March 17, 2021 // Local

Superstars of service — Abigail Ulbrich

From being baptized in St. Mary’s Chapel at Boston College as an infant to receiving her double major in theology and philosophy at the school, Abigail Ulbrich’s faith journey ultimately led her to Christ the King Parish in South Bend. 

She and her husband, Shane, were married in August of 2013, shortly before she was hired to be the director of youth ministry at Christ the King. The couple have three children: John, 6, who attends kindergarten, Robert, 4, in preschool at Christ the King and Josephine, 18 months. 

As a child, Ulbrich and her family lived in several areas of the country. 

“I am the oldest of nine children. I have four brothers and four sisters. I made my first holy Communion at the same Mass as my brother’s baptism in San Antonio, Texas,” she said. “We eventually settled in Milford, Ohio, which I am proud to call my hometown.” 

Photos by Jennifer Miller
Father Gilbrian Stoy, CSC, parochial vicar of Christ the King Parish, South Bend, and director of youth ministry Abigail Ulbrich welcome teens to a flag football game and explain the rules of play.  The youth group alternates prayer, meetings and outdoor activities throughout the year.

Ulbrich was confirmed at the Basilica Cathedral of St. Peter in Chains and continued her faith journey into high school, participating in her parish youth ministry programs and retreats. 

“When I was 15, I attended a diocesan retreat and had a real conversion moment in my faith life. This wonderful community of faith helped me in my walk with the Lord and led me to be able to take on leadership roles in small faith sharing groups in high school and college.”

Ulbrich’s faith journey took her from Ohio back to Boston to complete her undergraduate programs. 

“I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do after completing my degrees, but after discussing it with my mother, I knew I wanted to work for the Church. I didn’t have a set plan in mind; however, I knew that I needed some practical experience,” she shared. While completing her degrees, Ulbrich heard about a master’s program that interested her. 

“I learned of the ECHO program through Notre Dame and thought it was too good to be true. The combination of a master’s degree in theology and a hands-on apprentice program at a parish sounded so compelling. I felt that this was what would help me know what I want to do for the Church, so I applied.” 

Disappointment followed, as a letter thanked her for the application but said she was not chosen for the program. 

“It took me a few weeks to get over the initial rejection. I wanted to know why I wasn’t accepted. The program is the only one I had seen that gave information on how to contact them regarding their decision, so I called the number they provided. I had a great conversation with the director who told me honestly why I had not been accepted. However, soon afterwards I was invited to fill an opening (in the program) and was told it was because of this phone call that they gave me a second chance. The process taught me great humility and to trust in God’s providence and timing.”

Ulbrich’s journey to Camden, New Jersey, through the ECHO program continued to teach her to trust in God. 

“When I arrived at my first parish assignment, I told them I would do just about anything, but that I didn’t feel qualified for working with teenagers. Well, that’s what they needed, someone to start a youth ministry program. At my second parish assignment, again I said I would do just about anything, and what they needed was someone to start a youth ministry program.” 

When Ulbrich was hired at Christ the King, that parish’s youth ministry program also needed a renewal. 

“If you stay open to God’s will, you will see how He prepares you for what He is calling you to do,” she said. “I now had the confidence to build another youth ministry program, and we have a strong and healthy ministry here at Christ the King.”

After the game, the middle and high school students play soccer.

Students in seventh-12th grade meet every Sunday evening September through May from 7-9 p.m. The evenings are filled with games, snacks and time for bonding and hanging out, but especially discussions on faith topics important to the teens. 

“Our evenings also include guest speakers, YouTube videos, small group discussions and time for reflection,” detailed Ulbrich. “We conclude each evening with prayer: sometimes the Liturgy of the Hours, sometimes silent prayer, sometimes intentions. I encourage the teens to be specific and make a plan for their prayer life. How, when and what are you going to do for your prayer time? 

“I find this so helpful for my own prayer life; it gives me structure to my day.”

The teens at Christ the King plan monthly social activities. A parish favorite is apple pie-making; the pies are then sold to raise funds for the program. 

The teens also have an annual flag football game usually played on Super Bowl Sunday. This year’s cold temps in February postponed the event to March, but it’s always great fun for the teens, said Ulbrich. 

She has a core team of students who help with the planning of events and keep her up to date on the current needs of the teens. 

“One of the most amazing things the teens ask for is time to spend in adoration,” Ulbrich shared. “They crave quiet to reflect and to listen to what the Lord has to say to them as they grow and learn in their faith. 

“The teens inspire me every day, with their energy, creativity and passion for the world. It means so much to me to be a part of their lives. I’m privileged to see their faith, pray with them and be someone who can encourage them to reach out to God, who loves them so very much.” 

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