Youth ministry in the Archdiocese of Louisville is experiencing a time of renewal 20 months into the COVID-19 pandemic, said the new associate director of the Office for Youth and Young Adult Ministry.
The office is one of more than a hundred services and programs supported by the Catholic Services Appeal.
Aaron Frazita, formerly the youth minister at St. Michael Church, joined the archdiocesan office this summer after navigating the pandemic’s hardest months as a parish youth leader.
Adjusting to remote youth ministry, he said during a recent interview, “was like going from Earth to Mars.”
“You were trying to create new maps and trying to maintain relationships” on digital platforms, including some new and unfamiliar technology, he noted.
About a half dozen local youth ministers left the field during the pandemic.
“A lot of them had been in the position less than a year and it was hard navigating that landscape,” he said.
At the same time, many of the archdiocese’s youth ministers found an opportunity to “step back and reimagine what youth ministry could look like,” he noted. “It gave us a chance to evaluate what was fruitful and what was not.”
One fruit, Frazita said, emerged because of the pandemic.
“You could only do small-group stuff once things started opening up,” he said, noting that small-group work with young people is considered a “best practice.”
“The buzzword is accompaniment,” he said, explaining that it’s based on the story of the Road to Emmaus. The idea is to “walk with young people on their road to Christ until they can see him for who he is.”
In order to do that well, personal connections are essential, Frazita said. Small-group gatherings facilitate connections between the young person and their peers and youth leader, he said.
The Office for Youth and Young Adult Ministry recognized a handful of people Nov. 5 who are models for youth ministry. The office honored young people who are peer mentors, adult youth leaders and two priests.
Mandy Kumler, who has served as the coordinator of youth ministry at St. Aloysius Church in Pewee Valley, Ky., since 2002 received the highest honor — a diocesan award from the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry called the Companion on the Journey Award.
The award, in part, recognizes Kumler for the way she adapted her ministry during the pandemic, said Frazita. But it also honors her years of adapting to the changing needs of young people.
“Meeting the young people where they are and challenging them in their faith — Mandy is really good at that,” Frazita said.
The other awards and the recipients are:
Salt and Light Awards were presented to “outstanding adults who have helped minister to young people by reflecting Jesus’ call to be and make disciples in the world:”
- Diana Blaine and Rick Pauline of St. Patrick Church
- Gina Nelson of All Saints Church in Taylorsville, Ky.
- Kirsten Steele of St. Edward Church
Joyful & Courageous Witness Awards were presented to “high school seniors and recent graduates who are and have been outstanding peer mentors in your ministry:”
- Justin Ogle of St. Martha Church
- Kelsey Roy of St. Aloysius Church, Pewee Valley, Ky.
- Will Ashbrook, Ryan Markert and Brandon Hoskins of St. Edward Church
- Emily Barz of Presentation Academy
- Drew Ford of St. John the Apostle Church
Good Shepherd Awards were presented to priests who have “consistently been present to and supportive” of youth ministry and the young people of the parish or school. They have provided “exceptional and fruitful spiritual guidance for youth ministry:”
- Father Joseph Graffis, for service as a chaplain of Presentation Academy
- Father Jason Harris, for service when he was pastor of St. Thomas Church and chaplain of Bethlehem High School in Bardstown, Ky.
Youth Ministry Years of Service Awards were presented to:
- 35 years — Deacon James Turner
- 20 years — Bill Ash
- 15 years — Tianna Barnes, Andreian Taylor Mitchell and Angela Young
- 10 years — Carmen Weathers Washington, Kenya Turner and Chrystal Levett
- 5 years — Jennifer Heitkamper