Planning Ahead + Youth Formation Surveys

Planning Ahead

Now that we have entered Holy Week, you are probably feeling like the end of the academic year is approaching quickly. Now is the best time to figure out how you are going to evaluate the programs and efforts you put forth this past year in your parish!

First off, we have a recommendation of a quote to take to prayer as you look back on a year of work in the Church. Feel free to share this with your catechists, as well.

In human actions examples have a great influence than words. This is because a person does and chooses what appears as good to that person. Thus, the actual choice of something manifests its goodness or value to a person even more than what that person teaches should be chosen. This explains why when someone says one thing and does another, what he does, has a greater influence on others than what he teaches. Therefore, it is of the greatest necessity to give an example. – St. Thomas Aquinas

Second, while your students and families are still actively engaged in your programs, classes and routines, think about giving them surveys that help them reflect on the past year. Thanks to Dominick at St. Thomas Aquinas for getting us started on ideas for surveys to use in our Religious Education and Youth Formation apostolates! Dominck’s teens completed their surveys during their final class; parents were e-mailed a Google Form survey that same weekend.

Middle or High School Survey Questions

  • I grew most in my relationship with Jesus Christ this year by…
  • This year, the most important thing I learned was…
  • After this year, I would still like to learn … about our Catholic faith.
  • My favorite part of the year was…
  • My least favorite part of the year was…
  • What were the three most impactful things your teacher/core team/youth minister did with you this year in our parish?
  • I would like to see more … next year in our parish for the youth.
  • If I could go on a trip with our church anywhere in the USA, I would like to go…
  • My favorite thing to do with my friends is…
  • List the top three forms of social media that you use on a regular basis.
  • I plan to attend/participate in (Love Begins Here, parish mission trip, Camp Gray, Totus Tuus, VBS volunteering, etc.) this summer.

For a reference, check out Dominick’s parent surveyThe one thing Dominick would have added to the survey was a field to collect the names of folks who are answering the questions. In many cases, it would be helpful to get in touch with parents to learn more about their answers.

What else have you added to your end of the year surveys? Share your great ideas in the comments below!

Mentors for the New Evangelization (Discussion 1)

Sr. Johanna - Smaller

After a great convocation with Sr. M. Johanna, FSGM, we (Michelle and Lindsay) came into contact with many folks who were really excited to get started on her book Mentors for the New Evangelization. A handful of them were able to join us last Monday for our inaugural book club to chat about it. Our plan is going to be to share the thoughts and highlights with y’all, and then ask you to respond in the comments section! We look forward to interacting with in this digital media.

Let’s start with the Introduction, Chapter 1 and Chapter 2. We’d suggest that you first read this section of the book and then engage with this discussion.

Right from the start, the introduction offered some great insights on some desires common to all men and women, created in the image and likeness of God. Regarding the reflection, beginning on page xv, how can we use the topic of happiness to inspire both students in our classrooms and their parents?
This question sparked some really great conversation during our book club, thanks to John W. (one of our seminarians) bringing this section to light. We were all reminded of occasions when we had real, authentic conversations with folks about this fundamental desire for happiness and where happiness originates from. We know that happiness is most often a result of the pursuit of virtue and genuine relationships, which makes the jump to where our ultimate happiness is going to come from pretty simple. When we abandon ourselves and live in relationship with Jesus Christ our lives will find be filled with the most meaning and true joy. When it comes to presenting this concept to our youth and their parents, we recognized that throughout our life our capacity for happiness grows, so we should work within the parameters of where our people are at, knowing we can increase and deepen our capacity for true happiness found in Jesus Christ throughout our lives.

