Youth activities abound at parishes throughout Syracuse Diocese
by Luke Eggleston & Claudia Mathis
Sun staff writers
With the arrival of the Lenten season, youth ministry programs throughout the four regions of the Syracuse Diocese are gearing up for spring and summer with numerous activities and events.
For the second consecutive year, the youth group at Annunciation Parish in Clark Mills will hold its Living Stations of the Cross on Friday, March 27.
Last year, the event was held in conjunction with the Annunciation Volunteers’ Poorman’s Supper and, according to youth minister and catechist Cheryl Smith, it was quite successful.
Attendance at Annunciation’s youth events fluctuates between six and 18 young people, according to Smith. The Living Stations event, however, had a significant draw.
“We had a great turnout for the size of our parish,” Smith said.
With the integration of the Living Stations with the Poorman’s Supper, young people become more involved in parish life as a whole.
“It’s quite a good community event,” Smith said.
April 3, the youth group at St. John the Evangelist Church in New Hartford will also hold a Living Stations of the Cross.
In addition, the youth group will raffle five Easter baskets as a parish fund raiser.
“It’s pretty active. The kids are pretty involved,” said Sister Lynn Abdelnour, CSJ, the parish’s youth minister. She added that any event may have between 18 and 22 youths in attendance.
Recently, the youth group went tubing down the hill Val Vias in Utica.
At St. Bernard’s in Waterville, there is no youth group per se, although many young people are actively involved in parish life.
The parish’s catechetical leader, Dana Nasypany, said that she is hoping a summer trip to Notre Dame Vision in South Bend, Ind., will ignite an interest in youth ministry.
“It’s about vocation with a small ‘v.’ It’s about what God is calling me to do,” Nasypany said.
University of Notre Dame students conduct the program. Nasypany noted it is important that young people are ministering to young people. Currently, there are four youths from St. Bernard’s interested in attending one of the two sessions offered in July.
“[That] doesn’t sound like a lot, but you get four kids excited and then you get four more and then you get four more,” Nasypany said. “It’s peer ministry then. It’s getting kids excited.”
She added that she hopes the program can inspire young people in the parish to take a more active role with one another.
“Our hope is that this will build some leaders in our parish and in our region,” she said.
Like St. Bernard’s, St. Joseph’s Parish in Lee Center does not have a designated youth group, but director of religious education Diane Kullman said that the young people are very involved in parish life outside of confirmation classes.
“The kids are very active,” she said. “They’re very active in the community, they’re very active in the parish and they’re very socially active as well.”
The next event the youths plan on participating in is the Relay for Life in nearby Rome, N.Y. June 6 and June 7. Kullman said that the youths plan on fund raising for the American Cancer Society event and then holding activities for children throughout the relay event.
In addition, the young people at St. Joseph’s routinely help Kullman’s religious education classes for younger children and also social justice and outreach programs at the parish.
Youths at Our Lady of the Rosary Church in New Hartford recently raised $411 for the Humane Society in addition to filling a van with supplies for the pets. According to Dick Vetere, the parish’s youth minister, the group used the event as an opportunity to educate people from the community regarding St. Francis and his affection for animals.
On March 6, the group will participate in the community’s Heart/Run Walk by setting up coffee stations along the course.
The youth group from St. Mary of Mt. Carmel/Blessed Sacrament Church in Utica recently held two Service Days. Students in seventh through ninth grades participated in the event.
Each day began with prayer, after which different groups went to institutions throughout the community to serve, including Hope House, the Thea Bowman House, Loretto Nursing Home and the Rescue Mission. One group helped paint two rooms at a local teen center. Over 40 young people participated in the event.
With the recent merger of Holy Family Church and Immaculate Conception Church in Fulton, many of the youth activities at the parishes have been delayed somewhat.
According to Heidi Buda, the religious education director at Holy Trinity Church in the former Immaculate Conception building, her youth group is still planning a coffeehouse event and also an Easter egg hunt.
Most recently, the parish hosted a Super Bowl Party to raise funds for Catholic Charities of Oswego County’s food pantry.
Buda is also excited about the upcoming Peace Day event that her youth group will participate in along with several other parishes throughout the diocese. The event is held the first Thursday in May and features prayer and discussion regarding peace.
Buda hopes the event will spread throughout the diocese.
She noted that the youth group at the parish is very active.
“They’re always involved,” she said, adding that many parents take an active role in youth activities.
“To me it’s really amazing how the parents are also involved,” she said. “They always come forward.”
