By Celine Klosterman
When Erin Cayton joined the new youth ministry program for cluster parishes in Richmond, Riverside and Wellman in 2006, she knew just a handful of teenagers from St. Mary’s in Riverside. But the member of Holy Trinity in Richmond grew to know them well through youth activities and still spends time with them, she said.
“I really liked having activities with all three parishes,” said the recent graduate of Mid-Prairie High School in Wellman. “It helped us to get to know other people and make new friends.”
Having a shared youth ministry effort unites Catholics from St. Mary’s, Holy Trinity and St. Joseph Parish in Wellman and makes a vibrant program possible, according to parish leaders. By pooling their resources, the parishes in the central part of the Davenport Diocese were able to hire a full-time youth minister and foster identity as clustered congregations, said Derick Cranston, youth minister.
The three parishes began to share a pastor 11 years ago, and they’ve made much effort to combine personnel and programs in ways that benefit each parish, said Father Rich Adam, pastor. He said youth ministry needed more emphasis, but for one parish to afford the salary of a staffer such as a youth minister is “much more difficult in the rural parishes.” St. Mary’s has about 330 families; Holy Trinity has 230 and St. Joseph includes about 110.
The ability to hire a youth minister wasn’t the only benefit of collaborating. “In combined youth ministry students from Highland Community Schools and Mid-Prairie Community Schools get to meet each other on neutral grounds and build common friendships based on their faith experiences,” Fr. Adam said.
Kristen Hora, a recent graduate of Highland High School in Riverside and member of St. Mary’s, is one youth who did so. “It is always fun to know people from other schools, and I am glad I had the opportunity to meet as many people as I have,” she said. “I even attended prom at one of the schools that members from our cluster parish attend, and it was nice to know so many people there.”
The sheer number of Catholic students from the three parishes makes a difference to Jasmine Fugate. She said she’s one of a handful of youths at her parish in Wellman, so she appreciates having a multi-parish program that brings more teenagers together.
Combining the parishes’ confirmation classes three years ago also “went a long way” toward uniting youths, Cranston said. “They are together for two years, and during that time they have plenty of opportunity to get to know each other. It is always interesting to witness the different friendships that develop over that time.”
Fr. Adam added that having one larger confirmation class has made for a better program. “The youth themselves bring more into the classes, and the shared resources of the three parishes enhance the overall experience.”
Later this month, some youths also will share Catholic experiences with peers from St. Mary Parish in Solon, a town roughly 35 miles northeast of Richmond. Eight teens will join students from the Solon parish for the cluster parishes’ first visit to a Steubenville North youth conference, slated for July 30-Aug. 1 in St. Paul, Minn.
Julie Agne, director of religious education for the Solon parish, guided Cranston in planning the trip. “Every youth retreat has certain procedures and processes that can be confusing the first time through,” he said. “Julie has been a big help getting me through that process.”
In turn, he invited students from St. Mary’s in Solon to an upcoming service retreat that youths from the cluster parishes make annually to Franciscans for the Poor in Cincinnati, Ohio. He spoke on the retreat in fall 2009 in Solon after being welcomed by Agne, who’d hoped to launch a mission trip in her parish. “It really helps to have someone who’s been there and knows,” especially in promoting the retreat to parents, she said.
Agne thinks students will benefit from the inter-parish effort, too. Youths from small towns like meeting other young people, she said.
Since the cluster parishes of Riverside, Richmond and Wellman jointly launched a youth ministry program four years ago, more students have been going to Mass regularly after being confirmed, Cranston said. “I think if you ask anyone in our three parishes, they will say there is a noticeable increase in the number of teens they see attending Mass.”
Molly Hussey said that if she attends Mass at a cluster parish other than her church of Holy Trinity, “it is always fun” to know people she met through youth ministry activities.
“I think it has been a great experience to have shared youth activities from all three parishes,” the student said. “I have gotten to know many people and meet new friends. The activities and trips have really bonded us… We have had a lot of fun and grown as a family, and it is great working together.”
Collaboration in the Iowa City Deanery
Here are some other examples of collaborative efforts between parishes in the Iowa City Deanery:
• The three Iowa City parishes offer a joint religious education program.
• St. Peter Parish in Cosgrove and St. Mary Parish in Oxford share a youth minister and Vacation Bible School.
• St. Mary parishes in Lone Tree and Nichols hold joint confirmation classes and Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. This fall, the Lone Tree parish and St. Joseph Parish in Hills will offer a joint religious education program, and the Hills, Nichols and Lone Tree parishes will join St. Mary Parish in Riverside, Holy Trinity Parish in Richmond and St. Joseph Parish in Wellman for RCIA.
• One director of evangelization and stewardship serves the Iowa City area.