A reoccurring theme found in these chapters was that of inculturation, as the GDC describes (and Sr. Johanna quotes) this process is not simply “an external adaptation designed to make the Christian message more attractive or superficially decorative. On the contrary, it means the penetration of the deepest strata of persons and peoples by the Gospel which touches them deeply, ‘going to the very center and roots’ of their cultures” (Mentors, 22) . Of all of the examples of inculturation in these two chapters, which impacted you most?
While we certainly discussed how Our Lady’s appearance at Tepeyac Hill was one great lesson for us in inculturation, we spent even more time discussing the authentic ways in which the North American Martyrs helped the Gospel penetrate into the native cultures they came into contact with. In so many of the stories (especially those of St. Jean de Brebeuf and St. Gabriel Lalemant), we read of men who went to great strides to learn the language of the native people, relate to the things they loved, and identify with what was true, good and beautiful in their culture. This inspired an interesting conversation about what we should capitalize on, in order to work on the process of inculturation when it comes to working with today’s teens. A few (beautiful and good) aspects of teen culture that we recognized that we can work with are their desires for authentic, lasting relationships and their desire to give oneself away in service to causes larger than themselves.

What struck you about the evangelization of Mexico, stemming from Our Lady of Guadalupe’s apparition?
Without a doubt, what struck us most powerfully was the shear number of conversions that took place in the years following the apparition. We desire (in a big way) to have Our Lady’s intercession on our (new) evangelization efforts today. This conversation was coupled with appreciating Sister’s reflections on the importance of each individual soul growing closer to or farther away from the Church. There is a lot of work to do!

Regarding the witness of the North American Martyrs, how did their courage, bravery and hope in their eternal end inspire you?
As we talked about the stories of these martyrs, we were definitely impacted by their confidence in their relationship with the Lord and the hope of the world to come. In particular, this quote from St. Noel Chabanel stuck out to us and inspired us in big ways: “What difference does it make if I die or not. This life does not count for much. The Iroquois cannot snatch the happiness of heaven from me” (Mentors, 29).

Like we said earlier, we’d love to have you join us in this conversation. Of course, if you were struck by other things in these chapters, we’d love to hear them. We’ll be moderating the comments and chatting with you on this post all week!

Our next book club will be taking place on Monday, October 13th from 1:30 – 3:00pm at the Bishop O’Connor Center. You are more than welcome to join us in person for the discussion! No RSVP is necessary.

On My Desk: Getting Started Edition

September 1 Full Desk

Happy Monday, y’all. I’m here today to share with you a new series on this blog! To be honest, I’m pretty excited about it. In my life and work, I come across all kinds of resources, quotes, apps, and thoughts that I think about sharing with my co-workers. This is going to be a formal effort to share them with you on a fairly regular basis. I’ll do so by showing you a sampling of what is literally on my desk. Thanks for stopping by to check it out.

Party Party App Close Up

First up is an app called Party Party, created by my favorite bloggers. (Note: it’s only available on the iOS platform. Sorry to leave out those of you without an iDevice of some kind.) It is a perfect for documenting all kinds of action, with youth groups, retreats or your everyday life. You can easily create photo collages, GIFs, and stop motion videos; also, it can transform your phone into a photo booth instantly. All in all, it’s mighty fun. Boost your Instagram creativity with this little purchase! (Check out how we used it at #cgadventureday!)

Side by Side Close Up

Check out this book. It’s a beautiful look into the life of Bl. Mother Teresa and her relationship with Mary. It is a perfect tool for spiritual reading and entering more deeply into the life of prayer. (Thinking ahead to the holidays, it would be a great catechist gift!)
“The busier you are, the more you need an interior life.” This quote is literally hanging on my wall right now. I’d suggest you do the same in your office.

Marker Close Up

And, here is a quick recap of what else is on my desk:
School supplies. Who doesn’t love back to school shopping? These markers in particular are going to be used for a tool to teach my 7th graders in my Religious Ed class about kinds of prayer. A tutorial for this simple tool will be coming this week!
Summer memories. This summer was incredible, right? I hope you are all enjoying the fruits and graces gain from mission trips and camps this summer.
– Thank you to the individuals and Parishes who joined us at our first HS Adventure Day at Camp Gray. It was an incredible day (and night) of adventure, friendship and growth in faith. Be not afraid, my friends! Watch for a full recap post and video right here on the blog later this week.
Getting Started handouts. It’s not too late to connect us with anyone in the parish who may be new(er) to their roles in evangelization or catechesis for this series of training sessions. Find out more here!

I’ll give you more glimpses into what’s on my desk in future weeks! If you have any thoughts or suggestions for this new series, I’d love to hear them. Leave them in the comments below. – Lindsay

John Paul II, we love you.