Kathleen Emmons, the director of religious education at Our Lady of the Rosary Mission in Hannibal noted that her youth group is primarily active in community events. Our Lady of the Rosary’s youth group also hosted a Super Bowl Sunday food drive.
In March, the group will help serve at the Ancient Order of Hibernians St. Patrick’s Day Dinner in Fulton.
In addition, the group represents Most Holy Rosary at Hannibal’s annual Strawberry Festival with a Youth Booth and also a Birthday Booth.
“That’s an activity that draws kids in,” Emmons said. “Our youth do different things. They like to work closely with our adults — they like serving and greeting the adults at, for example, [the parish’s] chicken and biscuit dinner.”
Most of the parishes in Oswego do not have traditional youth groups, according to Charlene Mitchell, the director of religious education at St. Paul’s Church. Young people are, however, active throughout the Catholic community as a whole.
“We try to do things with other parishes. We’re trying to get away from parochialism and we’re building more of a strong Catholic community [throughout Oswego],” Mitchell said. “In Oswego we have just one high school so they see each other every day. We have a very close-knit community.”
Many of the young people at St. Paul’s in particular, Mitchell said, participate in several social justice and outreach activities.
Dianne Fiorina, youth minister at St. Paul/St. Bartholomew Church in Norwich, said the youth in her parish consistently respond to the needs of their community. “They really enjoy the activities and the fellowship of meeting together,” she said, of the 160 young people in grades six through 12.
The youth have distributed food baskets to the needy at Thanksgiving and Christmas at St. Bartholomew’s Church. Nine of the young people serve as mentors and friends in the local schools under the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program. They also help out at the soup kitchen in Norwich. At a recent Turkey Trot Run sponsored by the YMCA in Norwich, the youth distributed water, lunch and tee shirts to the participants. They have also baked and served cookies to children in the nursery at the YMCA. “They see the face of Jesus in the people they help,” said Fiorina.
A confirmation retreat has been scheduled for March 8 at St. Bartholomew’s for the 10th grade confirmation students and their sponsors. “It’s a day of bonding for them,” said Fiorina. “They have breakfast and then, at the end of the day, I cook a pasta feast for them.”
Fiorina is hoping to involve the youth in Relay for Life (charity walk for cancer) in July. In addition, she wants to get the young people involved in ringing bells for the Salvation Army during the upcoming Advent season.
At the end of every school year, the youth travel to Darien Lake, Hershey Park or Lake George. They also plan to attend the National Youth Conference in Kansas City this summer.
Sister Jackie Sellappan’s, CSC, religious education students at St. Paul/St. Bartholomew are active within the church and serve their community as well. Her students participate in the Eucharist at church and prepare the bulletin board in St. Paul’s Church every month. They also hold various fund raisers to support the religious education program and to donate items to the needy through the Community Health Center in Norwich. The students also help out in local nursing homes and the soup kitchen at the Methodist Church in Norwich.
Ginny Schellinger, youth group coordinator and a confirmation catechist at St. Joseph’s Church in Deposit, said she tries to plan activities that overlap one another to keep the youth involved. “We have an extensive service program in place for our confirmation candidates and some of their service is accumulated by helping out and being role models for the younger children,” said Schellinger. The students are required to complete 15 hours of service to family, 30 hours of service to church and 45 hours of service to the community. Schellinger and the other confirmation teacher, Nancy Baudendistel, have divided the class into groups and assigned each a corporal work of mercy. Each group must do a research presentation on its work of mercy as well as organize a group service project.
St. Joseph’s young people enjoy many social activities. Last October, they attended a Halloween party, got together for a skating party in November and went Christmas caroling in December. They are looking forward to an annual bowling event on March 7. The youth will also sponsor a parish family picnic in June.
On March 6 and March 20, the youth will host a Soup Supper at the parish’s Dempsey Center.
The confirmation students at St. Joseph Church in Oxford recently returned from a three-day retreat at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburgh, Md. “It was a dynamic retreat,” said Lorraine Franklin, confirmation teacher at St. Joseph’s. “They were on a pretty good high when they returned. We asked, ‘How can we keep this going?’ We want to nurture that spiritual spark that they encountered at the retreat.” Franklin said that 11 of her 15 students attended the retreat and that some young people from St. Mary and St. Anthony Churches in Cortland joined her students on the trip. The young people raised funds for the retreat by hosting several bake sales and a 50/50 raffle.
