By KATIE LEFEBVRE, Globe staff reporter
Father Mark Stoll, pastor at Moville Immaculate Conception and Kingsley St. Michael’s, took a group of 12 youth and five chaperones to the Steubenville conference July 11-13 in Rochester, Minn.
Youth from Moville Immaculate Conception, Kingsley St. Michael’s, Hartley St. Joseph’s, Sioux City St. Boniface and one from Omaha, Neb., were part of the group.
“It helps the youth to realize that the church is more than just what happens in our parish,” said Father Stoll. “Also to realize and experience the dynamic nature of the church.”
The youth listen to speakers and participate in breakout sessions, Mass, adoration and reconciliation. From Friday until Saturday evening, there is a total of eight hours of reconciliation time available to the participants. Father Stoll mentioned that between all the priests, they heard over 1,000 confessions.
“The speakers talk about the various aspects of the faith,” said Father Stoll. “The focus was ‘God Is’ from Isaiah 12:2. The speakers focused on who God is and who we are to God. It gets the kids praying, thinking, reflecting and motivated.”
First-time attendee Anthony Baird, a freshman parishioner at Moville Immaculate Conception, thought attending would be a way to get closer to God and meet new people.
“The speakers talked about different ways they got closer to God and how you can use that in your everyday life,” he said. “It was cool being with other Catholic youth because everyone is really accepting there no matter what you are like because you all start off with one main thing in common.”
Mindy Bethke, a parishioner at St. Joseph’s in Hartley, wanted to attend for a second year because she loved it so much the first time.
“Adoration was pretty awesome,” she said. “There are so many people, it is longer (than usual) and you get to see everybody experience the same thing you are experiencing.”
Kingsley St. Michael’s parishioner Madison Wurth also attended for the first time. She said the most memorable part for her was adoration.
“It was a great experience,” she said. “God is more important than I thought he was in my life. He makes a great difference. There is so much more about him and Christianity that I learned.”
The group also took a side trip to a family youth ministry center, which they have done for the past five years.
They did service work around the center and at the local parish in Lewiston, Minn.
“It allows the kids to put their faith into action through service,” said Father Stoll. “It also helps them to spend a little time to be able to sit down and reflect on what they have experienced at the conference itself.”
Steubenville St. Louis-Mid-America
Don Evans, a parishioner at St. Mary's in Humboldt, took a large group from several parishes to the Mid-America week two conference July 18-20 in Springfield, Mo. He has been taking groups to Steubenville for about eight years.
This year there were 260 in the group – St. Mary’s Humboldt took 44 total: 37 youth, one young adult and six chaperones; St. Thomas Manson (first group from this parish to attend) took 14 total: 10 youth and four adults; Immaculate Conception Cherokee took 13 total: 11 youth and two chaperones; St. Edmond’s Fort Dodge took 94 total: 82 youth, one young adult and 11 chaperones; St. Joseph Wall Lake/Lake View took 17 total: 15 youth and two chaperones; the Corpus Christi Cluster from the Ida Grove area took 25 total: 20 youth and five chaperones; and Bishop Heelen Sioux City took 53 total: 46 youth, two young adults and five chaperones.
“The Steubenville conference is great for our youth,” said Evans. “It lets them know they are not alone, it is impossible to feel alone in an arena of 3,700 youth praising God in music, adoring him in Adoration, returning to him in the sacrament of reconciliation and joining with him and the church in Holy Mass.”
Among those attending were three diocesan priests – Fathers Frank Lona, Richard Ball and Pat Behm.
“We appreciate them for going along with us and for all those priests who stayed back here in Iowa to cover for them so they could go with us and offered up their prayers for us,” said Evans.
Father Behm, theology teacher at Bishop Heelan High School in Sioux City, thinks the value of the conference is “in the encounter. It’s an opportunity for the young people to come face to face with the person of Jesus Christ in a way that, hopefully, has a lasting impact on them.”
Annie Fitzsimmons, a senior at Bishop Heelan and Sioux City Sacred Heart parishioner, attended Steubenville for the second time because “I wanted to renew my spiritual high, the joy I received last year.”
“It taught me how to be a woman of God,” she said. “It was awesome to be able to express your faith without being judged because you know that everyone else is there for the same reason. I would recommend going on this trip because it helps strengthen your bond with God, and it makes you know that it's ok to live your life giving glory and honor to God.”
Dave and Terri Prenger, parishioners at Holy Spirit in Carroll, have been sponsoring groups to Steubenville conferences for the past 11 or 12 years.
Diocese under the direction of Franciscan University. They took 23 students (from Kuemper, Carroll High and homeschoolers) and four chaperones from the Carroll area.
“There are Steubenville Conferences put on closer to our state, but we choose the 10-hour trip because it gives us more time with our students,” said Terri Prenger. “We use the bus time for discussion and prayer with a lot of fun thrown in to get the kids prepared.”
The students present this trip in their individual parishes, asking not for money but for prayers to support us. More than 1,100 rosaries were prayed for the students.
“These conferences are so valuable to our students’ faith life,” said Martha Stout, a teacher at Kuemper. “They are surrounded by 3,700 like-minded students. Some have a deep faith from their families but many are searching for God and don't know where to look or how to look. This conference gives them the tools to a deeper faith, a well-informed faith and opens them to all the graces that God has for them.”
Recent Kuemper graduate Sara Langel, a Templeton Sacred Heart parishioner, attended the conference for the third time.
“I went to Steubenville because I had gone twice previously and both times I had the time of my life,” she said. “It was an amazing experience and I wanted to have another amazing trip where I could have lots of fun, but yet, be with God. We are always in God's presence but that doesn't mean we always acknowledge him and are focused on him.”
First-time attendee Brooke Kroeger, a Carroll St. Lawrence parishioner and recent Kuemper graduate, was encouraged by friends to attend the conference.
“Sciences cannot disprove God because the ‘uncaused’ God started everything,” she said. “This showed me how everything in our Catholic faith really came about. The experience of being around people with the commonality of our Catholic faith was life changing for me. It really showed God's love for each and every one of the kids our age.”
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