When registration opened for the 2024 Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis, Todd Kooser was eager to sign up his family.
He went online soon after and registered himself, his wife, and his three children - two sons and a daughter. They’d been looking forward to attending the five-day event for a while.
“We started making plans to attend [the Congress] when it was first announced,” Kooser, a software developer from Ohio, told The Pillar.
“This seems like a once-in-a-generation type of event and I'm glad that I can be a part of it, but I'm even more excited that my kids get to be a part of it during their more formative years,” Kooser added.
“My hope is first of all to have a powerful experience of adoration as well as opportunities for my kids to experience being a part of the church in a larger context,” he said.
Kooser said those kinds of experiences have meant in his own life.
“My wife and I both grew up in the Life Teen movement which fostered in us a Eucharistic devotion from a young age, as well as providing us the opportunity to participate in World Youth Day and other Catholic conferences and retreats,” he explained.
“Our two oldest are making their First Communion this year, and our primary hope is to help them develop a devotion to Christ in the Eucharist as well,” he said.
Before registration opened for the Eucharistic Congress, which will be held in Lucas Oil Stadium and a neighboring convention center, Kooser “wasn't sure if there would be a price or if it would be supported by donations and sponsorships.”
In fact, there is a cost to register for the 2024 Eucharistic Congress. Registration fees listed on the Eucharistic Congress website are $375 for individuals. For families, the cost is $299 per adult, and $99 for each child over age two. The fee for seminarians, clerics, and religious is also $299.
Registration covers five days of talks, catechesis, and liturgies, as well as smaller events at the convention center, but it does not cover food, lodging, travel, or parking for the event.
When Kooser found out that it would cost his family $895 dollars to register for the Eucharistic Congress, he said the price was worth it.
The fee, he said, “seems reasonable when compared to any other 5-day event. I'm sure the organizers are covering a significant portion of the cost.”
For Mary Pearson, things seemed a bit different.
Pearson is a Catholic mother of five, living in Southern California. After she heard last year about the Eucharistic Congress, she told one of her children the family might attend, and “that child … has not forgotten,” she said.
But Pearson said she’s not sure her family will actually make it to Indianapolis — and cost is a big factor.
It would cost the Pearsons - two adults and five kids - $1,095 to register for the talks and liturgies of the Eucharistic Congress.
Pearson said she was already unsure if her family could afford airfare for the event. But when she saw the registration cost, “I was pretty put off by those numbers… It does seem like too much to me, personally.”
“I guess in my mind the biggest cost would have been just getting there,” Pearson said. “I didn’t think the actual events would cost so much.”
Pearson told The Pillar that while she’d like to take her family to the Congress, the costs of travel and registration make it “pretty unlikely that it will actually happen.”
The 2024 Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis has been in the planning stage, mostly by a group of bishops and a small staff, for nearly two years — as an element of the USCCB’s three-year Eucharistic Revival Project.
And while chairman Bishop Andrew Cozzens told bishops in November 2021 that participants would pay likely fees of approximately $300 to attend, Pearson and Kooser weren’t the only ones surprised by the price when registration opened online Feb. 15.
Other Catholics hoping to attend told The Pillar that they, too, had not realized there would be a registration fee for the Eucharistic Congress, or said they had expected that it would be much lower.
So when Catholics do register for the Eucharistic Congress, how was the price set? And what exactly are they paying for?
Tim Glemkowski, a married father of three with another baby on the way, was appointed executive director of the Eucharistic Congress last spring — he had worked before that in the chancery of the Archdiocese of Denver.
Glemkowski told The Pillar that as soon as he started working on the Congress, in May 2022, he realized that cost was an issue.
“We have our fourth kid due in May,” he explained. “When I began, our initial cost projection was $300 a ticket. I was thinking that would mean that it would be $1,800 for our whole family to attend. So my first goal was how to drive that down.”
Glemkowski explained that the Eucharistic Congress is being organized by a non-profit formed for just that purpose, whose board of directors is chaired by Bishop Cozzens. Five other bishops sit on the non-profit’s board, along with four laypeople.
The Eucharistic Congress has advertised that as many as 80,000 Catholics will come for the five-day event, which has been framed as a generational moment for American Catholics, and which includes several large catechetical and adoration events in Lucas Oil Stadium, along with daily Masses, “breakout sessions,” and a variety of cultural and formational events in proximity to the stadium.
And as they plan, Glemkowski said, staff and the non-profit’s board have tried to keep costs down — and had success at lowering the event’s cost from its initial expected price tag.
He noted that Cozzens initially told bishops the event would cost about $28 million — a figure that prompted some pushback at the November 2021 USCCB meeting, including from Archbishop Timothy Broglio, now president of the bishops’ conference.
