By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
Notre Dame Vision’s Twitter page asks teens, “God is calling; how will you answer?”
During one of three weeklong conferences this summer, more than 25 diocesan high school students chose to contemplate that question on Notre Dame’s campus in Indiana.
The teens spent their week in the Notre Dame dormitories, took part in fellowship with Catholic teens from across the country and worked with more than 60 specially trained undergraduate mentors. These mentors gave witness from their own lives and listened to the teens talk about their challenges and struggles. The teens participated in faith formation activities, experienced music ministry, participated in Mass, prayer and reconciliation, and attended seminars presented by nationally known speakers.
Teenager Erin Jennings of St. Paul the Apostle Parish, Davenport, said she was impressed by the mentors’ ability to relate to students. “The mentors at ND Vision were friendly and excited to share their faith with us.”
About a dozen youth ministers also attended one of three conferences this summer. They helped with transportation to and from Indiana, and had the opportunity to participate in classes of their own. “It’s an excellent program. It’s as valuable for the youth ministers that attend as it is for the kids,” said Pat Sheil, director of religious education at St. Joseph Parish in DeWitt. Youth ministers split their time between their own programs and being a part of the teenagers’ programs, she added.
Julia Jones, religious education director at St. Ann Parish in Long Grove, enjoyed fellowship with other adults involved in youth ministry. Participating in adult prayer services and playing trivia were highlights. Also memorable was the morning she and other adult participants crafted a makeshift cake out of cafeteria waffles, whipped cream and fruit for fellow participant Father Thom Hennen, who observed his 10-year anniversary of priesthood during the third session.
A major focus of the week for the adult participants, presenters and mentors was helping the teenagers discern how to use their faith and gifts to serve others and the Church in the future. Sheil said, “For the kids it is all about discernment … How is God going to play into the rest of my life? Of all the things we invite young people to participate in, this probably has a more spiritual, deeper effect on where they are going.”
Fr. Hennen, diocesan director of vocations, said he believes the conference was effective in teaching teens to realize who they are in Christ, and what they are called to do, whether as Sisters, priests or laypersons. He said the teens at Notre Dame Vision discussed how they could exemplify the saints, who came from many different backgrounds and had unique gifts to share.
Sydney Richards of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, Bettendorf, said she has learned to appreciate the gifts God has given her. “It’s my job to use the gifts I was given for the betterment of my church, community and the world. At Notre Dame Vision, my eyes were opened to the amazing “vision” God has for me.”
Teenager Samantha Britt, also of Our Lady of Lourdes, said she enjoyed the discernment element of the conference. “It showed me what my gifts are and how I will light the world with them.”
Many of the teens who attended said the week is one they will never forget, and hope that other teenagers will consider participating in next year.
Alyssa Sikkema of Prince of Peace Parish in Clinton, noted: “The entire experience was a blessing.”