Youth ministry conference inspires diocesan participants


By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

Several youth ministers from the Davenport Diocese networked with each other and ministers from across the U.S., listened to keynote speakers and selected workshops to deepen knowledge of their faith. This happened at the National Conference on Catholic Youth Ministry (NCCYM) in San Antonio, Texas, earlier this month.

Donna DeJoode, director of religious education/youth minister at St. Mary Parish in Oskaloosa, left, and Cease Cady, director of religious education/youth minister at Ss. John & Paul Parish in Burlington and Ss. Mary & Patrick Parish in West Burlington, take a break during the National Conference on Catholic Youth Ministry in San Antonio, Texas.

During the conference, Don Boucher, coordinator of youth and young adult ministry for the Davenport Diocese, was honored by the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry (NFCYM) for his distinguished work as a trainer.

Pat Sheil, director of religious education/youth minister at St. Joseph Parish in DeWitt, says networking with youth ministers from across the country is always beneficial and so is spending time with those from her own diocese. Keynote speakers Sister Helen Prejean, SCJ, and Father Greg Boyle, SJ, “were amazing. They held the attention of the audience and challenged us in so many ways. What is real justice and compassion?” During workshops, Father Michael White and


Chris Wesley had “great ideas on trying to instill new commitment in parishes,” she said. Another workshop by Dr. Ed Hahnenberg shared insight on the role of laity and the call to vocation.

Mike Linnenbrink, youth minister at St. Boniface Parish in Farm­ington, Holy Family in Fort Madison, St. John Parish in Houghton, St. James Parish in St. Paul and St. Mary Parish in West Point, was impressed with his second NCCYM conference.

“NCCYM has blessed me and our parish youth ministry with great information and I have developed a deeper relationship with other coordinators of youth ministry from the Davenport Diocese.” He noted that Julia Jones, youth minister at St. Ann Parish in Long Grove, promoted the value of NCCYM for him and the parishes he ministers. He attended the conference in Atlanta two years ago and found it to be valuable for personal and professional growth.

This year’s keynote speakers impacted him greatly. Listening to Sr. Prejean’s story and emotional message “made the story come to life for me,” he said. “Fr. (Greg) Boyle’s story of his life working with the gangs in Los Angeles also inspired Linnenbrink. “Sr. Helen and Fr. Boyle are true testaments of the Holy Spirit working in their ministries. I believe I’m a different person because of their personal witness.”

The conference also provided an opportunity to deepen knowledge of the Catholic faith, he said. Through conversations with others he received “nuggets of information to bring home to our youth and their families. The Diocese of Davenport has a ton of youth ministries with a great wealth of knowledge. I had the chance to just sit and listen to the struggles and victories both in their church work and also in their personal lives.”

A session based on the book “Rebuilt” provided detailed information from an East Coast parish that succeeded in improving parish life. “The information was based on results, not theory. Now I can carry this forward into our parishes for youth and their families,” Linnenbrink said.

Crystal DeNeve, faith formation director at St. Mary Parish in Grinnell, attended the conference for an opportunity to “grow in my own faith so I can help others in my parish grow in theirs. I also like all the resources that are there.” She has attended the bi-annual conference since 2000.

The large-group presenters “were amazing” this year. They were very inspirational and I felt renewed,” she said. “I attended a two-part session on crisis care and learned a lot about being prepared. Several of us from our deanery attended the crisis session in particular. When you work in a small rural parish it’s good to have other deanery parishes available to support you because you don’t have a huge staff that can help you.”

Donna DeJoode, director of religious education/youth minister at St. Mary Parish in Oskaloosa, said: “I am always looking for new ways to adapt and grow in discipleship, for myself and our youth. I also wanted to grow closer to other youth ministers. I have some amazing colleagues here and it was a joy to grow together.”

She chose to attend sessions to help her connect with youths she isn’t reaching right now and to help her enhance her ministry to students currently involved. “I love the youth with whom I am privileged to work and want to find ways to encourage them and continue enriching their lives through Jesus.”

In a session on “Rebuilding the Church from the Bottom Up” Father Michael White, author of “Rebuilt,” talked about the importance of visiting with churches – Catholic and non-Catholic — that appear to be successfully growing and grooming disciples. “What I liked about this session is the transferrable knowledge to smaller situations like programming in general, starting new programs or ending old programs,” DeJoode said.

In another break-out session, Dr. Kristin Witte addressed youths in crisis, particularly those impacted by the death of a peer or someone close to them. “One thing that stood out was the connection of our ritualistic faith in the processing of crisis, returning to what we know when we don’t know what to do (repetition of prayer through rosary, for example). It addressed what we as youth ministers as well as clergy and other lay leaders can do in these situations. Practical and tangible resources were given,” DeJoode added.

What she especially appreciated about keynote speaker Sr. Prejean was her experience with “Sneaky” Jesus and how God quietly enters people’s lives and directs them. Sr. Prejean focused on her experience with prison ministry and her book “Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States.” She reinforced the need to offer dignity and respect to all people, even those who seem less loveable. God can work miracles and change lives even with murderers, DeJoode said.

Fr. Boyle focused on his experience with gangs in California, specifically through Homeboy Industries. He shared how gang behavior is a symptom of lack of kinship. “He really emphasized the need to focus on relationships with each other and how he helped rival gang members to see good in each other, developing kinship amongst themselves.”

This was DeJoode’s first professional youth ministry conference and she hopes to attend the next one in San Jose, Calif., in 2016.

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