July 14, 2010 // Local

Diocesan youth programs keep teens hopping

Teens from St. Pius X youth group enjoy trivia night at their parish.

By Kay Cozad

Catechesis for the faith formation of the indispensable youth of the Catholic Church does not end with the formal preparation and reception of the sacrament of Confirmation in eighth grade. To further this formation the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend boasts a plethora of strong and effective parish-level religious education programs for high school youth as well as many dynamic youth ministries to meet the catechetical needs of this energetic population.

Teens from Sacred Heart youth group gather for this photo at FaithFest.

Warsaw’s Sacred Heart Parish has had a vital youth ministry in place since 1995. Current youth minister is Sacred Heart alum Ida List, who began in the early years as overnight retreat volunteer chaperone while her oldest daughter participated in youth group events. As an elementary religious education instructor and youth group volunteer, List was asked to assume the youth director’s position in 1998.

Taking responsibility for the youth of the parish was easy for List, who says, “I love working with teens. I find them very challenging.”

Because she believes that high school age is an important time frame in a child’s faith formation, List jumped in with both feet. “I wanted a strong youth ministry for the kids,” she says.

So the 25 to 40 students meet from September to May every Sunday evening for about an hour and a half in the gathering space in the church and occasionally in the gym. The gatherings begin with prayer led by the students, with petitions and thanksgiving. The theme of each session varies, says List, to “keep the teens interest.”

The variety of themes is presented through adult team volunteers, DVD or CD use, and speakers from around the diocese, including priests, parents, religious brothers and sisters, and seminarians, who gather to form panels and offer Church teachings on topics ranging from vocations to theology of the body. Following the presentation students form small groups where adult volunteers facilitate discussions on the topic.

The session concludes with 15 minutes of prayer. List says the students are interested in different forms of prayer including the Litany of the Hours.

Occasionally a topic or speaker will spark special interest and List will invite other area parish youth from St. Francis Xavier, Pierceton, St. Martin de Porres in Syracuse and St. John the Evangelist, Goshen, to attend the Sunday gathering. Twice each year Sacred Heart hosts XLT, a faith gathering with worship music and Scripture for all the area teens as well.

The youth group at Sacred Heart has grown exponentially with “teens inviting teens,” says List, who says she encourages the students to be peer mentors to each other, in church and school. And she says that the Sacred Heart community has been a great support to the youth ministry during the biweekly teen Masses in which the teens participate as greeters and play other roles as well. “Parishioners see how many teens are involved. It’s important for them to be part of the community,” says List.

The youth ministry also participates in World Youth Day as well as an annual retreat at Franciscan University in Ohio where students join other Catholic teens from around the country to learn about their Catholic faith tradition. The youth also offer community service for a variety of area agencies as well as visiting nursing homes and the home bound.

The goal of this ministry, says List, is to encourage students as they leave high school to seek out churches and Newman Centers where they can continue participating in their faith. “Faith,” says List, “is continued learning. There’s always something new.”
Tara Schmitt couldn’t agree more as she serves the youth of St. Pius X in Granger. A 2002 convert to the Catholic faith, Schmitt and her husband, Rodney, temporarily took the youth ministry program over that same year, while both were teaching in South Bend schools. After a year of helping out, Schmitt resigned her teaching position to take the youth director’s chair full time.

After establishing a core team of young adult volunteers, Schmitt discovered the Life Teen Program and that is when, she says, the St. Pius youth ministry became “a solid program.”

The core team of eight volunteers help plan and implement each Sunday night session for the 80-100 students who attend, which is “kick-started” with a prayer followed by a game, video clip or skit that introduces the night’s theme. A core team member offers a teaching on the theme, each based on the four pillars of Catholic Church — the Apostle’s Creed, the seven sacraments, the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer — after which the students discuss the teaching in small groups. Each two-hour meeting concludes as the teens come back into a large group for prayer.

Occasionally, says Schmitt, a current topic is discussed for the teens edification, such as the clergy scandal or theology of the body.
“At the beginning of the year I give the kids the chance to tell me about issues or activities they want to do. And sometimes I feel like I need to cover a specific topic,” says Schmitt.

Each Lent the teens follow the parish theme in their unique way and participate in a Paschal retreat during the Easter Vigil.
Each month Schmitt tries to incorporate a “hot topic night,” two catechetical sessions and a social evening for the teens.
“That continues to build community,” she says.

The group meets on Wednesday nights for a still structured but more relaxed discussion time during the summer months and has the opportunity to attend a popular mission trip in June.

Community outreach for these dynamic and faith-filled teens include the parish Giving Tree where they assemble and deliver food baskets and gifts for needy children and families in the area, and various helping hands projects for the homebound. “Our goal,” says Schmitt, “is to do more outreach.”

These and many more youth ministry programs are providing the youth of the diocese with a firm foundation in the teachings of the Catholic Church as they continue to develop their faith.

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