On Sunday, Sept. 18, at 6:30 p.m., St. Bernadette Parish in Orchard Park will release a new youth ministry program. Its pastor, Father Paul D. Seil, said helping middle and high school aged students to become more engaged in their Catholic faith was too important of a goal to abandon after a partnership with another Southtowns parish ended.
"Our financial costs are now doubled," Father Seil said. "But we'll make do. This is a vital ministry that will bring young people into a stronger relationship with Christ as they grow into adulthood."
Jesse Saltarelli has been hired as St. Bernadette's youth minister. After studying theology and philosophy at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Saltarelli said he received "a call from our Lord" to be with young people and walk with them. He is excited about its future at St. Bernadette Parish.
"This is a good fit," Saltarelli said. "There is plenty of land for outdoor activities while the old St. Bernadette school building offers plenty of meeting space and a gym."
Youth ministry at St. Bernadette's is based on the international Life Teen model. Saltarelli describes it as a Eucharistic-based program rooted in catechism and scripture. High school participants meet on Sunday evenings, while middle school students gather on Mondays.
Besides the weekly programs, the young people participating in the ministry experience weekend retreats and engage in community service.
"Young people love to help out at soup kitchens and ministering to people in need," Father Seil said. "They enjoy doing concrete things for other people."
Assisting Saltarelli are two volunteers from the previous partnership, Jake Druzbik and Ashley Jarosz. Druzbik, at age 22, said he's young enough to connect with teens. "I know what's going on in their lives," Druzbik said. "We're seen as peers, not authority figures."
Jarosz said everyone is very "passionate" about the youth ministry. She has been volunteering since moving to Hamburg in 2009. "This is an important part of my life," Jarosz said. "It has helped me deepen my faith."
Saltarelli said the program uses social media to keep young people informed of various events. Participation in the youth ministry is voluntary. It is separate from the religious education classes required for the Sacrament of Confirmation.
The Life Teen model has been successful in helping teens who are considering a vocation, according to Saltarelli. He said parishes that use Life Teen are responsible for 30 percent of vocations nationwide. Saltarelli's wife, Sarah, is also a youth minister at Annunciation Church in Elma.
As part of the new Youth Ministry effort, Father Seil agreed to schedule Mass at 8:05 p.m. Sundays. The "kick off" Life Teen night is Sept. 18. The Mass will follow the weekly 6:30 p.m. meeting for high school aged participants. While geared to young people, Father Seil describes the added benefit to the wider community as a "last chance Mass for anyone in the diocese needing to fulfill his or her Sunday obligation."