Young Apostles at Mater Dei Parish live as servants of Jesus and His Church.

Nearly all of the 14 members who are in grades 9-11 have received the Sacrament of Confirmation and continue with the Young Apostles program because of their desire to strengthen their faith.

“It’s not an obligation,” said Abby Pettengill, 16. “We’re never going to completely know everything about the Church and how Jesus impacted lives. (By participating in Young Apostles), we can make decisions based on what we’re learning.”

The Newport-area parish is helping form young followers of Jesus “by helping the teens to encounter Jesus personally through the Eucharist and then equipping them to go out to share their Catholic faith with others,” said Ann Gonyaw, director of Catholic formation for Mater Dei Parish. “There are so many messages the youth receive in school and even at home that are contrary to their faith. They need a strong, supportive environment to build community with other Catholic teens and talk about the truths of their faith.”

For members of the group, it’s not just about learning about the faith, it’s also about sharing it with their peers and serving others. “You can have a great faith, but if you’re alone and don’t reach out to other people, it is possible to keep it alive, but it’s very difficult,” said Abby Gonyaw, 16.

Bethany Broadbent, 15, said her faith has helped her through difficult times because she knows God loves her. She said God has helped her, and she can give back by “staying with Him” as an active member of the Catholic Church.

The Young Apostles meet twice a month, on the second and fourth Fridays.

At the first meeting each month, they have adoration and make a meal together.  At the second meeting, we gather at Deacon Ward and Kathy Nolan’s House for dinner, games and a discussion on how to share a particular aspect of their Catholic faith with others.

Young Apostles all serve in one or more ministries in the parish including: family formation assistant catechists, vacation Bible school station leaders, choir members, lectors, altar servers, parish council members, weekly Eucharistic adoration volunteers and ushers. They are a visible presence at nearly all parish events including daily Masses, church dinners, seasonal decorating projects, bake sales, annual car washes and the parish picnic. They volunteer monthly for the Second Sunday service projects based on the Corporal Works of Mercy.

“All my life I’ve been going to church with my family, and it’s nice to have people the same age [in the group] so you can reflect together,” said Maeve Bathalon, 16.

The students appreciate having other Young Apostles to turn to for support as friends and schoolmates, though they don’t all go to school together.

Thinking about other young people who have left the Church, many because they consider Confirmation a sort of “graduation” from Mass and church activities, Maeve commented, “It’s 2019 and a lot of people have stayed away. It’s important that we stay” and witness the faith wherever they go.

Diocesan youth events such as Steubenville, youth rallies, hikes, Totus Tuus high school nights, National Catholic Youth Conference and the Vermont Catholic Youth Serve all are essential catalysts to helping the teens to find common ground with their peers and as youth leaders. “I am so grateful for the extensive opportunities that are available to our youth,” Gonyaw said. “We are also excited to begin a junior high youth group in the fall to provide a bridge between confirmation and Young Apostles.”

Susan Broadbent, Bethany’s mother, said some people are surprised to see youth involved in the church. For example, when the Young Apostles collect food for Thanksgiving baskets, “people are surprised to see teenagers doing it because most adults don’t think kids are religious,” she said.

She doesn’t worry about her daughter when she goes to Young Apostles activities because “I know they all take care of each other.”

Bethany said that many young people deal with anxiety and depression, often because they don’t have anyone to talk to and they feel alone. But Young Apostles are “connected to one another by God.”

This, she concluded, gives them strength, positive feelings about themselves and a desire to do what they can for others.

Gonyaw’s goal with this youth ministry program is that “the teens will fall in love with Jesus and then bring that love to their family and friends.”

With students reporting that the Young Apostles group gives them strength, positive feelings about themselves and a desire to do what they can for others, it seems Gonyaw’s aspirations for the group are already coming to fruition.

Originally published in the Fall 2019 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.