Benjamin Eusterbrock knows about the power of invitation.
It could be as simple as asking a classmate if they’d be interested in going to Mass with him during the school day.
“I know how powerful it is being exposed to Jesus in the Eucharist,” he said. “Once you see somebody come to Mass for the first time, and then you see them again the next week, you can tell there is change — they want to keep coming.”
The senior at St. Dominic High School in O’Fallon is among a group of students serving as peer ministers, a leadership program that seeks to invest in students as disciplemakers. The program is voluntary and highly sought after, said Father Patrick Russell, vice president of mission and identity at the coed archdiocesan high school. This school year, 80 students applied to fill 25 spots, the most applications received in the 20-plus year history of the program.
In addition to receiving personal formation, student peer ministers help organize school Masses and plan and lead retreats. This semester, they formed small discipleship groups and are diving into “Preparing for Mission,” an evangelization guidebook developed by the archdiocese as part of the All Things New strategic pastoral planning initiative. The long-term goal is to empower peer ministers to start discipleship groups of their own.
It’s part of an overall effort to help each student at St. Dominic realize their potential as disciples of Christ.
After attending a priests’ workshop last fall related to All Things New, Father Russell said he came back to school on fire about the message of discipleship discussed at the meeting.
“Discipleship needs to be the mission of our school,” he said. “It needs to be the driving force behind everything that we do as a whole.”
A three-step approach to discipleship: encounter, grow and witness — modeled after an effort happening in the Archdiocese of Detroit — is how the school is investing in students. Father Russell and campus minister Andrew Struttmann said their work entails pouring their energy into the most engaged students, with the hope that they will invest in their friends and fellow students — and not just in campus ministry settings, but wherever they’re encountering their peers.
Clayton Arrowood saw the importance of relating with his peers when attending a Kairos retreat. That, in part, is what prompted him to apply to become a peer minister. “I thought I was helpless when I was a sophomore and junior,” he said. “The way I was able to relate with certain people throughout that (retreat) experience was unbelievable. If there’s someone out there who thinks they’re too far gone or God wasn’t there, I want to be that person that reels them back.”
Clayton recently learned through friends about a student who stayed behind for eucharistic adoration while on a school retreat. The action pleasantly surprised him, with friends telling Clayton they believed he was a positive influence that led to that moment. “I’m proud of him, for sure,” he said.
Peer ministers say that their experiences push them out of a comfort zone in a time when teens are in danger of losing their faith once they graduate from high school and move into the next phase of their lives as young adults.
“My friendships have come through peer ministry, and those friendships are going to hold me accountable in my faith life,” Clare Kremer said. “Because of our faith lives and having these experiences, it’s brought us closer together.”
Through their experiences, peer ministers have discovered the joys of being at Mass, increasing their prayer life and being open to others about their Catholic faith.
“Although all of those things might not be easy to carry outside of the peer ministry bubble, we’re learning how important those things are in our lives, and we’re seeing the change in our lives,” said Benjamin Eusterbrock. “So when we move on from here, it’s something we’re going to want to keep pursuing. We don’t want to fall away from it, because we’ve seen how good it is.”
>> Evangelization toolbox
Preparing for Mission evangelization guidebook from the Archdiocese of St. Louis: https://stlreview.com/3wPOoXE
Evangelization 101 video series, produced by the Archdiocese of St. Louis: https://vimeo.com/669461713
Go and Make Disciples: A National Plan and Strategy for Catholic Evangelization in the United States, from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: https://stlreview.com/35oJ9CJ
Revive Parishes Evangelization Training: https://reviveparishes.com/stl
Archdiocesan Office of Evangelization and Discipleship: https://stlreview.com/3IUfxL4