Last spring, Franklin’s students traveled to their first retreat to the Dunwoody Seminary rally in Washington, D.C., to see Pope Benedict XVI.
Franklin said that 10 of her students will be confirmed soon and that they met on Feb. 28 with Father Thomas Ward, pastor at Immaculate Conception in Greene and St. Joseph in Oxford, at a pizza dinner to ask him theological questions. They also discussed plans for attending the annual World Youth Day event in Madrid, Spain. “It’s worked very well in the past,” said Franklin, referring to the pizza dinner.
Trenna Kelley, director of youth ministry at St. James Church in Cazenovia, serves 200 eight through 12th grade students and 120 sixth and seventh-graders. Kelley began working as director last July and is working on building a program for the youth. “Right now, we’re focusing on Lent,” Kelley said. “This year, with our youth, we are trying a few new things.” During the Sunday 9 a.m. Mass, parishioners will take part in the Liturgy of the Word for Youth as most churches do, but the sixth through 12th-graders will gather to discuss the Scriptures. The same students are being encouraged to attend the 6:45 a.m. Wednesday Mass. Those who do come will be invited to stay for fellowship. A light breakfast will be served before the young people head off to school.
Kelley also said that the youth play a vital role in the hosting of the parish’s Wednesday night Soup Suppers. They will be serving the soup as well as overseeing activities for children.
Other activities include the sixth- and eighth-graders leading parishioners in a Youth Stations of the Cross on March 25, the first- and ninth-graders hosting the 9 a.m. Mass on March 22 with a youth liturgy and the 11th-graders presenting a dramatic reading of the Gospel at the 11 a.m. Palm Sunday Mass. On March 13, the youth and their families will host an annual Fish Fry, the largest fund raiser for youth ministry throughout the year.
Kelley said that after Lent, she will be building two youth groups — one for ninth through 12th-graders and one for sixth through eighth-graders. The groups will meet twice a month.
This summer, some of the youth will be taking a mission trip to Worcester, Mass. with the group Young Neighbors in Action, run by the Center for Ministry Development. Young Neighbors in Action engages young people to get involved in Catholic social teaching and service. Kelley said that some of the service projects the youth will be involved with include renovating houses and working in children’s centers.
Kelley is also planning to take a group of young people to Kansas City for the National Catholic Youth Conference.
“We are a growing group, building connections between faith and church and youth and their families,” said Kelley.
According to Denise Lucio, director of religious education at Our Lady of Peace Church in Syracuse, the parish’s young people are extremely active in the life of their church and the surrounding community, especially since Our Lady of Peace is planning to celebrate its 60th anniversary in June.
Lucio ministers to 85 students in grades one through 10. The ninth-grade Christmas project in which toys were collected for refugees resettled in Syracuse has been extended to include the donation of other items throughout the year. The youths’ goal is to collect 60 items each month for distribution to the refugees. Their plan is to donate coats, boots and shoes in January; hats, mittens, scarves and socks in February; blankets in March; sweatshirts and sweatpants in April; shorts and tee shirts in May; household items in June; summer wear and sandals in July; school supplies in August; school clothes in September; Halloween candy in October; Thanksgiving food items in November and toys in December.
A Homecoming Family Mass has been scheduled for April. Each student has been decorating a banner in a way that spiritually reflects the way he or she views his or her family. The banners, which will also include the families’ names, will be hung along the altar.
Lucio said that the church’s holiday tree is still displayed in the sanctuary and each month it has been decorated by the youth with a different theme. The tree is now decorated with shamrocks and will be adorned with Easter eggs and crosses in April, spring flowers in May and culminate with white and blue decorations in June, to commorate the church’s 60th anniversary.
The bulletin board in the church is also decorated each month by the young people of the parish. They regularly help out at events sponsored by the Altar Rosary and Holy Name Society. “These children are very warm and giving,” said Lucio. “They do everything wholeheartedly. They want to be involved and want to do things for other people. The parents of these children should be very proud.”
Linda Zuber and Ed Gratien are part of a five-member team that works with the high school youth group at St. Patrick Church in Chittenango. Although the youth have volunteered their time and talent to many in their community, their major focus has been on assisting the teachers with the younger students in the faith formation program. The young people also sing at Masses, which is enjoyed by the parishioners.
Zuber said she is hoping to get the youth involved in Habitat for Humanity and to get them to help out at a homeless shelter. “Keeping the kids focused and faithful in today’s world is challenging,” she said.