by Gordon Nary
Gordon: When and why did you join St. Mary’s Catholic Church?
Jason: I moved here to be the Director of Youth Ministry in August of 2014. I grew up not far from here, and that August my wife and I got married and discerned that the Lord was calling us to come to this area so that I could work for this parish and we could become a part of this parish.
Gordon: What were the reasons to study Theology when you went to Franciscan University in Steubenville, and what was your most interesting course that you took and why?
Jason: When I want to Franciscan, I was planning to possibly pursue a career in Law or in Education, and studied history during my time there. In high school I had become passionate about learning the faith, and so I thought that, while I was at Franciscan, I should probably continue that learning! I took a lot of amazing courses while I was there.
In my first few years, taking Principles of Biblical Studies with Dr. John Bergsma was incredibly eye-opening about the Word of God and what we can learn from truly reading and studying Scripture. As an upperclassman, I was able to take a course on Church History with Dr. Stephen Hildebrand which was a really interesting class, as well as a class on Comparative Religions with Dr. Patricia Donohue. Possibly my favorite course was one I took during my semester studying abroad in Austria with Dr. Donald Asci which was a course on Christian Spirituality, walking us through prayer and our spiritual life with the great Fathers and Saints of the Church as our guide.
Gordon: What interested you in becoming a Youth Minister?
Jason: From the time I was in high school, and during my time in college, I always had a passion for doing ministry and sharing the Gospel with others. I never knew, though, how much God would work through that passion. Before my senior of college, I had the incredible opportunity of working with the Steubenville Youth Conferences as a facilitator for the Franciscan LEAD program. LEAD (stands for leadership, evangelization, and discipleship) is a week long retreat focused on helping teens know who they are in the eyes of the Lord and how they can grow in relationship with Him and share Him with others. In doing this ministry, the Lord opened my eyes to the call He had for my life to seek, in everything I do, to share the Gospel with others, and the way that ministering to young people would specifically call me to follow Him in a unique way in my professional life.
Gordon: According the Pew Report, many young Catholics leave the church, What are can parishes who do not have a Youth Ministry do to help reduce this trend?
Jason: There are many reasons why young people leave the Church, and many different ways that parishes can go about serving them and really helping bring them back. At the heart of it, I think, is the need to have a real intentional focus on how we teach young people what the life of Christian discipleship is all about. This means first helping them to have a personal encounter with the Lord, often through retreats or other experiences where they can hear about Him and have a time in prayer to encounter Him. After they have encountered Him, we must be available to walk with young people and help them to learn a life of prayer and faith.
In youth ministry, then, we have to create a culture of this: have moments for encounter, followed by a consistent call to discipleship, and opportunities for teens to learn what it truly looks like to live this faith and share it with others. If teens leave our ministry having encountered the Lord, with a consistent prayer life (not that they must be perfect, of course, but that they are striving to encounter Him in prayer each day and in the Sacraments), and with a true desire to be a missionary disciple, then we will see young people not leave the Church, but be an integral part of bringing the Gospel to the world.
One of the main ways that we’ve been doing this here is focusing on personal prayer and an encounter with the Word of God through a program we created called Carpe Verbum , which teaches young people to pray with Scripture through Lectio Divina and the daily Mass readings. If our teens learn a love for the rhythm of life that daily prayer and the daily readings at Mass offer, they will be able to find Him in their lives continuing long beyond their time in our ministry!
Gordon: What impact does social media have in addressing the challenges of keeping young people interested in their faith as well as evangelization of new young people to join the Church?
Jason: As with any tool, social media has its limitations, but that does not mean we should shy away from it or not learn about it. In many ways, this is the way that teenagers get information about the world and communicate with the world around them.
In social media, they have become used to information being at their fingertips, and also to information that is presented with beauty and clarity. If the Church is presenting the Gospel in this same way, then teens will be able to respond to it. We must present the Gospel to the world in the way that the world can hear it, and this must involve social media. When we have events where teens are invited to encounter the Lord, social media will be a key way to share about that event.
When want to walk with young people, social media is a way to continue to communicate with them each and every day. If we want to teach young people how to be disciples, this must include proper ways to use social media and how to bring the Gospel into each post, each comment, and each moment.
Gordon: What social media resources do you find most helpful in St. Mary’s Youth Ministry and how do you use them?
Jason: We have youth ministry social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and mostly manage our posts on them with a scheduling program called Hootsuite. With this, we can schedule posts about events, and tailor those to the specific program. Instagram, for example, must be worded towards teens; often, Facebook is worded more in a way to catch the attention of core team members and parents. On top of using social media to promote events, we use it to sometimes just post good articles, sometimes funny pictures to make sure there is positivity and joy on the teens timelines, and also during our events to post pictures, videos, and more about what is happening to share with teens who may not have been able to attend.
Gordon: Why was St. Aloysius Gonzaga named the patron Catholic Youth?
Jason: St. Aloysius Gonzaga is one of many saints who are an incredible to young people that sainthood is not just for people who are old, but that it is for the young! St. Aloysius discerned a call to religious life from the age of 9, died at the age of 23, and spent his whole life serving the poor and praising the Lord, doing all things to bring God glory and give Him his whole life. It is important to remind young people of this reality: you are never too young to seek him.
Gordon: We deeply appreciate your insights into and recommendations on our responsibilities to our youth.