Director of youth ministry in nine western parishes encourages students, parents to take opportunity
Quest is a paschal-mystery based retreat for freshman and sophomores in high school, focusing on the theme of love for God, one’s neighbor and self.
The first Quest retreat in the Lincoln Diocese was held at St. Joseph Parish in Beatrice in 2002. This October’s retreat will be the 33rd held in the diocese.
Jeff Schinstock, director of youth ministry for the diocese, said he sees Quest as an opportunity for freshmen and sophomores in high school to deepen their spiritual lives and to understand the love that the Church has for them.
Schinstock said, “What these students are having is a quest for love, and as a Church, we need to show them that love.”
He also emphasized the fact that Quest can be a good preparatory step for students in their life of faith.
“Quest does a good job of introducing people to a life of retreat. It’s a way to carve out time in the noise of this world,” Schinstock said.
Katie Dubas, the youth director for students in grades 7-12 in nine parishes that compromise the Grant Deanery in western Nebraska, agreed.
“Retreats are special opportunities to encounter Jesus,” she said. “It is a time away from the normal routine of daily life when we can slow down and spend time with Jesus, talking to Him as a close friend and listening to what He has to say to us right now. They can be a time of refreshment and re-commitment to faithfully following Jesus in the midst of His Church.”
Michele Chambers, an administrative assistant for the diocese, attended the first Quest retreat in 2002 and has been to almost every one since. In her experience, getting students to attend Quest not only takes encouraging students to participate, but encouraging their parents as well.
“Sending kids on Quest does take some parental buy-in,” she said, “but a parent’s encouragement to do something like this is helpful if they want their kids to experience a retreat.”
Schinstock agreed, noting that when parents encourage their kids in spiritual events at a young age, it can increase their willingness to participate in other youth ministry events.
The youth ministry office has a threefold approach to engaging students in faith events in the diocese, including retreats, pilgrimages and catechetical programs. Some of these include summer camps at Camp Kateri in McCool Junction, Totus Tuus, trips to Steubenville University and pilgrimages to the March for Life in Washington D.C. and World Youth Day.
While Dubas encourages participation in the diocesan youth ministry events in western Nebraska, she also plans her own special trips and activities, including a “Catechism Kickoff” (held Sept. 13 this year), taking students to Denver to serve with Christ in the City missionaries, and the Nebraska Walk for Life in Lincoln.
Forty individuals, including Chambers, were able to attend Steubenville of the Rockies in June, and Dubas also took a group of five students to the Matt Maher concert in Wahoo Aug. 11.
Even with all of the opportunities available to youth in western Nebraska, Dubas also has to deal with a few special challenges when trying to get students involved in events. The first being numbers.
Dubas estimated that there are presently 100 Catholic students in grades 7-12 in the Grant Deanery, but not all are actively practicing the faith. This can make planning events hard, but she considers even getting a few students involved a big success.
The second factor that can be a challenge in western Nebraska is distance.
“People in the west are used to driving quite a ways for things,” Dubas said, “but it does pose a challenge. Many families live out of town and daily drive in for school. Sometimes the youth simply don’t have transportation available to get to and from CYO activities.”
Some of Dubas’s solutions include holding events and providing supper immediately after sports practices and providing carpooling to special events, like the upcoming Quest retreat.
She said, “One example is summer SKY Camp. For the past two years, I have hauled kids to SKY Camp (at Camp Kateri in McCool Junction). They loved it, and we had a great five-hour road trip to get there!”
The final problem that Dubas deals with is trying to work around student activities.
“Other youth ministers might argue with me on this point, but rural youth are often involved in too many extracurricular activities; there is no time left to spend on faith-based activities. Why?” Dubas asked. “Well, if nearly every eligible youth doesn’t go out for sports, band, the musical, FFA, etc., then the program will die.”
Dubas noted that even if students aren’t busy with extracurricular activities, they often work part-time jobs and help on their family’s farms.
“It is hard to convince parents and youth to re-arrange their priorities because it is going against their normal rural-community way of life,” she said.
Despite these challenges, Dubas still works hard to ensure that the youth of the Grant Deanery are given the opportunity to encounter Jesus. For her, that makes it all worth it.
“I love seeing youth wrestle with the reality that God loves them just as they are, and that He has a good plan for their life,” Dubas said. “I am thrilled when I see teens become curious and open to trusting our Lord with all that they are and all that they will be. These moments of deeper conversion are so rewarding to see.”
Schinstock, Chambers and Dubas all understand that the opportunity to have students attend retreats like Quest can be a great stepping stone in their faith journey.
Schinstock said, “I encourage all students to take a leap of faith because there is a joy unknown in the life of faith.”
For those who may be unsure of whether they should attend or not, Dubas encouraged them to simply, “Go!”
She said, “It can change your life. It will be so much fun, and you will have a great time! It’s better than going to the homecoming dance! I have often heard teens grumbling at the start, saying ‘my parents made me come.’ But at the end of the retreat, they say ‘I am so glad my parents made me come, it was amazing!’”
Registration is open for Quest 33 in McCook as well as Quest 34, which will be held at St. Stephen Church in Lawrence, Nov. 4-5.