By KATIE BORKOWSKI
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Several groups from parishes and Catholic schools around the Diocese of Sioux City loaded eight buses to attend Steubenville-Mid America 1.
The conference was held July 13-15 in Springfield, Mo., hosted by the Archdiocese of St. Louis, on the campus of Missouri State University.
The theme of this year’s conference was Revealed – 1 John 4:9.
God shows up
Father Shane Deman, chaplain at Bishop Heelan High School and the director of vocations for the diocese, traveled with a group from the Sioux City area with 141 participants from several schools including Bishop Heelan, Sergeant Bluff, Sioux City East, Kingsley, Moville, Sioux Center and Marcus.
Other priests on the trip were Father David Hemann, pastor at Holy Cross in Sioux City and Father Mauro Sanchez, parochial vicar at Cathedral of the Epiphany in Sioux City.
Father Deman pointed out even though there were many impressive speakers, musicians and conferences, “the main focus of the weekend is a personal encounter with the living Christ.”
He added, “If every student comes away from the conference closer to Christ and can live out their faith as a more committed disciple, then the conference was worth every effort.”
Mary Lehr, director of faith formation at Mater Dei Parish, attended as a chaperone for the first time with 40 youth from the parish from Bishop Heelan, Sioux City East and Sergeant Bluff.
“I wanted to experience, along with our youth, this powerful experience of God,” she said. “Then when we return, together we can talk to each other about how God touched our lives and where we go from here.”
Lehr thinks attending a conference like this is important because “God shows up.”
“He is there in the most powerful way via our youth,” she said. “They realize they are not alone in their belief in God. They come home stronger in their faith and want to then share with others that same gift they have received.”
Martha Stout, chemistry teacher at Carroll Kuemper Catholic High School, attended with 110 students and 14 chaperones from the surrounding Carroll area – Carroll, Coon Rapids, Glidden, Sac City, Wall Lake, Lake City, Manson, Denison, Arcadia, Vail, Lake City, Auburn, Templeton, Houghton, Rockwell City, Breda, Westside, Ralston, Halbur and Pleasant Hill.
She pointed out this was the first time – ever – for three buses. Two years ago, they filled one bus and last year the students filled two buses. From 2014 to 2018, the number increased from 23 to 110. Stout said the increase in numbers attending Steubenville from the Carroll area “attests to the hunger our young people have for our faith.”
“The increase from one bus to two buses, I believe was due to students inviting their friends to go with them,” said Stout. “The increase from two buses to three buses was student-to-student invitation and Carly Meixner, former CCYM coordinator and Katherine Dea, Kuemper’s campus minister. These two young women really promoted this opportunity to our youth.”
This was Amber Mohr’s fourth trip to Steubenville. She will be a senior at Kuemper and is a member of St. Mary Parish in Sac City. The reason she keeps going back is because “I love being able to see people whether it’s students or chaperones encounter Christ for the first time.”
For Mohr, each Steubenville has been a different experience.
“This year I had a deep desire to pray, not for myself, but for every person that attended Steubenville from my group,” said Mohr. “I learned how to have an authentic relationship with Christ. I learned that you need to be able to share everything with God including your joys and sufferings.”
New, unique experience
Don Evans, a parishioner at St. Mary’s in Humboldt, attended Steubenville-Mid America 1 with a total of 72 youth and chaperones – 22 from Humboldt, 18 from Wall Lake, 19 from Ida Grove, seven from Marcus and six from Sioux Center.
“Steubenville conferences provide the youth with a new and unique experience of God’s presence in their lives,” he said. “They can see God in the friends they traveled with, the new friends they meet on the weekend and in the sacraments of confession and Eucharist.”
Evans hopes the youth brought back “a strong understanding that they are a child of God and always will be.”
Janet Klein, youth minister at Christ the King in Sioux Center, attended the conference with five young ladies from the parish. She said Steubenville gives “us all the opportunity to see the larger Church.”
During this conference, Klein felt the youth realized they are not alone in their faith.
“There are many who stand with them to worship and praise our God,” she said. “From this conference they were reminded they are chosen and they are worth more than we can ever know.”
Diana Vera, a soon-to-be senior from Christ the King Parish, attended the conference for the first time this year.
“I came in not knowing what to expect,” she admitted. “However, after listening to the speakers and the homily, I got a lot of answers to questions. Not only were my questions answered, but the conference made me feel calm and genuinely happy, which was something that I didn’t really have before.”
The most touching part of the experience for Vera was adoration.
“It was such a wonderful experience to truly feel Jesus in the room,” she said. “Even with 5,000 people in the arena, this was the first time that I really felt close to him.”
Two recently graduated seniors from St. Mary’s in Humboldt, Lizzie Tecklenburg and Tabitha Jergens attended Steubenville for the fourth and fifth time respectively. Both had the opportunity to be part of the Franciscan LEAD (Leadership, Evangelization And Discipleship) program for the week before Steubenville.
“Each Steubenville conference is an entirely unique, but equally impactful experience,” said Tecklenburg. “I was eager to come back this year to see what God had in store for me.”
Taking a “leap of faith” and doing LEAD was the best decision she ever made.
“I returned to Steubenville this year to take a step forward in my faith and lead others to God, and LEAD equipped me with everything I needed to help my peers encounter God at Steubenville,” said Tecklenburg. “Seeing so many people on fire for God never ceases to amaze me. I love seeing lives being changed firsthand when so many people truly meet God for the first time at Steubenville.”
During LEAD, Jergens met and got to know 30 other Catholic teenagers “who love God, like me.”
“In both LEAD and Steubenville, I got a chance to really spend time with God through adoration and Mass,” she added. “I have come to appreciate these two things a lot more in the past week because of it. It changed my prayer life drastically, and in a good way. Without ever having attended this conference, my faith would not be as strong as it is today.”