STEUBENVILLE, Ohio – Deacon Darwin Messerly of Boone has chaperoned youth groups attending Steubenville Youth Conferences for 20 years, enduring the nearly 30 hours of round-trip travel to Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio.
“When we first came, we were in the tents,” Deacon Messerly said, noting that the events have been moved inside the University’s Finnegan Fieldhouse. “However, the Holy Spirit is the same.”
This summer, Messerly trekked east once again with 24 youth and seven chaperones for the June 15-17 Catholic youth conference.
This was the fifth time Emily Brawn of Sacred Heart Parish, Boone attended a Steubenville Youth Conference.
“It’s nice being surrounded by hundreds of other teens who are here for the same reason as you, all worshipping God,” she said.
Hosted by Chris Padgett, a teacher and longtime conference speaker, the Steubenville Youth Conference drew more than 1,400 people. Other speakers included Father Louis Merosne, Sister Miriam Heidland, SOLT; Kyle Heimann and Mari Pablo.
The theme, Revealed, centers on the verse 1 John 4:9: “In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him.”
For Sophia Rose of Sacred Heart Parish, one of the most memorable moments was when Sister Heidland spoke at the women’s session and had them write down a lie they believed about themselves.
“Then we had to cross it out and change it so that it was a positive thing,” she said. “They’ve been telling us to ask a lot of questions about ourselves and what we believe. I feel like you can take those questions home and put things back into perspective.”
ShyAnne Brogden, also of Sacred Heart, was moved by Kyle Heimann’s emotional story about how he wanted to trade places with his sick son.
“When he was talking about his son and his love for his son, that’s like the love God has for us,” she said.
At the conference, participants were able to attend Mass, go to confession, and participate in Eucharistic adoration – an event that was the highlight for many.
“Everything breaks loose,” said Connor Vinchattle of Sacred Heart Parish. “Everything is at its peak. Jesus is there, and it moves people. It changes pretty much how they feel about everything else.”
At adoration, the praise and worship team was led by Dr. Bob Rice, a musician and catechetics professor at Franciscan University. The lights were dimmed except for a single spotlight on the Eucharist.
Logan Shearer, Sacred Heart Parish, shared a powerful experience he had at adoration.
“There was a moment where something broke through; I don’t know exactly what it was,” he said. “I just understood.”
Harison Bickam and Grace Peterson, both of St. Malachy Parish, Madrid, look forward to adoration each time they come to the conference, and strive to preserve their experience once back at home.
“I feel that every year I grow stronger and stronger,” Peterson said. “I try to pray, set a routine for myself so that it becomes a habit.”
“Definitely prayer,” Bickam said. “If you keep doing that every day, it’ll keep you close to God.”
Franciscan University of Steubenville held its first conference for teens in 1976. This year, more than 50,000 teens will participate in one of five youth conferences held in Steubenville and 20 regional youth conferences across North America.