But projected costs are now much lower, Glemkowski said.
“The initial budget that had been presented saw this as a $28 million event, and we worked really hard to bring the total expenses for the event somewhere down closer to $14 million, in order to be able to do things like heavily discounting kids’ tickets.”
Still, Glemkowski said that from his view, the Congress can only make so many cuts.
“We want this event to be as accessible to as many groups as possible, and we have fought and worked hard to make that possible,” he said.
“But, honestly, we can only make it as cheap as we can make it. Not because of decorations or things like that, but because of safety. We’ve tried to cut a lot of fat off the budget, but the key is security and safety. Just the nuts and bolts of this have significant costs,” he said.
He added that in addition to the Indianapolis event, the Eucharistic Congress has other costs to consider when setting its budget, including support for the four walking Eucharistic pilgrimages planned to precede the Indianapolis gathering.
“There are also operating costs - and they’re low - but there are operating costs for the [non-profit] running things. Still, compared to other significant Catholic events in the last decade, we’ve been able to keep our staff leaner and more efficient than many of those,” he said.
“There are also costs for some of the support for the different Eucharistic Revival initiatives that we’re working on, in conjunction with the USCCB committee on evangelization and catechesis,” Glemkowski said.
“We’re helping to support a lot of the good work of getting the word out about the Revival, and marketing efforts, and building things for the parish year of the Eucharistic Revival.”
Describing revenue projections from ticket sales as a “matrix,” which takes into consideration several factors, Glemkowski said that when Congress organizers set their ticket prices, they also looked at the ticket costs of other Catholic events.
“When we set the price, we were looking at other events,” he said. “Everything from big evangelical conferences to World Youth Day, to SEEK,” an annual conference for college students sponsored by campus ministry apostolate FOCUS.
The 5-day 2023 SEEK conference cost $449 to register, though the fee did include some meals.
“The [Congress] price was set because we’re trying to position ourselves in the event landscape, and really looking at the costs of doing an event of this size and magnitude and scale in a safe and effective way,” Glemkowski explained.
He added that the Congress had initially projected ticket revenues of $18 million for the event, “from $300 a ticket times 60,000 people.”
Congress organizers declined to share current ticket revenue projections, but Glemkowski said they are now “much less” than $18 million.
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Alongside ticket revenue, the Eucharistic Congress has worked to net sponsorship revenue to support its projects, and lists several large Catholic and Catholic-adjacent organizations as sponsors. But Glemkowski said that benefactors have not expressed much interest in helping to defray ticket prices for event attendees.
That’s why staff and board members have taken a few other approaches aimed at making the Congress affordable, he said.
The first is a scholarship fund, mentioned on the FAQs of the congress’ website.
Eucharistic Congress staff are still working to raise money for scholarships, Glemkowski said. “We want to do that as our own work to make this an achievable possibility,” he explained.
The application period for scholarships has not yet opened, Glemkowski said, but organizers say they expect to have a process in place by October.
In addition to scholarships, Glemkowski said that Eucharistic Congress organizers have tried to help parishes and dioceses offer lower-cost registration tickets, and help families fundraise to cover their expenses.
Before public registration opened this month, the Eucharistic Congress made pre-order tickets available to bishops, to order at a bulk discount for their dioceses. Tickets could be purchased during that period for $200 each, Glemkowski said.
Nearly 20,000 tickets were sold at the discounted price, Glemkowski said. While some went to sponsors, staff, or volunteers, bishops ordered more than conference organizers were expecting.
“More bishops booked more tickets than we expected,” Glemkowski said.
“This was another step in trying to be bold, in saying that if the percentage is higher than we expect, we expect that God will provide.”
The Diocese of Portland, Maine, is among the local churches to purchase discounted tickets.
The diocese, which did not respond to questions from The Pillar, began advertising this month that local Catholics can register for the Congress at a cost of only $110 per adult — $265 less than the Congress’ individual rate, and $90 less than the Congress sold tickets to the diocese.
Children are able to register at the standard child rate of $99 each.
While registering on the Congress website would cost a family of five some $895, Maine Catholics registering through their diocese would pay $517 — a savings of $378, enough to cover the cost of gas for a round-trip between Maine and Indianapolis in a 2010 Honda Odyssey, according to the federal Energy Department.
According to its website, the diocese discounted the tickets using a grant from its Lay Continuing Education and Formation Endowment Fund. The site informed potential attendees to anticipate that travel, lodging, and other expenses would be additional costs, adding that the Maine diocese was developing a group travel package.
For his part, Glemkowski said the Congress has made fundraising suggestions to parishes hoping to help raise money for pilgrimage groups attending the Eucharistic Congress. He said he’s heard from parishes “already thinking through fundraising efforts to make the Congress as accessible [as possible] to Catholics of all income levels.”
