Meeting adolescents’ needs through ministry

Catherine “Catzel” LaVecchia talks about adolescent faith formation during the Diocese of Davenport Office of Faith Formation’s ongoing series, Catholic Faith Formation in a Post-Pandemic World, April 7 on Zoom.

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

During a faith formation webinar, host Catherine “Catzel” LaVecchia asked participants to consider the nature of their parishes’ adolescent faith formation programs. “Are they ends in themselves or do they lead to a deepening of relationship and faith experiences?”

She said adolescence is a crucial time, especially between the ages of 14 and 18. Teens “are trying to figure out their identity, sense of belonging and purpose,” said LaVecchia, who leads lifelong faith formation in a New Jersey parish of 4,800 families. If parishes can reach out to adolescents in a meaningful way, they are less likely to leave the faith. “It’s a key time for faith development. … We can offer things that can change their whole course.”

LaVecchia offered insight on adolescent faith formation April 7 as part of the diocesan Office of Faith Formation’s ongoing series, Catholic Faith Formation in a Post-Pandemic World.


She did not attempt to generalize the adolescent experience but said most adolescents will experience differentiation and tension with parents and adults, reconsideration of faith, and challenges with the digital community. Good programming addresses the specific needs of teens in a variety of ways. It should not be one-way, one-size-fits-all communication. Ministers will not know the specific needs of parish adolescents unless they ask.

Effective programming focuses on building relationships that foster deeper connections, an openness to God and opportunities to experience God through others, LaVecchia explained. “I feel like that’s what Jesus did with his apostles. We need to create a culture of welcome and belonging.”

As with other age groups, adolescents can benefit from “holistic” faith formation that includes intergenerational, family and life-stage programming. Holistic faith formation helps adolescents engage in the life of a parish and the faith community as a whole, she said.

During the webinar, participants broke into small groups to discuss adolescent faith formation. Several groups identified attendance as a major barrier. “We have very little interest from teens, and the parents are not coming to Mass,” one lay minister told the large group afterward. LaVecchia and Don Boucher, diocesan director of Faith Formation, offered reassurance. Boucher said ministry is about the “long game” and if programming is consistent and engaging, participants will spread the word. LaVecchia added, “Sometimes we get so caught up in the numbers game (but) Jesus started out with 12! Even if you start a new youth ministry program with 12 or six, that’s okay … don’t be (discouraged) by immediate results. Give yourself time and be patient with yourselves.”

The series will conclude with an in-person workshop April 28 at St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City.

Individuals and parish groups may sign up at Interested persons who missed the first workshop and webinars may access the recordings by registering for the entire series at the link above.

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