Bryn Rademaker, 2018 summer intern for the Office of Catholic Formation, takes a selfie with some participants of the College Send-Off retreat and accompanying priests Aug. 6. (Submitted photo)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald Staff

A generation in the making, the Diocese of Superior is witnessing the fruits of years of vision and labor with youth and young adult ministry.

This summer saw many teens partaking in Steubenville conferences, mission trips and service projects. Two Totus Tuus teams offered 14 weeklong programs around the diocese, while other parishes held vacation Bible schools. Extreme Faith Camp had two sessions, both at maximum capacity.

In the words of Elise Burns, recently hired as youth minister for the Four Parishes One Faith cluster based out of Rice Lake, “I firmly believe the Holy Spirit is moving in a powerful way in the youth of our diocese.”

Connecting with present needs

Burns describes this movement as “a great uprising of young people – middle school to young adult – who are choosing to ‘swim against the tide’ in this great adventure of a life.”

Returning to her home diocese after a few years of mission work – including two summers as a Totus Tuus leader and one year traveling as a NET Team member, Burns’ experience is that “Youth ministry is not about numbers … I see that once they have a personal encounter with Jesus, or once they see what life with Christ could be like, they strive for God with great openness, tenacity and passion.”

Erich Wallace, of Merrill, a teacher and aide at St. Francis Xavier School, will also take on a new role in youth ministry for his parish cluster. The UW-Madison graduate also coaches varsity boys’ soccer.

Burns and Wallace will add their efforts to those of many people across the diocese; however, they will be the youngest stepping into those roles.

At a recent orientation, Wallace was encouraged by the continued move in religious education and youth ministry to a discipleship model, “like Jesus exemplified.” Not discounting the value of textbook information, Wallace sees “the teaching of the faith needs to be done more so through relationship than … in a classroom.

“We as adults in the faith need to live our faith life more authentically and courageously; meet kids in their own interests through their sports, music, theater, or other interests, and help lead them to Christ through these things.

“We need to show them that they can be saints in the world in their daily activities,” he continued, and gave examples of glorifying God through friendships and teamwork, striving for excellence in any undertaking as well as listening.

He sees as the goal to “engage them and see where they are hurting and need healing, and help them to start a prayer life and encounter Jesus for themselves so that He can enter and bring them to freedom.”

This summer has seen two new youth and young adult initiatives – the Superior Disciple website with corresponding social media, and the first annual college send-off retreat.

The idea for the send-off retreat started last year with summer intern Mariah Schultz, who had experience working with Totus Tuus and NET Ministries. Bryn Rademaker, of Rice Lake, was the 2018 intern and, under the direction of Hurtubise, helped lead the retreat at her home parish of Our Lady of Lourdes, Dobie, on Aug. 5-6.

“We had already been reaching out to middle and high-schoolers, but wanted to come up with a way to intentionally invest in our college-aged students around the diocese,” Rademaker said.

More than 30 college students and recent graduates gathered for a potluck meal, activities and Christ-centered fellowship. Rademaker was a speaker, as well as Kayla Johnson, the founder of Superior Disciple. They shared practical ways to maintain the faith during college and especially during the transition for incoming freshman.

Offering adoration and confession were Fr. Samuel Schneider, Fr. Adam Laski, Fr. Patrick McConnell and newly ordained Fr. Rich Rhinehart. Fr. David Neuschwander concelebrated Mass the following morning after most of the retreatants camped outside the parish center.

Rademaker’s hope for the retreat was “to give these college students (and beyond) the opportunity to center their lives on Christ before heading into intense, time-consuming transitions.

“I was completely amazed not only by the turnout, but mainly by how incredible and authentic our young adults are in this diocese. Seeing these people come together to share in the joy of Christ gave me a lot of hope for the future of our parishes here, and we cannot wait to see how they live out their faith and call their friends and family to do the same in the coming year.”

Preparing to graduate in 2019 with a degree in elementary education and minor in middle-level math from Winona State University, Rademaker said the plan will be to hold the send-off retreat as an annual event.

The Superior Disciple website has 10 contributing authors – all young adults in various stages of life and vocations. Their mission, according to the site, is “to engage youth and young adults in the Catholic faith in a way that inspires a lifelong journey of hope-filled discipleship.”

Aiming to provide content that “encourages, connects and inspires the youth and young adults of the Superior Diocese in the Catholic faith,” they post on the website, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter.

Each author is part of the Diocese of Superior’s Totus Tuus network, each having served with the apostolate in some way.

Johnson, a Cumberland native and parishioner at Our Lady of Lourdes, Dobie, said one of her favorite summers was spent serving in Totus Tuus.

She credits Totus Tuus as a major factor behind the growing presence and action of young adults in the diocese. The program “has truly worked miracles in our diocese,” Johnson said.

According to Johnson, other influences include: adoration, involvement with the Catholic faith at college and the Extreme Faith Camps. She noted that today’s young adults were some of the camp’s first participants.

