Steubenville conferences fuel young people in the faith

Categories: Around the Diocese

By Bob Zyskowski
The Catholic Spirit

This time was different for 17-year-old Teagan Brogdon from Minneapolis.

A student at Patrick Henry High School, he’d been to Steubenville youth conferences twice before; he said he’d already come to the realization of the importance of his relationship with God.

“This time there was a different feel,” he explained. “I feel like I got a lot closer to God. I’m done learning what I need to know. Now it’s time to take steps to come to God myself.”

Brogdon, a member St. Bridget Parish in north Minneapolis, suggested “it might be the cameraderie” that makes the Steubenville conferences effective in leading young people to a richer faith life and practice of the faith.

He was one of 1,950 young people who took part in the three days of talks, liturgies, workshops and opportunities for prayer, adoration and the sacrament of reconciliation at the Steubenville North conference July 24-26 on the St. Paul campus of the University of St. Thomas.

More than 45,000 youth will attend similar Steubenville conferences across the country this summer.

“There are so many young people excited like us about our faith,” Brogdon added. “We are definitely not alone.”

Safety in numbers

Stefanie Steinhofer

Stefanie Steinhofer

In Stefanie Steinhofer’s mind, the great number of young people at the Steubenville conferences is a big reason they have a positive impact on teens’ faith.

A member of the three-parish cluster in the Belgrade area who volunteered to help lead the weekend, Steinhofer is the parent of a teen who attended this summer and another who attended a Steubenville conference in the past.

With messages from the dominant culture often so much in conflict with Catholic values, Steinhofer said, one of the benefits of attending a youth conference with hundreds of other Catholic young people is “seeing kids from all across the Midwest who have the same beliefs — that it’s OK to let the Holy Spirit work in you.”

The conference’s approach aims to “awaken and strengthen young people in their relationship with Jesus Christ and his Church,” according to the mission of the organizing group, Bloomington, Minnesota-based Partnership for Youth. The conferences are an outreach of Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio.

JoAnn Braegelman

JoAnn Braegelman

JoAnn Braegelman, former director of religious education for the cluster of St. Francis de Sales in Belgrade, SS. Peter and Paul in Elrosa and St. Donatus in Brooten, said she’s seen plenty of evidence that the Steubenville approach works from attending 16 conferences.

“I see the transformation in the kids when they get back,” said Braegelman, who attended the conference. “They’re more interested in learning about their faith, and they’re excited about volunteering for things in the parish. It refuels the kids, gives them energy to go forward in their faith.”

Not ice but fire

That energy comes from driving guitars, pounding drums, praise music from keyboards, cheering, applause, insightful videos, witness testimonies by teens, challenges to live with a purpose and positive reinforcement of virtues throughout the weekend.

In a laughter-filled talk, speaker Oscar Rivera cautioned a packed Schoenecker Arena audience not to strive to be cool.

He described ice as “boring,” but fire, on the other hand, he could “watch the flames of a campfire dance all night.”

“We need to stop worrying about how to be cool and start thinking about how to be on fire for the faith,” Rivera said.

Bishop Andrew Cozzens, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, presided at the conference closing Mass.

In his homily, he connected the day’s Gospel reading of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes to Jesus’ feeding Catholics today through the miracle of the Eucharist.
“Do you believe that Jesus is really here in the Eucharist and wants to satisfy your deepest desires?” he asked.

He said he had always found it easy to believe in the real presence of Christ before he was ordained, “when someone else, a priest, said the words of consecration.”
The only time he ever doubted it was just before he was ordained.

“I wondered,” Bishop Cozzens said, “will I believe when I say the words?”

He described his first Mass, celebrated at the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul.

“The first time I held up that host, there was no doubt in my mind I was genuflecting before Jesus Christ, the living son of God.

“My prayer for you,” he told the Steubenville North attendees, “is that you will open your heart to Jesus so he can satisfy your deepest desires.”