Youth ministry is expanding, says director

Immaculate Heart of Mary parishioner Destiny Morris, left, and St. Bernadette parishioner Tania Vergara-Gongora, members of the National Youth Advisory Council of the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry, led the opening prayer during this year’s Youth Ministry Celebration Dinner alongside Archbishop Shelton J. Fabre Oct. 26. (Photo Special to The Record)

Youth ministry in the Archdiocese of Louisville is growing, especially in parishes outside Jefferson County, said Office of Youth & Young Adults director Karl Dolson.

The office is one of more than a hundred services and programs supported by the Catholic Services Appeal. And the youth ministry arm is focused on engaging parishioners from adolescence through high school.

“There are several parishes that have been kind of off our radar so to speak that have surfaced or have approached us as far as wanting to find ways or new ways to minister to their young people,” Dolson said during a recent interview. “Several smaller rural parishes are making an effort to that end and that’s pretty exciting.”

Rural parishes with fewer than a dozen young members can expect to have a different youth ministry experience from some of the bigger churches with hundreds of young people, Dolson noted.

“Some of the smaller parishes, where they don’t have Catholic schools, they’re completely surrounded by Protestant brothers and sisters,” Dolson said. “And some of the kids are often challenged in their faith to be able to share or explain what we believe as Catholics.”

But he’s found that all youth ministry groups are asking the same question: How do we reach our young people and engage them?

It’s more than “simply announcing something or putting it in a bulletin or making a flyer,” Dolson said, although those things are still necessary.

“There’s a growing need for personal invitation, development of deeper relationships between teenagers and the adults of the parish and doing more direct outreach to young people,” he said. “There needs to be more of a come-and-see … and sharing of, ‘Let me tell you about this person that I know. Let me tell you about this person who loves us. Let me share with you from my own personal experience of faith and relationship with Jesus Christ in the Catholic Church and the graces of the sacraments of my own personal encounter with the Holy Spirit.’ ”

That requires more than the involvement of youth ministers in the faith formation of young people, he said.

If all adults in the church viewed young Catholics as “our younger brothers and sisters in Christ that we have a responsibility to minister to,” then more would be engaged, he said.

“We need more people that are adults to care for our young people and in a variety of ways,” said Dolson. “That doesn’t just look like a youth group — that’s coaches, that’s Scout leaders, that’s catechists. That’s adults from the parish that will pray for the young people of the parish and people who will serve as small group leaders, people that will provide meals and more.”

Jonna O’Bryan

One such leader is Jonna O’Bryan, coordinator of youth ministry for St. Patrick Church.

During this year’s Youth Ministry Celebration Dinner Oct. 26, the office awarded O’Bryan the highest honor — a diocesan award called Companions on the Journey sponsored by the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry. The award is given “for faithful service in ministry with young people.”

Coincidentally, O’Bryan could not attend the dinner because she was on a youth mission trip.

Her award nomination said, “The lives she and her ministry have touched and impacted for Jesus Christ and his church are innumerable.”

It said she has been “very intentional about raising up young leaders in the church and empowering them to go out into the world as active disciples” through her innovative approach with young people.

“Being very relatable to everyone she meets, young and old, with a can-do attitude and persistently joyful demeanor, she wins hearts and minds,” the nomination said.

O’Bryan, also awarded a Youth & Campus Ministry Years of Service Award in celebration of her 25 years as a youth minister, has organized outings, prayer experiences and often serves as a team member for archdiocesan youth ministry events.

Others who were honored at the Oct. 26 dinner are:

The Good Shepherd Award was presented to Father Kien Nguyen, who has “consistently been present to and supportive” of youth ministry and the young people of the parish or school. He has provided “exceptional and fruitful spiritual guidance for youth ministry.”

Father Nguyen is pastor of St. Gregory Church in Cox’s Creek, Ky.

Salt and Light Awards were presented to ​​“outstanding adults who have helped minister to the young people of the church by reflecting Jesus’ call to be disciples in the world:”

  • Cassy Boes of St. Paul Church
  • Katie Daly, John McKenzie and Matt Smith of Immaculata Classical Academy
  • Fred Doyle of St. Bernadette Church and St. Aloysius Troop #477
  • Rachel Fenwick of St. Dominic Church in Springfield, Ky.
  • Dorice Firmin and Agnes Marie Mucker of St. Martin de Porres Church
  • Laura Ryan Kessler, Craig Lish, Julie Lish and Lilly Ruzanka of St. Thomas More and Our Lady of Mount Carmel churches
  • Rosa Luna of St. Rita Church
  • Jonathan Mangin and Steve Spohn of St. John the Apostle Church in Brandenburg, Ky.
  • Terri Massey of St. Aloysius Church in Pewee Valley, Ky., and Girl Scouts
  • Andrea Mulhall of St. Lawrence Church
  • Kathleen Mullins of St. Patrick Church
  • Tim Royse of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, St. Nicholas Academy and Cub Scout Pack and Boy Scout Troop #117
  • Kristen Wilson of Our Lady of Lourdes Church and Girl Scouts

Youth and Campus Ministry Years of Service Awards were presented to:
25 years — Debbie Minton
20 years — Mary Emrich and Mandy Kumler
15 years — Chad Bader
10 years — Karie French

Joyful & Courageous Witness Awards were presented to “high school seniors and recent graduates who are and have been outstanding peer mentors in your ministry:”

  • Kennedy Elmore of St. Patrick Church
  • Ben Jackson and Maggie Quinn of St. John the Apostle Church
Kayla Bennett
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