There are a few things we want to share with you on this spring day!

First up, in case you haven’t seen it, the Love Begins Here promo video launched yesterday. One of the coolest facebook posts we saw in conjunction with a share of it, was the following, by Dan, a former missionary who is in his first year of college.

Words cannot describe the joy and good fruits that so beautifully radiate from Love Begins Here and these people, so I am just going to leave this video here with a piece of advice: do it. You will never regret making that decision to take part in one of the most life changing things I have ever experienced.



Second, we would like for you to save the date of October 19th. At 1:00pm in the afternoon, Chris Stefanick (international Catholic speaker and the brains behind Chosen) will be making a stop in the Diocese of Madison. (St. John the Baptist in Waunakee will host us!) He will speak with teens and parents for a couple hours that afternoon as a part of the Revolution of Love Series that will be coming back for the 2014 – 2015 school year. We will have more information to share later this spring!

Third, congrats to Topher (from Camp Gray!) and Anna (2014 LBH Core Team member) on winning the JP2 Book giveaways last week! They will be in the mail on Friday.

JPII Demanding Love

On the topic of this great to-be saint, we thought that over the next few weeks we could share with you some inspiration and insights from the book. Today’s summary is of chapter 7, on his love for young people. (In case you are curious, chapters 1 – 6 are a biography.)

Blessed John Paul II’s great love for the youth and commitment to them can teach us many things. The following are four lessons we, especially those who work with teens, can learn from him.

1. Be present.
John Paul immersed himself in his interactions with the youth, from his young years as a priest unto his aging years as our Holy Father. An University instructor who spent time with him and the youth on wilderness trips recalled, “He lived and breathed these problems [on their hearts]. And because young people live and breathe love, he lived and breathed these young people’s love.” Not only did he enter into their deepest questions and struggles, he literally made himself available, regularly announcing to the youth where he was staying so they could visit him on his travels. We all have many things fighting for our attention. The fact of the matter is that we must put them down and order our days (and lives) to be available and present to the hearts of our teens.

2. Do not compromise on the truth.
John Paul did not believe in shying away from teaching and preaching the truth. He recognized that the world already sold the youth short, and he did not want to join them in doing so. As Jason writes, “if he had lowered the standard, he’d have missed the chance to invite people to live lives of heroic virtue.” Our young people want the truth and want to be challenged. Be a beacon of light and truth for them, in the midst of this often dark world.

3. Whatever you do, remain authentic.
What John Paul believed and what he said were one in the same. He took his call to witness to his Catholic faith very seriously. He made it known that encountering Christ changes ones life. We are called to that same witness, preaching that we have a “real capacity to become the image of his Son”, rather than believing we are “the sum of our weaknesses and failures.”

4. Make your who life about love.
Here Jason tells a story of the young people on John Paul’s first visit to the USA chanting “John Paul II, we love you!” The Holy Father, so delighted by their excitement and genuine love, responded, “Perhaps, I love you more.” He knew that by loving the young people, he could introduce them to the love that will solve all their problems and answer all of their questions. He called them to live in that love, in true freedom, regardless of how demanding of a task it might seem to be. Taking his witness to heart, we need to be devoted to loving the folks the Lord puts in our lives, so that along they way we can offer them His love.

Lifeteen Resources + Training!!

Lifeteen Catholic Victor Hugo Inspiration Youth Ministry

Lifeteen is really leading the way in the hip Catholic youth ministry social media world. You can easily share via Facebook or Instagram what they are calling “daily inspiration“. Get on board; the images are full of beauty and truth! They also have a great blog with relevant, also conveniently shareable article relevant to teens, parents and those who work in the Church. You can check out all of them on their website. A few of our favorites from this week include Why Pray?, An Open Letter to My Sisters This Halloween and The Potential Problem with Pink. (We’re thinking that these links can make up for there being no official Wanderer Wednesday post yesterday!)

One thing that really stands out when you spend some time considering Lifeteen’s media outreach is that they understand how to talk with and to teens. Their posts are written with teens in mind, working to challenge the culture and provoke some positive, pure thoughts. Talk about a great movement in the New Evangelization!

