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'Informal Association of Suspicious Characters'

By John McMahon
Faith formation director at Holy Family-St. Lawrence Parish, Essex Junction

ESSEX JUNCTION--Ever since I saw the relics of Blessed Pier Giorgio in Poland last summer, I have been referring to our group as the “Informal Association of Suspicious Characters.” We haven’t really advertised the name as much as we should, but that is what I think of it as.
Our group meets on alternating Thursday nights at St. Pius X Church. Now that our regular sessions are concluded for the year, we plan to meet three or four times during the summer for some special events like a canoe trip and hike.
The previous youth group here had pretty much dissolved the previous year after a large group graduated from high school. To restart, several changes were made in the fall. For example, we had meals together every other time during the sessions. I also made a commitment to put a lot more planning time into the planning of the sessions. Because we were starting from the ground floor and most of the kids didn’t know each other well, we spent a lot of time getting to know one another.  Then we had serious discussions fairly regularly. We had 28 kids come to our opening night. But, the numbers shrank over the months & school kicked in. By the end, we had established a core group of 10-12 with another five or six that come when they can.
Our mission is to create a space for our high school youth that allows them to have fun, build solid trusting relationships with other kids they might not get to know in school and discuss matters of depth that shape who they are and are becoming (faith, family relationships, current events, etc.).
The team is composed of Andrew Coulter, Edmundite Father Lino Oropeza, Elissa Lee, Sean Siemen and me.
A typical session includes prayer, games, a YouTube segment, discussion and meal.
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'NovenaNetwork' app

If you’re looking for a way to pray novenas with others, there’s an app for that.
NovenaNetwork is a free social media iOS app made by a young parishioner of St. Pius X Church in Essex Center.
“I like novenas. I’ve had a few pretty amazing experiences with my prayers being answered after praying novenas, although not necessarily when or how I would have expected them to be answered, of course,” said Marissa C. Le Coz, 22, of Essex Junction. “Social media plays a big role in the world today. NovenaNetwork takes the social media concept and uses it to encourage people to pray novenas together.”
She had the idea for NovenaNetwork during the fall of her junior year at Dartmouth College. Although she had found websites and apps for reminding her to pray the nine days of her novenas, none were standalone social networks like what she had in mind -- social networks that would allow users to anonymously bring their prayer intentions to everyone using the app.
She originally planned to code NovenaNetwork during the winter vacation of her junior year, but it was more than she could take on then and returned to it as her senior culminating experience for her computer science degree.
Le Coz graduated from Dartmouth this year and plans to return in the fall to pursue a master’s degree with an eye on a career in software engineering.
While at school she attends Aquinas House Catholic Student Center where she has served as a member of the Outreach Committee, a lector and on the retreat planning team.
“My faith plays an important role in my life, so it was really awesome to be able to work on a project as part of my coursework that so directly pertains to my faith,” she said of her app.
Users can anonymously “start” novenas for particular prayer intentions, selecting from a library of novenas that the app provides, and then other users of the app can “join” these novenas. The user who initiates the novena chooses the start date, so everyone praying that novena prays on the same nine days for the same intention. Each user who joins a novena chooses a time for daily push notification reminders to pray each of the nine days.
“I think that this app is helpful both on an individual level and on a communal level,” she said, explaining that on an individual level, NovenaNetwork reminds users to pray the novenas they join: “So, if someone is not in the habit of praying daily, using NovenaNetwork is a step in the right direction, as the app sends prayer reminders in the form of push notifications, which come right to your phone, wherever you are.”
Each novena included in NovenaNetwork’s library includes a bit of information about the saint (or member of the Trinity, in the case of the Novena to the Holy Spirit) to whom the novena is addressed. “NovenaNetwork may help some people to learn more about the saints or even to discover some new saints. I know that I definitely learned a lot as I was writing up these descriptions,” she said.
On a communal level, NovenaNetwork encourages intercessory prayer; not only do users pray for the intercession of the saints, but they also pray for the intentions of one another.
NovenaNetwork -- released May 24 -- currently has a library of 20 novenas, but Le Coz plans gradually to expand the library as she releases updates for the app.
Her favorites are the Novena to the Holy Spirit and the Novena to Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati.
She currently does not have any other app plans, but she does plan to continue to make improvements to NovenaNetwork in the future and maybe add some new features.
Get the app at itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewSoftware?id=122832

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