The St. Jude Fort Wayne parish youth group recently completed its annual mission trip. From June 19-24, a group of 34 students, 10 chaperones and visiting clergy participated in the service mission. The weeklong event is akin to summer camp with a focus on Christian service. Groups volunteered at sites throughout Allen County, including homes, thrift stores, churches, schools and other nonprofit agencies.
One change for 2022 was an earlier start time on Sunday. This year’s mission trip coincided with the Eucharistic Procession and Festival in Warsaw and the launch of the National Eucharistic Revival. St. Jude Youth Minister Vickie Lortie saw this as a unique opportunity to engage the mission participants in a diocesan-wide event. Lortie also kept the mission week true to its purpose by providing a service opportunity from the moment the group arrived at Sacred Heart Parish.
“This year’s mission trip theme ‘Real Presence’ was realized from the very first actions of our young people. We participated in the diocesan Eucharistic Procession as servants to our fellow pilgrims that requested wheelchair assistance,” said Lortie. “Our teens had the tangible experience of being the hands and feet of Christ.”
Sunday evening, the group returned to St. Louis Besancon School in New Haven, a space that was generously offered by the parish for the entirety of St. Jude’s mission week. Each day, participants split into nine work groups and reported to their locations. Work groups consisted of 3-4 students and adult chaperones. Outdoor work was hot, while indoor work often involved both physical and mental engagement, yet morale remained high from morning to night.
Karly Ewing, a Bishop Dwenger graduate and fifth-year participant, had this to say regarding her ongoing dedication to the ministry: “We get a different experience each time. We may not always see the people we’re serving, but we know in our hearts that we’re helping someone. This year’s volunteer work was more behind-the-scenes than frontline. I have learned to trust that God puts us where He wants us to be.”
Students and chaperones were blessed with pastoral guidance throughout the week. Each morning, the group attended Mass at St. Louis Besancon Catholic Church. Celebrants were Monsignor Robert Schulte, Pastor of St. Jude Fort Wayne, Parochial Vicar and Bishop Dwenger High School chaplain Father Michael Ammer and Father Stephen Colchin, formerly of St. Louis Besancon, now retired. On Tuesday evening, Father Daniel Koehl, Parochial Vicar of St. Charles Borromeo, offered a moving discourse about the ongoing influence of the Eucharist in the lives of the Catholic faithful.
The mission group also made time for fun and the natural evangelization that results from community presence. The mission trip’s schedule included outings to an ice cream parlor in Monroeville, a TinCaps baseball game at Parkview Field, a night of stargazing with the Fort Wayne Astronomical Society and an evening dip at a local swimming hole in New Haven.
Service opportunities were wide-ranging and drew upon multiple talents. Teens had opportunities to share their existing knowledge with those in need and also learned new skills throughout the week. Examples of the needs fulfilled included building crosses for Allen County Right to Life, staining ramps with NeighborLink and sorting Christmas ornaments for display at the St. Vincent DePaul Store. One work group even caught a baby opossum in the office at The Franciscan Center, saving the organization nearly $300 for the cost of humane pest removal. All told, the 2022 St. Jude Mission Trip resulted in approximately 1,300 hours of donated time and service within Allen County.
Chaperones and students alike tend to return year after year once they undertake their first mission trip. Marissa Stieber, a third-year chaperone, finds that her dedication to the ministry is reinforced after each week of service. “The kids are always surprising me,” Stieber said. “Sometimes I consider taking a year off, but by the end of the mission week, I always think, ‘Why did I ever doubt this?’”
Ewing offered the following advice to those considering committing to the St. Jude mission trip in 2023, “Prepare for the week with an open heart. You will do a lot of hard work, but it’s worth the reward.”
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