California, Colorado, Mexico: Yadira Gonzalez lived in many places as a child because of her father’s work. When Gonzalez was 8 years old, her father reached out to family members in South Bend. In South Bend, he found work and a place to bring his family to live.
“I was baptized in Los Angeles: However, I didn’t receive the rest of my sacraments until I was 10. We were Catholic, but not very faithful until my parents were invited to a spirited prayer group at St. Casimir. This experience set them on fire for their faith. We felt ‘bienvenidos a la parroquia de San Adalberto’ or ‘welcome at St. Adalbert Parish’ and made this our parish home. I made my first holy Communion and was confirmed at St. Adalbert,” shared Gonzalez.
Gonzalez attended St. Joseph high school. “It was a difficult time for me, and I wasn’t very active in anything at school. It was important for me to be part of a youth program, but our leadership at the parish was inconsistent and not very strong at the time. Then our pastor, who at the time was a seminarian, Father Ryan Pietrocarlo, called and asked me to serve on the youth leadership team my senior year. We started out small, but I think Father Ryan’s perseverance, hope and leadership shined a light to our Latino youth. We finally had a flourishing youth group!”
With her love of science and also realizing the importance of continuing her Catholic education, Gonzalez received her undergraduate degree in molecular cellular biology from St. Mary’s College in 2019. “I wanted to become a doctor and took a job as a phlebotomist at an area hospital after graduation. But I realized that working with patients and shadowing at clinics just wasn’t for me.”
After much prayer and discernment, Gonzalez received a call from Esther Terry, director of Hispanic Ministry for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, about an opening position at the St. John Paul II Center. “Looking back, I could see that God had been following me. I felt just like Dorothy Day when she said, ‘God haunted me my entire life.’ He was calling me to do something completely different. The work at the JPII center felt like I was coming home to what I was meant to do. The position was just one day a week, though, so I was praying that more hours would come available. Then I received a call once again, this time from Father Ryan offering me a full-time job!”
Gonzalez is teaching religion at St. Adalbert school for children in pre-k through third grade and is the part-time youth minister for the high school youth.
“It has been a slow start for our youth program since the pandemic hit. We started something new this past year and combined our youth ministry with the confirmation prep group, hoping that we have a better retention for the young people to continue learning about their faith. We combine the teachings about the sacrament with helping them to know that Jesus talks with each of them personally. Then we tailor our prayer and talks to their unique life experiences.”
The vibrant, charismatic prayer of the Church as expressed through music and dancing holds a conversion moment for Gonzalez.
“I receive such joy when I sing, pray and dance the prayers of the Church. I really love the Spanish hymn “Jesus está vivo” (“Jesus is alive”). The kids love to sing it too. It is so important to impart this joy to our youth,” Gonzalez said.
“God holds each of our youth in His tender, loving hands; and I know that it is my job to reflect that love to them so that they will understand how truly special they are,” she concluded.
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