PEWEE VALLEY, Ky. — Mandy Kumler has an infectious laugh, a can-do attitude and a calling to youth ministry. The latter was celebrated when she received the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry’s Companion on the Journey award.
Kumler, coordinator of youth ministry at St. Aloysius Church since 2002, received the award during a Nov. 5 ceremony. She was nominated for the award by the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Youth & Young Adults in part for the way she adapted her ministry during the pandemic.
“Mandy is an absolute delight,” Aaron Frazita, associate director, said. “Her flexibility and adaptation, the way she adapts to the needs of the group, are why we nominated her.”
And adapt she does.
One of her favorite parts of ministry — mission trips — was put on hold last year due to COVID-19 restrictions. Kumler instead connected with students online during the pandemic.
“COVID year was rougher, I stayed active though online with the kids the whole time because I was like, ‘They’re not distracted,’ ” Kumler said. “They don’t have all of these other things that they’re always yelling about. They’re just home and bored, so I did do some stuff online, I mean as good as ministry can be online. But again, that’s the whole adapting thing. I could have been like, ‘Well this is weird,’ and go hide in my hidey-hole. But there was a need there.”
Kumler enjoys youth ministry even though she realizes it may not be for everyone.
“I really get a lot out of being with the kids; I think they’re funny,” she said. “That’s a gift God gave me; not everybody agrees with me. And I enjoy it a lot. My faith is strengthened watching their faith grow.”
Despite COVID-19 restrictions imposing limits on group size and gatherings, Kumler said service events with the parish and youth group gatherings continue to attract volunteers.
Mercy in Motion, the St. Aloysius youth group’s monthly service meeting, hosted Blanket Louisville this month. The local nonprofit collects and distributes new and gently used blankets for Louisville’s homeless population. Nearly 30 volunteers showed up to make blankets.
The idea for the Mercy in Motion ministry came from the pastor, Father John Stoltz, who wanted to emphasize intergenerational ministry. Kumler paired that with sacramental preparation requirements to create the monthly ministry. As a result, students preparing for first Communion and confirmation, along with their families, attend regular Mercy in Motion meetings to do service projects together.
Kumler always approaches this work with enthusiasm, say those who know her.
“One of the things I love about Mandy is she is the joy of our faith in action,” Frazita said. “Even on her hardest days, she does it with a smile.”
Mary Hynes, pastoral associate and director of religious education at St. Aloysius, applauds Kumler’s dedication.
“She has patience beyond all else,” Hynes said with a laugh. “I couldn’t do it. She just rolls with it.”
Kumler noted that burnout for youth ministers is typically three to five years. She credits her longevity in youth ministry to a sense of calling. It’s “not just something to do while I figure my life out,” she noted. She said it also helps that she recognizes youth ministry evolves as kids and generations change.
“So your kids graduate, they move on, things change. And if you’re like, ‘No! We’ve never done it that way!’ Then you burn out and you fizzle. Or if you just kind of go, ‘I don’t care, it’s God’s ministry, it’s not mine,’ then it’s like, ‘OK, this is what we’re gonna do today!’ ”
These days, kids have extremely busy schedules, she said.
In an effort to “not be part of the problem” and contributing to teenagers’ overbusy schedules, Kumler has shifted and met her students where they are.
“It used to be, kids were committed and would always be there on Sundays,” she said. “No matter what was going on, if the door was unlocked and there was snacks, they were there. And now they’re busy; I don’t want to be part of the problem.”
Instead of meeting once a week, she said, her group usually meets monthly.
“We’ll have adoration in the chapel and we have a student choir kind of thing that sings praise and worship in the chapel and then we have an activity afterward,” Kumler said. “That’s working right now.”
The one thing Kumler thinks everyone should know about youth ministry is its importance.
“Youth ministry is important,” Kumler said. “I think a lot of times we (as youth ministers) are not understood. We’re a little different. Plus those of us who are in it for the long haul kind of are a little different and quirky and that’s because we have the gift to do that. It’s a very important ministry.”
Frazita echoed Kumler’s emphasis on the importance of youth ministry and said that it’s such an essential undertaking, all are called to it.
“Everyone thinks being a good youth minister is being the person in front of the kids speaking, but it also looks like inviting them to be an altar server or making brownies for a bake sale or being a coach,” Frazita said. “We’re all called to serve young people in different ways.”