Foundational factors

One of the adults longest involved with youth efforts in the diocese is Loree Nauertz, of Spooner. At the request of then-pastor Fr. Andy Ricci, Nauertz started teaching confirmation classes at St. Francis de Sales in 1999.

She took the first group of youth from the diocese to a Steubenville North conference in 2005. For years, she took an average of 12 area youths. Since then, participation across the diocese has grown exponentially.

Nauertz credits Megan Noll, former diocesan director of youth ministry, and her “incredible vision” as instrumental in increasing attendance at youth rallies by bringing in well-known presenters.

Through Noll’s efforts, Extreme Faith Camp and leadership weekends were implemented in the diocese.

The first Extreme Faith Camp in 2011 had 25 participants. By 2015, a second location was added to accommodate students from both sides of the diocese. In 2018, more than 300 youths and leaders participated, an increase of more than 1,000 percent in fewer than 10 years.

Nauertz also acknowledged Chris Hurtubise’s work as current diocesan associate director of Catholic Formation. She said he is “phenomenal at relational ministry” and at “recognizing people’s gifts and letting them lead.”

The mother of six sons has watched the faith take hold in young people and says she is “finally seeing fruits of the labor.

“You put in so much prayer, so much time, so much energy into hoping and praying that these kids will have an experience with Christ, and that they will take it and they will run with it.”

She has seen young people “floundering in identity crisis,” without a sense of “who they are as a son or daughter of God in Christ.”

Affirming that the faith begins at home, Nauertz encourages parents first and foremost to bring their children to Mass where they can be fed, to teach them the truth about the Eucharist and reconciliation, and to facilitate their participation in events where they can encounter Christ over and over.

She affirmed the “immense effect” of living the faith at home. In her experience with diocesan-level events, youth who have a foundation of practicing the faith, “tend to latch on to it and move with it.

“The kids that haven’t been grounded in that, it’s a great experience – they love it, they have a great time, but then they go back and do whatever they’ve been doing.”

Nauertz concluded, “The family is the domestic Church – how (children) see church is going to be how things are lived out at home.”

Cultivating for the future

Wallace affirmed the influential role of the family on a young person’s faith. He said the parents’ faith often leads them to sending their children to Catholic schools. Although not consistent with some statistical studies, his experience in Merrill is “those that went through Catholic school tend to be the ones attending non-mandatory faith-related events afterward.”

He also acknowledged the role played by the faith formation he received during college and his experience as a Totus Tuus team member, “because of how it connected me to the diocese.”

Burns’ summary assessment of this presence of young adult enthusiasm is it “is rooted in and has sprung forth from the Eucharist.

“Totus Tuus, Extreme Faith Camp, and college opportunities are all avenues for Jesus in the Eucharist to reach our hearts. To say it another way, the Eucharist is at the heart of the vibrancy of the young people in our diocese. People say, ‘Extreme Faith Camp changed my life!’ or ‘Totus Tuus drew me into living with a more consistent prayer life,’ or ‘In college, I had the opportunity to make my faith my own.’

“We often attribute our conversion and growth to these incredible programs and opportunities, but really it is our Lord through the Eucharist who is changing our lives. Give young people an opportunity to freely encounter the Real Presence of Lord in the Eucharist, and they will be changed in incredible ways.”

She shared her current yearning to be in the presence of the Eucharistic Lord:

“It is here, in the presence of the Lord that I am most alive. I can see that I have grown a lot in my faith life from that first adoration experience to now. That jump from my unknowing to my enthusiastic desire to know and serve God did not happen on its own.

“In fact, it is the support and encouragement that I have received from my friends in this diocese that has nurtured my relationship with the Lord.”
Burns wants to motivate and encourage young adults to experience the Lord’s Eucharistic presence everywhere, but to continue coming back to their tabernacles in the Diocese of Superior.

“What is special about the Diocese of Superior? Why should young adults choose to stay here?” she asked.

Answering her own question, Burns said, “Although the Lord is present everyone, there are not always supportive and authentic communities to help you grow in your faith everywhere.” She has found a unique community within the diocese – “united, intimate and authentic, genuinely striving for virtue in our lives and genuinely caring about each other.”

Rademaker similarly expressed her desire to return to the diocese after graduation, even though she had no intentions of doing so.

“This summer, I completely fell in love with our parishes and diocese through traveling around for Totus Tuus and through the incredibly intentional discipleship and mentorship from our young adults and families here in the Rice Lake area.

“It was eye-opening and inspiring to be surrounded by holy witnesses to true and authentic marriage, priesthood and religious life. Now after truly encountering this community, I don’t want to live anywhere else.”

She believes that jobs will be available and her desire would be to get married and raise a family here. In her words, “because of the most intentional, holy people that support and love all those around them here through their utter love of Christ within our Catholic faith.”