By Celine Klosterman
Ninth-grader John Armstrong enjoys getting to meet and spend time with fellow Catholic teenagers.
So he’s enthusiastic about the new Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) for his parish of St. Mary’s in Williamsburg as well as St. Joseph Parish in North English and St. Patrick Parish in Marengo. Since forming early this year, the group has held two fundraisers and several meetings for faith-sharing and socializing — events that notably expand on the parishes’ previous youth ministry offerings, students and adult leaders said.
“I like it because you get to meet people from surrounding parishes you don’t get to see all the time,” John said. With fundraisers such as a February dodgeball tournament and April car washes, “you’re having fun, but at the same time giving back to the community.”
Jen Schaefer hoped as much. “The CYO’s mission is to grow in faith while having fun with friends and encouraging one another to live as Jesus did,” said the St. Joseph parishioner, who initiated the group’s formation. A parent and religious education teacher, she approached other parish faith formation leaders in fall 2010 with a suggestion.
“We agreed that someone had to step up and get the youths active and meeting Catholics from other parishes,” said Mike Fisher, a St. Joseph parishioner and adult leader of the CYO.
In the area of faith formation, his parish already had begun collaborating more with St. Patrick’s and St. Mary’s since St. Joseph’s joined those two parishes’ cluster in 2009. So creating a joint youth group for all three parishes was only natural, said Angie Carney, St. Patrick’s director of religious education. “We’re not separate; we’re all one community.”
In her parish, 11th- and 12th-graders had been meeting occasionally for activities before the CYO formed, and St. Mary’s had a small youth group. But a fall survey of parents in all three parishes showed a desire for more youth offerings.
So in January, the CYO met for the first time to begin planning meetings and activities for fifth- to eighth-graders and ninth- to 12th-graders.
Since then young Catholics have gathered monthly for activities that incorporate Scripture readings, prayer and discussion. An April 3 car wash in North English and Williamsburg raised $384 for the three parishes, and a movie night inspired discussion on family dynamics. On Feb. 13, 69 students from Iowa County churches competed in a dodgeball tournament — organized by Catholics — that raised $393 for the Iowa County Ministerial Alliance Fund, which offers small loans to help people make rent and utility payments.
“I like to instill in youths the importance of helping others, and show they can still have fun at the same time,” said Julie Zuber, youth minister at St. Mary’s.
Fisher, who was in Denver for World Youth Day in 1993, envisions the CYO someday helping send students to a similar event. “I’m definitely hoping my kids could do something like that,” he said of Audrey, an eighth-grader, and Andrew, a sixth-grader.
Events the group is already doing have helped some quiet students open up, Carney said. “We’ve been happy to see some kids who don’t normally do those types of things.”
Jackie Kriegel, a ninth-grader from St. Patrick’s, said she initially got involved in the CYO as part of confirmation preparation. “I thought it might be boring, but once I got into it, it was pretty fun.” She enjoyed meeting new people and growing in faith, she said.
“I think everyone should be in the youth group,” Audrey said. She feels support from group members even at school, and said “everybody is really positive. It’s good for your life and your attitude.”
Freedom Run fundraiser
On Memorial Day, May 30, a Freedom Run 5K run/walk will begin at 8 a.m. at Williamsburg Junior/Senior High School. The Catholic Youth Organization of St. Joseph Parish in North English, St. Mary Parish in Williamsburg and St. Patrick Parish in Marengo is organizing the event.
Runners and walkers of all ages may participate. Awards will be given for males and females in nine age categories, and there will be an overall, first-place award for male and female participants. There will be door prizes and refreshments for participants. Entry fee is $15 per person through May 20. Registrations received by May 20 will be guaranteed a T-shirt on race day. Entry fee is $20 per person May 21 through the day of the race. For a registration form, contact Greg Stolze at (319) 668-9072 or firstname.lastname@example.org.