A record number of teens from throughout the Diocese of Superior attended Extreme Faith Camp this summer. The Catholic Services Appeal funds diocesan youth programs and many other programs and services. (Submitted photo)

Anita Draper
Catholic Herald staff

Across northwestern Wisconsin, participation in diocesan-level youth ministry is soaring.

Extreme Faith Camp, High School Discipleship training, National Catholic Youth Conference, the March for Life, Totus Tuus – every program for kids and teens is growing.

“They are kind of wildly successful right now,” said Steve Tarnowski, diocesan director of Stewardship and Development.

The Diocese of Superior has launched its annual Catholic Services Appeal at parishes around the 16-county region; the 2017-18 goal is $2.2 million. Youth programs are among more than 30 programs and services supported by CSA dollars.

This year’s CSA video, online at catholicdos.org/csa-video, features footage and interviews from Extreme Faith Camp, one of several opportunities for youths to grow in their faith with a community of peers from across the diocese.

According to Chris Hurtubise, associate director of Catholic Formation, Extreme Faith Camp drew 140 people from the west side to CrossWoods Adventure Camp, Mason, and 149 to Crescent Lake Bible Camp, Rhinelander, on the east side.

Last year, between 115 and 120 people camped at CrossWoods, and about 100 stayed at Crescent Lake.

Waiting lists have been the norm in the past few years, Hurtubise added. They’ve managed to squeeze everyone in, and now one camp is solving its space problem.

“(CrossWoods) is building another cabin just to house our group as it grows,” he said.

They’re also hosting High School Discipleship training at a second, east-side site this year, after having about 60 participants in last spring’s vocations-focused weekend.

“In the past, we’ve seen a lot of growth in those, but it’s been mostly in the west side of the diocese,” Hurtubise added.

March for Life, the annual January pilgrimage to march with pro-life supporters in Washington, D.C., grew to about 24 people last year, and Hurtubise said a couple of new parishes are hoping to send more in the coming year.

In November, the biennial National Catholic Youth Conference, Indianapolis, will see the biggest group from the Diocese of Superior “in a while,” said Hurtubise. They’ve added a fourth bus to accommodate the 186 people scheduled to go, up from 160 in 2015.

“A pretty decent growth from last time,” he summarized.

The diocese also added a second Totus Tuus group last summer when additional parishes joined the program; Hurtubise believes they may possibly train a third team for the summer of 2018, “because we have more parishes wanting it, which is a good problem to have.”

Hurtubise is also gratified to see more parishes growing their own youth programs – taking teens to Steubenville conferences, going on mission trips and donating their time and labor at work camps.

“These sorts of events are powerful opportunities for encountering Christ that just isn’t going to happen in a traditional … classroom,” Hurtubise said of Extreme Faith Camp.

“Those are … the future priests,” Tarnowski added. “They are at these kinds of camps. That leads to seminarians. As do Catholic school … that’s where a lot of priests and religious come from.”

Such experiences are powerful for increasing vocations to the priesthood and religious life, Hurtubise commented, but they are also important for those will commit to holy marriage and for just keeping young adults in the faith.

In addition to youth ministry, Tarnowski emphasized all of the services mentioned – from seminarian education and marriage preparation to the overseeing of Catholic schools and the organization of pilgrimages to Respect Life events, as well as many others – are funded through the CSA.

“Your parish wouldn’t exist without the CSA,” he added.