and sexuality.

“It’s all about willing the good of the other, and growing to love others and loving the Lord your God with all of your heart, mind and soul, and loving your neighbor as yourself,” Orenge said. “That was a beautiful thing, but [I wondered] how do I do that in my own life?”

He continued to pursue a deeper faith, and he eventually joined the Church with the guidance of his peers and Father Schmitz, whom he selected as his sponsor and godfather.

Orenge first discovered The Culture Project, which is based in Philadelphia, during FOCUS’ annual SEEK conference while visiting exhibitor tables promoting vocations, religious orders and missionary organizations.

Seeing the clear link with the teachings of Theology of the Body and feeling drawn to the organization’s four main pillars — formation, prayer, outreach and community — he felt God was calling him to its mission. Orenge joined in June, weeks after graduation, and made a one-year commitment.

“While Jesse has always been a natural leader and a man of action, by following Christ, his life has taken on greater expanses and greater depths,” said Father Schmitz, whose Q&A-style column appears monthly in The Catholic Spirit. “Through his prayer and his faithful following of Jesus, Jesse has been brought to the place where he is now: serving others by transforming the culture.”

Missionaries with The Culture Project, which was founded in 2014, undergo two months of training on topics ranging from marriage and family preparation to Church teaching on pornography, homosexuality and abortion prior to leading talks. With one team stationed in Toledo, Ohio, and another in Los Angeles, California, The Culture Project relies on a third team — Orenge’s team — to go wherever it is called.

This year, the traveling team of two men and three women has ministered in Philadelphia, San Francisco and Vancouver, with the group sleeping in convents, rectories or other available spaces. Each missionary funds his or her own salary through savings and donations, and travels with only one suitcase and carry-on bag.

Churches, schools or dioceses hosting The Culture Project missionaries choose between one of two presentations: human dignity, which focuses on the splendor of the human person and defines human dignity as the unique value inherent to each person; or sexual integrity, which focuses on how happiness and love can feel unattainable, yet the freedom of living a virtuous life gives deeper meaning to intimacy.

Audiences range from five to 500, and each presentation includes a Q&A session and time for the missionaries to connect with the students or young adults one-on-one.

Sharing a countercultural view on these topics is more important than ever before, Orenge said. He pointed to statistics on rampant pornography use, citing national expert Fight the New Drug: By 11 years old, 80 percent of boys have been exposed to pornography. Overall, it’s estimated that 33 percent of men and 20 percent of women are addicted to pornography.

He feels affirmed by the difference he’s making through The Culture Project, recalling a time he encouraged a shy eighth-grader to approach his parents about attending Mass more regularly as a family, and the event where a large group of students completed chastity commitment cards after one of his sexual integrity talks.

“I know it’s making a difference, whether it’s from the responses of the kids or their parents or the young adults; I can see it in their faces,” Orenge said. “We’re in the business of planting seeds and allowing the Lord to allow those seeds to grow into beautiful flowers. We, The Culture Project, know that we’ve done our work of proclaiming the truth.”

Orenge wants to show young people that there’s a different, more fulfilling way to live, and that they don’t have to follow the status quo to achieve real happiness and love. And wherever God leads him next, he hopes to be a voice that breaks into a culture so often misguided on love and sex.

“Through my actions, thoughts and words, I want to show the people I encounter and this world that there’s hope, and we cannot do it alone,” he said. “We have to raise the bar and meet the requirement of what love demands.”

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Category: Faith and Culture