Don Boucher reflects on five decades of faith formation

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Lindsay Steele
Don Boucher, right, shares a laugh with keynote speaker Doug Tooke during the Diocesan Catholic Youth Conference in 2014. Boucher recently retired as director of Faith Formation and coordinator of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the Diocese of Davenport.

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

As a senior studying speech and drama at the University of Massachusetts in 1974, Don Boucher was unsure of what to do after graduation. A series of coincidental meetings led Boucher to a life of lay ministry and now, five decades later, he can’t imagine having done anything else.

“I’ve always seen it not as a career or job but as a ‘yes’ to the call I received from God to serve his people,” said Boucher, who served 48 years in lay ministry and ministry formation. He retired Dec. 31 as director of the Office of Faith Formation and coordinator of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the Diocese of Davenport, where he worked from 2013-22.

“He has given his life to helping young people, and communities of faith, to understand that our younger brothers and sisters are the Church today, not tomorrow,” said longtime friend Mike Patin, a nationally known speaker. “He has worked tirelessly to help young people in areas of understanding and growing in their faith while discovering how they can put that faith and their own gifts in service to the kingdom of God and the world around them.”

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Beginnings
Boucher’s future in lay ministry began taking shape in the spring of 1974 when he visited a friend in Des Moines who was involved in ministry work there. “He introduced me to a bunch of people, one of whom was my future wife, Candy. Two others were young priests teaching at Dowling (Catholic High School) part-time and doing outreach and retreat ministry in the greater Des Moines area.”

That summer, the priests offered Boucher a job working with Youth Team Ministry (YTM) in Des Moines. “For the first two years I worked with them in YTM’s Wherehouse,” a room in the back of a furniture store open three nights a week and on Sunday afternoons for programming, which included prayer groups, fellowship and Mass. For the next several years, he worked in various youth and music ministries in the Des Moines Diocese, working second jobs to make ends meet. Meanwhile, he got to know his future wife better. “One thing led to another, and the rest is history,” he said. Married in 1978, they are now parents of four grown children.

A focus on ministry formation
Boucher spent a majority of his faith formation career working with parishes and dioceses in Iowa, Massachusetts and Georgia. Additionally, he offered instruction to faith formation leaders

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Lindsay Steele
Don Boucher stands in his office prior to his retirement last month as diocesan director of Faith Formation and coordinator of Youth and Young Adult Ministry.

throughout the country through the Center for Ministry Development and the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry.

Boucher came to the Diocese of Davenport in 2013 as coordinator of Youth and Young Adult Ministry and two years later succeeded Mary Wieser as director of the Office of Faith Formation. Jesse Manibusan, a Catholic recording artist, calls Boucher a model of stewardship and a mentor of discipleship. He does this by leading with love, concern and faithful compassion. “Don walks with God as he accompanies everyone with encouragement, affirmation, hospitality and radical acceptance,” Manibusan said. “He is the ultimate youth worker in the field.”

A changing landscape
Boucher has experienced and observed changing trends in faith formation over his 48-year career. The past 10 years, in particular, have been “a real time of change and transformation in ministry.” A changing cultural landscape means program-based ministry is no longer as effective as it once was. “As a Church, we need to reposition ourselves around family life and do much more to accompany parents in raising their kids in the faith,” he said. Young people need to feel comfortable asking tough questions. “The things we’ve done still have value,” but helping youths encounter Jesus on a personal level and through the experiences of others is vital to creating the next generation of faith-filled disciples.

Boucher transitioned the diocese away from relying solely on major youth events to engage the next generation of Catholics. He focused on equipping parish ministers to meet the needs of youths and their families.

“I am grateful I was able to work alongside and learn from Don,” said Julia Jones, the youth minister for St. Ann Parish in Long Grove. “One thing Don did for me was help me hold myself to a higher standard in my position. (He believes) the role of youth minister is important to the young Church and teens deserve a caring and concerned adult in their life.” Because of the relationships Boucher had developed in his career, “he was able to introduce us to a wider community of youth ministers and professionals to network with and learn from.”

Thomas Leah, director of Faith Formation for St. Mary Parish in Oskaloosa, said Boucher’s instruction and outlook on youth ministry gave him “a lot of hope for the future of the Church.”
Patin said Boucher has been a force for change and innovation at the regional and national level, as well. “He has been a wonderful colleague in collaborating to design new and creative approaches to serving the young Church.”

Finding balance
Living out dual vocations to lay ministry and family life was challenging at times, Boucher admitted. It required working side jobs and spending time away from family. His wife was a constant source of support, understanding and accountability. “She’s never let me forget that I’m also a husband and a dad, especially in the times I wasn’t making time for that,” Boucher said appreciatively. Over the years, Boucher also learned the value of self-care. “You have to take care of yourself as well as caring (for) and serving others. We forget all the times Jesus left the crowds,

left the apostles, to take care of himself.”

Looking forward
“I’ve had the incredible privilege of ministering side by side with some amazingly gifted and faith-filled young people, as well as adults,” Boucher says. This includes people in the diocese and around the country “who, in many ways, I consider my extended family.” Looking ahead, “I don’t know where God is calling me to in this next chapter. I know for sure it’s more family stuff, but beyond that, we’ll see where God puts me.”

Bishop Thomas Zinkula said he appreciates the 48 years of service Boucher has dedicated to the Church. “His desire to try new approaches to meet the needs of youth and young adults has brought many of them closer in their relationships to each other and to God. I wish Don a relaxing and and well-deserved retirement.”.


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