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Teens gathered for a Mission West youth event April 7 at Assumption Parish in O’Fallon. Youth from different parishes in the St. Charles County area gathered for the combined youth ministry event.
Teens gathered for a Mission West youth event April 7 at Assumption Parish in O’Fallon. Youth from different parishes in the St. Charles County area gathered for the combined youth ministry event.
Photo Credit: Jacob Wiegand

Parishes in St. Charles County embrace spirit of collaboration

All Things New encourages parishes to find ways to work together

Benji Boss and other Assumption Life Teen members played Jenga during a Mission West gathering April 7 at Assumption Parish in O’Fallon.
Photo Credits: Jacob Wiegand
When youth ministers from three parishes in St. Charles County took teens to the Steubenville STL Mid-America youth conference in Springfield, Missouri, last summer, they saw an opportunity for young people to experience the Church beyond their parishes.

Not long after that weekend, youth ministers from Assumption in O’Fallon, Immaculate Conception in Dardenne Prairie and St. Joseph in Cottleville began chatting in a group text about ways they could extend the experience beyond Steubenville.

“What would it look like if we started to dream a little bit more together,” Assumption youth minister Becky Whitaker remembered from the conversation with Immaculate Conception youth minister Cathy Pescarino and St. Joseph youth minister Danny Zink.

Their dreams evolved into a plan to host teens from all three parishes on a Sunday evening featuring dinner, games, praise and worship, talks and ending with eucharistic adoration and confessions. The first was held last October. The second gathering in April at Assumption was extended to all teens in St. Charles County and the surrounding areas and renamed Mission West.

“The young Church is more than just youth group on Sunday — as awesome as that is, you belong to something bigger than just our individual parishes,” Whitaker told more than 250 high school teens who packed into a multipurpose room at the April 7 event. “We belong to each other. This is the young Church here in this room, and we can boldly proclaim in the name of the Lord that the Holy Spirit is doing something new out here.”

While Assumption, Immaculate Conception and St. Joseph did not experience structural changes as part of All Things New, announced by Archbishop Mitchell T. Rozanski last Pentecost, the parishes have examined ways to foster collaboration with each other and other parishes in the area.

One of the primary goals of All Things New was to address the ongoing decline in active parishioners and clergy in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Throughout the planning process, Catholics were asked to consider new ways to foster viable, sustainable and vibrant parishes, schools and ministries that would support the Church’s evangelizing mission. Even in places where there was no change, parishes were asked to re-evaluate their current pastoral care, social outreach and evangelization efforts, all to be supported through the vicariate structure.

One of the goals of any parish is to help the faithful develop a personal relationship with Jesus, said Assumption pastor Father Nick Kastenholz — but it’s more than just that. “At a more local level, you can have those personal connections and develop them, but the Church is not just for individuals — it’s for all of us,” he said. Collaboration “is something beneficial that lets us see the Church is greater than our local parish.”

Ali Thuet, a parishioner at St. Joseph Cottleville, attended eucharistic adoration at a Mission West gathering April 7 at Assumption Parish in O’Fallon.
Photo Credits: Jacob Wiegand
Father Kastenholz noted that Assumption has collaborated with parishes to host other activities, including a Pilgrimage of Beauty held last June after the All Things New announcement. The program included a historical tour of seven churches in St. Charles County and time to pray before the Eucharist.

Immaculate Conception also was among the parishes that participated in the pilgrimage event, said pastor Msgr. Ted Wojcicki. Beyond participating in activities with other parishes or hosting events that are open to everyone, there are other behind-the-scenes efforts to collaborate, some of which have been happening prior to All Things New, he noted.

To accommodate reconciliation times, for example, priests in the area use a shared scheduling system to sign up to hear confessions, which ensures there is an adequate number of priests available to help where needed, Msgr. Wojcicki said.

Another effort is the Martha Mary Thrift Store in Wentzville, which provides low-cost clothing and household goods to low-income individuals and families in the surrounding community. ICD and St. Patrick Parish in Wentzville are among an ecumenical effort of eight churches that staff the shop.

Msgr. James Callahan, who has served as pastor of St. Joseph Cottleville for 20 years, stressed the importance of parishes working together in a collaborative way. “It’s important that we think regionally, and that we don’t need to offer everything” at the parish, he said. “We are part of the Church of St. Louis — let’s look at it from a regional perspective.”

As for youth ministry efforts, Whitaker said that Mission West speaks to a need to sensitively approach how ministry has been done in the past, while building new bridges of community. She pointed to an example of a teen from Assumption’s youth group who invited a friend from a different youth group to attend an out-of-town retreat, which ultimately broadened her experience of a faith community. Whitaker and other youth ministers have recognized the opportunities that come from the overlap in ministry beyond parish boundaries.

“It hit me that she now has two youth ministers,” she said. “We’re ministering to a lot of the same teens, and creating a space for them to hang out together is part of what Mission West is about. The more young people know they have a place in the Church and are cared for, their trust to enter into Church life grows stronger.”

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