By Celine Klosterman
In the 27 years Mike Patin has ministered to youths, he’s had to tweak his approach to keep up with teens.
“How do you take the riches of the Gospel and Catholic tradition and make them translatable to the Facebook and iPod generation?” he asked. “You have to get creative. It’s been challenging. But above all, it’s a blessing.”
A nationally known presenter at Catholic events, the resident of Lafayette, La., tries to meet the challenge in ways Jesus did.
“God said, ‘I’ll come to their level; I’ll speak in a language they understand.’ What did Jesus do for a living before he hit the road? Tradition tells us he was probably a carpenter. But in how many parables does he mention carpentry? Instead he talks about farming and tending sheep, because that’s what his audience knew.
“I think the challenge for all adults who want to share the Gospel with young people is to speak the language of today’s culture. I’m not a hip, Facebook guy, but I know the basics. You have to be interested in who you’re ministering to…. Young people are hungry for a solid, practicable Catholic faith.”
Patin will try to feed that hunger Oct. 23 at the high school youth rally for the Davenport Diocese. “The theme is ‘Can We Love?’” he noted. “Young people may question sometimes whether they want to love in light of the challenges or the hurt they’ve experienced. But I want them to know they’re not alone. Struggles in family, school and relationships are normal, and God wants to be in that mix.”
Through fun presentations, Patin will challenge students to return home and show God’s love in their everyday lives, he said.
A former seminarian, high school teacher and coach, he believes the Lord nudged him to youth ministry.
While studying in a Louisiana seminary, Patin was invited to help with a retreat for high school students. Then, he discovered he enjoyed teenagers’ energy and desire to dive more deeply into their faith. “When I decided the priesthood wasn’t for me, I wanted to work with young people.”
He began doing so in 1984, and eventually spent 13 years in the youth ministry office of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. In 2003, he publicized his willingness to speak at Catholic youth events. Afterward, word spread, and enough requests came in that he decided to begin speaking full time.
Patin has since spoken in more than 115 dioceses in the U.S. and Canada, being led in directions he’d never envisioned.
“I was the biggest wallflower in high school. A couple former classmates and I got together recently, and they said, ‘You speak across the country? Really?’”
The Lord gave him the encouragement and energy to do so, he believes. “I think God was trying to call me to something new in my relationship with him.” Patin’s ministry has forced him to become more purposeful about prayer, family and service, the husband and father said. “It’s very humbling to get up in front of people and try to preach about some powerful things if you haven’t chewed on them in your own life.”
After speaking at rallies in the Davenport Diocese in 2005 and 2007, he said he draws inspiration from Catholic leaders there. He cited Pat Sheil, youth minister at St. Joseph Parish in DeWitt, and Chris Weber, a seminarian and former youth minister at Ss. Mary & Mathias Parish in Muscatine.
“Contrary to statistics and media reports, the Church at the parish level is alive and well. When I meet the Chris Webers and Pat Sheils, who despite all the challenges still show up, are still vibrant, and still helping young people connect with God, that’s a blessing. That fires me up.”
For Weber, the admiration is mutual. “I know I may be a bit biased, as Mike has been a friend and a mentor for a few years now, but every time I have seen him present he has done a phenomenal job. He is engaging, entertaining, authentic and truly a man who practices what he preaches.”
Patin is the most approachable and down-to-earth Catholic speaker Sheil has met, she said. Before and after his first youth rally in the diocese, he spent more than an hour talking to students. “He is knowledgeable, caring and real! He speaks from his heart and has sincere love of the Church and its youth.”
Pat Finan, diocesan coordinator of youth and young adult ministry, agrees. “What makes Mike one of these guys you bring back is that he’s a genuine man of faith. He tells meaningful stories on stage. Yes, he gets a lot of laughs, but he’s sincere and caring. He’ll talk with youth in the hallways and pull up a chair with them at lunch and listen to what’s important to them. This gives him a better sense of what young people need to hear, and he’s able to respond to them with words that connect their needs to God’s will for them.”
Patin is grateful for the opportunity to do so. “This ministry has been a huge blessing.”
Youth rally details
The Davenport Diocese’s 2011 high school youth rally, featuring the theme “Can We Love?,” will take place at the Coralville Marriott Conference Center Oct. 23. Expect two keynote presentations from Mike Patin, faith-related breakout sessions, Mass with Bishop Martin Amos, games, presentations of youth ministry awards, Diocesan Youth Ministry Committee skits, lunch and dinner.
To sign up and get more information, contact your parish’s youth leader as soon as possible. Updates on breakout speakers and other features of the rally will be posted at www.davenportyouth.org and in the Diocese of Davenport Youth Ministry group on Facebook.