Youth minister aims to teach more than just ‘nuts and bolts’ of faith

Categories: Around the Diocese

By Sue Schulzetenberg-Gully
The Visitor

On a typical day Melissa Fox visits with catechists, answers phone calls, keeps up with youth activities and plans lessons.

This to-do list, however, doesn’t include the surprises that often come her way.

“You can plan all you want, but you never know when you walk into a classroom or an event how exactly it’s going to go,” said Fox, director of faith formation and youth ministry at St. Marcus Parish in Clear Lake. “We let the kids ask the questions and lead it. It’s fun to be with them and explore life and explore faith through their eyes.”

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Melissa Fox, recipient of the Companions on the Journey award.

Fox is this year’s winner of the Companions on the Journey Award, the highest honor from the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry that a diocese can award to an adult.

The award recognizes the respect she’s earned from peers and her commitment to lifelong learning and educating youth.

“She is a dedicated and faith-filled person,” said Scott Frieler, coordinator of youth ministry for Holy Spirit, St. Anthony and St. John Cantius parishes in St. Cloud. “She is a fun person to be around. She works well with the families in her parish and shows commitment to them.”

It’s a position Fox feels is a vocation. Although she began attending the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph to pursue a degree in education, the St. Cloud native found theology classes intriguing and quickly switched to a theology major with an emphasis in pastoral ministry.

“It’s what I’m called to do,” she said. “I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t work for a church. I truly believe God opened doors for me to realize this is where I’m called to be.”

Getting youth involved

Fox started in youth ministry at St. Andrew Parish in Elk River. In 2007, she started working as the faith formation director at St. Marcus and youth ministry was soon added to her responsibilities.

At Clear Lake she coordinates faith formation, teaches confirmation and baptism classes and prepares individuals who seek initiation into the church. She coordinates youth involvement in weekend liturgies, leads first Communion preparation and organizes and leads youth activities. She also has brought youth to the National Catholic Youth Conference, diocesan youth rallies and Castaway retreats.

By the time youth are confirmed at St. Marcus, Fox hopes they not only know the “nuts and bolts” of Catholicism but also what their faith means to them on a personal level, the role of faith in their lives and the importance of being actively involved in their faith.

She believes parishes can help with youth involvement by welcoming them, acknowledging them and giving them opportunities to use their gifts.

“They have so much they can offer the parish,” Fox said. “They want to be trusted and be given opportunities. They want to feel they are a part of the parish. Let them take on leadership roles. Mentor the teenage lectors. If you have musically gifted students, they should use those skills in liturgy.”

Fox learned the importance of extending an invitation from her own youth minister. Participating in youth activities as a teenager at St. Paul Parish in St. Cloud, she noticed how her youth minister had a knack for recognizing young people’s potential.

“There was always that gentle nudge,” she said. “He would say, ‘I think you would enjoy this’ or ‘Would you do this?’ He saw in us, not just in me, things that we might not have seen in ourselves.”

On the diocesan level, Fox has been involved in Castaway retreats for 20 years, helped with youth rallies and is a member of the FRIENDS group of youth ministers who meet monthly for ongoing education and support.

A scrapbooker with a cricut (a machine for cutting shapes and designs out of paper, fabric and vinyl), she has helped with props, small group materials and posters for youth rallies and Castaway. Often armed with a camera, she documents diocesan youth events, such as Castaway and youth rallies.

Open to God’s plan

Fox also has spoken at Castaway and youth rallies about her own faith journey.

“Her testimony of her life experiences even made me cry,” said Kent Schmitz, diocesan consultant for youth ministry and adolescent catechesis. “She has a sincere love for the Lord.”

Speaking at Castaway three years ago, Fox told the story about losing her unborn son in her second trimester in 2007. She went through the stages of grief, asking why it happened. But she eventually became stronger in her faith.

“My husband and I took it as God had a plan,” she said. “There was a reason it happened. We don’t know that reason, but we need to be open to God’s plan.”

Fox now has three daughters and another child due in April. She started working at St. Marcus Parish a few months after the baby died in 2007. Going to a smaller parish gave her more flexibility and more time to spend with her family.

Melissa said her job is in an ever-changing occupation, but she plans to be a consistent contributor in her field for a while.

“It’s something that is a part of me,” she said. “It’s not a 9-5 job, especially when you’re working with kids, but I believe it’s what God has called me to do. I can be having the worst day and those kids come through the door and they can make a horrible day perfect. I like being with them. They’re just fun.”