July 26, 2021 // Diocese

Superstars of service — Deacon Mel and Annie Tardy

One might assume that the musical background of someone growing up in New Orleans would be of the jazz genre, however, Deacon Mel Tardy grew up with a different sound in his household. 

“My mother is an opera singer, and so my two siblings and I have a love of all kinds of music, especially opera, jazz and Dixieland,” said Deacon Tardy. 

He was also a middle child, the “peacemaker,” he laughed. 

“Our family moved to Wisconsin, and I attended Brown Deer High School. I attended the University of Notre Dame and earned my MBA. I met my wife Annie on the way to a conference in Indianapolis. We were married 23 years ago at the Basilica at Notre Dame,” he recalled. “We didn’t think we would be able to find an open date for our wedding, but I gave it a shot and called the basilica. They had one open date: Feb. 14 at 11 a.m. I shared with Annie: ‘Do you want the good news or the bad news first? The good news we have a date.’” 

The bad news was that it was already January of 1998. “We were able to pull it off and still have all our friends and family in South Bend in the middle of winter.” 

Deacon Tardy and Annie have three grown children and three grandchildren. The Tardys have also been the youth ministers for St. Augustine Parish in South Bend for the past 20 years. 

Photos provided by Annie Tardy
Deacon Mel and Annie Tardy pause after praying from the Stations of the Cross with St. Augustine Parish youth on Good Friday at the University of Notre Dame.

“We wanted to start something for the teens mainly because our own children said there was nothing for them to do at the parish. We really didn’t know anything about youth ministry; however, we gained a great deal of knowledge and support from Chris Culver, the diocesan youth director at that time.” The Tardys started out with just a summer movie night and a meal for youth on the west side of South Bend and invited whoever wanted to come. 

“We also started Wednesday evening activity nights, with a Bible study, which looked at the Sunday Mass readings. The teens wanted to come on Sundays too, so we would drive around the neighborhood picking up 12-15 kids each Sunday and bring them to Mass.” This eventually led to starting a preparation class for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Children. 

“We had nine African American boys come into the Church in those early years. Throughout the years it has been a diverse mix of young people coming into the Church,” shared Tardy. “Eventually we introduced service into the program and asked the kids what they would like to do. They wanted to play football! We turned it into a fundraiser for youth ministry activities.”

Boys and men gather before the annual Father’s Day football game, initiated as a fundraising event at St. Augustine Parish, South Bend, by the youth who were preparing for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Children in 2008.  This year’s Father’s Day scrimmage took place June 20 after Sunday Mass and was St. Augustine’s first event since the pandemic started.

The game is played on Father’s Day because many of boys do not have a father in their lives. The first year, Tardy said, the boys played against some of the men of the parish and the men let the boys win; but it started to get competitive as the kids started recruiting players from their high school football teams and the men recruited a few former Notre Dame Football players. The tradition has led to some amazing fundraising efforts and included themes such as ending violence or supporting Sickle Cell awareness. 

Saveon McElroy, in black shirt, a former St. Augustine Parish youth participant, teaches a football drill to current youth in preparation for an annual football game against parish adults. Saveon is now in formation to participate in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.

The parish hopes to hold a reunion barbeque this summer, along with a scrimmage, as the pandemic eases.

Deacon Tardy was called to the diaconate program and ordained in May 2011. The candidates at that time were cautioned that their ministry to the Church was about to increase fivefold, he said. 

“I couldn’t imagine being any busier, as I already served as the youth minister, choir director and ran the RCIC for the teens. Since I was now going to be on the altar, I would no longer be able to serve as choir director, and I do miss being able to pick up teens and bring them to Mass. But we hold a youth Mass on the third Sunday of each month: The youth do the readings, sing in the choir and help at the altar.

“What I have learned in youth ministry that there are no bad youth, but there are youth in bad circumstances,” Deacon Tardy said. “Through youth ministry, the Catholic Church can serve as a safe zone, a fun place where equity, justice and peace can flourish. If we show them the gift of diversity — the universal Church — they will recognize the Body of Christ even when his body in some locations appears a little different than what they are used to. If we affirm for youth that they belong, no matter from where they come or what they are going through, then when they get older, they are more likely to come home to the Church. Wherever they go, they will recognize Jesus walking with them.”

Participants in the youth ministry of St. Augustine Parish, South Bend, pray the Stations of Cross around the lake at University of Notre Dame on Good Friday.

* * *

The best news. Delivered to your inbox.

Subscribe to our mailing list today.