Glemkowski also said he thinks some families might have had sticker shock when they saw the registration fees, because “families aren’t always in the habit of thinking about conferences as a portion of their budget — that’s more common with youth groups or college kids,” who attend events like SEEK, he said.
But will the sticker shock deter potential attendees? That remains to be seen.
Liz Hansen is a Michigan freelance writer, and the mother of four children. Registration through the conference website would cost her family $994.
Hansen told The Pillar that from her view, the conference fee is out of reach for most Catholic families.
“I literally can't imagine who they're thinking is their crowd. It's laughable. I only have a mid-sized family in some Catholic circles, and that's a sizable chunk of a mortgage payment. And then most hotels won't let a family larger than 5 in one room, so we'd be looking at multiple nights in a hotel at twice the rate, plus having all your meals out,” Hansen told The Pillar.
Still, Hansen said that price isn’t the only deterrent for her family.
“We're in the minority of Catholics who actually believe in the Real Presence, and I think it's more important than ever to run to Him in the Eucharist to find our bearing,” Hansen said, but “we’re honestly just not a ‘come find Jesus in a stadium of Catholics’ family.”
On the other hand, Josh Hengemuhle, a father of three, had been considering taking his family to the Congress, and said cost has made a difference.
Hengemuhle said that the cost struck him as “a lot, though when you spread it out over a few days it's better.”
But, he added, “for my little Catholic family of five, that’s 900 bucks.”
The cost, he said, “moves it from a strong consideration to a complicated decision … From ‘how can we make this work’ to ‘can we make this work?’”
Hengemuhle said he is also waiting to see “what the value is for kids. What my kids will get for that $100. I don’t think my seven-year-old will want to sit through a bunch of talks.”
As he waits for more detailed programming and event schedules to be released, Hengemuhle said he thinks the Congress “could be a great $100 investment for some powerful catechesis for my kids, but if it's not incredibly intentional of including them, it's not going to be worth it.”
As conference organizers plan schedules, one potential attendee had a suggestion.
Steve, a father of 9, is a diocesan official in the midwest. Registering his family for the Eucharistic Congress would cost $1,489 on the Congress website.
Steve, who was not authorized by his employer to speak on the record, acknowledged the reality of conference costs, but said they’d be out of reach for his family.
“Having hosted events at the diocesan level and overseen trips to the March for Life and NCYC, I understand the financial constraints of hosting such a large event and the cost of convention space, and top-tier speakers,” Steve said.
“From that point of view, $1,500 for a family my size isn't unreasonable. That having been said, if the expectation is that regular Catholics will be able to attend the Congress, I'm not sure they will achieve their goal. It's certainly out of the price range of our family.”
Steve said that he is “praying for the success of the Congress,” and “promoting it in our area,” even while his family will not likely be able to attend.
He wondered if “the Revival wouldn't have been better served by smaller regional gatherings that would be more manageable for families.”
While some dioceses are planning local and diocesan Eucharistic events during the revival, they are unevenly spread across the country.
Steve said that he would like to attend the Indianapolis event, and to see his children attend. And he wondered whether the Congress might consider making some events easier to attend — especially the actual liturgies.
Steve also suggested that the Congress sell day passes, or partial tickets, for Catholics who'd like to attend part of the event, but not all of it.
“I'd love for my children to be able to attend even part of the Congress, and if there were affordable tickets for one day or for a primary Mass, it might be worth the sacrifice for us,” he said.
Glemkowski told The Pillar that there are no plans to sell partial tickets to the Eucharistic Congress, citing the challenge of logistics.
But he did say that organizers are looking into possibilities for making the Masses and other public liturgies free to attend. He said the biggest issue - and cost - is security.
Still, while Glemkowski mentioned World Youth Day as a comparable event requiring tickets, he also acknowledged that the public liturgies and other “central events” at World Youth Days are open for free, to all pilgrims who wish to attend.
While the present plans for the Congress would only open liturgies to registered participants, Glemkowski told The Pillar that “we don’t really consider the fee to be directly related to the liturgical elements. That’s one of the things we’re trying to push on — can some of those liturgical moments be more accessible?”
“But these are all early conversations that are going to take a little bit of time to figure out.”
While registration has already opened, Glemkowski told The Pillar that he and other Congress staffers are still working to make the event, or at least parts of it, affordable to more families.
He urged patience.
“We’re exploring long-term options to make this a more accessible event,” he told The Pillar.
“We want this to be an event of the entire Church together, experiencing together the power of an encounter with our Eucharistic Lord, together,” he said.
“And we want families to be there. We need families to be there. We’ll keep working on this, because it’s important.”