If you are intrigued by all of this, are interested in learning about Lifeteen programs and curriculum or you just want to be the best you can be for the teens you work with, we have something wonderful to offer you. A group of awesome youth ministers in the Diocese have arranged for a day of training with a Lifeteen Staff Member! This one day event will cover best practices in youth ministry, including how best to lead a small group and the ins and outs of relational ministry. Come join us on Saturday, November 9th in Oregon!

You can find the poster and more information for this event here: Lifeteen Training Poster.

To register or ask questions, please e-mail Tiffany Topel at

And, for good measure, happy belated feast day to our patron, Blessed Pope John Paul II, via Lifeteen’s Instagram account!

Lifeteen JPII John Paul II Catholic Youth Ministry

Wanderer Wednesday: Leadership Edition

Well. Today’s Friday. Our apologies for being another couple days late in giving you this week’s Wanderer Wednesday post. Again, it’s been worth the wait, mostly because the editor of this post was on a road trip to Berlin Wednesday night, where there were almost 50 folks at All Saint’s first youth group meeting! We all had a great time learning learning about hope and the virtues. As a bonus, feel free to download the handout we used, and share it along with the stories about the lives of the following saints. While you’re at it, highlight some of the following virtues they exemplify.

Saint Maria Goretti | purity, faith and forgiveness

Bl. Miguel Pro | passion, perserverance and standing up for the faith

Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati | detachment, service and commitment

Feel free to use the inspiration as you wish.


Now onto the subject at hand. We’re bringing you some books this week that may help to build up you up as a professional and cultivate your leadership skills. (Sidebar | I’ve heard of a co-worker in a Parish in our Diocese who spends one hour, every day reading for professional development purposes. Any topic, any genre, but always something that will help her become better at what she does and more informed about the faith. What a great example?! It certainly takes discipline in the work day to set aside that time and make it happen, but what great benefits it would reap.)


Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek ($12)
This book is a bit different from the three books that will follow, in that it does not focus specifically on the area of leadership. However, before we find ourselves in a place where we are leading others, we have to recruit folks to work with us. Here’s a taste of what the book offers —

By WHY I mean what is your purpose, cause or belief? WHY does your company exist? WHY do you get out of bed every morning? And WHY should anyone care?

Think of it this way, you could invite people to be a catechist by telling them WHAT you do — try to control a rowdy group of 20 8th graders, work through lesson plans, administer assessments and teach the faith. Or, you could start inviting people to be a catechist by leading with the WHY — we inspire and engage the youth of the Church, so they can lead happier, holier lives and seek to change the world in the future; we form future saints; we engage in one of the most inspiring apostolates happening in this Parish. Obviously the details of WHAT the catechist does follows, but we surely do not have to lead with it. This book inspires the reader to think about how they share their message and mission — and encourages you to start with WHY. (As a bonus, they hold up Apple as an example of how a company implements this theory well. All Mac lovers — or those who know one — will appreciate it.)

Super Staff Supervision by Michael Brandwein ($25)
This book was created for leaders in the camp world to get the best out of their staff, but the principles can carry over well into working with volunteers or a staff in the Church setting. Michael Brandwein has been an inspiration for the Camp Gray staff for years, and his influence has helped so many young counselors develop into great staff members at Camp and beyond, as many of them have landed jobs coordinating apostolates in our Parishes. Highlights of this book include 6 Paths that every person you’re supervising should be following, including adding creative twists to programs and caring for kids’ safety, and very specific examples of what those good leaders say and do when they are leading activities and teaching. Michael is a master at behavior management and staff development. His books typically leave the reader bursting at the seams with good ideas and being ready to implement them!

First Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman ($17 + Many used and in great condition for less on Amazon!)
My dad is a very talented, well respected business man who I really enjoy learning from on the topic of leadership development. He is GOOD at it, and while a lot of that skill has been developed naturally, he also has done his fair share of reading and studying on the topic. The number one book on the list he made for me this past year to read on the subject was this one. And, I have loved it. Again and again, it repeats the following mantra —

People don’t change that much.

Don’t waste time trying to put in what was left out.

Try to draw out what was left in.

That is hard enough.

A couple things that follow from that mantra are that you have to put significant time and effort in to find the right people for the job. And, once you have committed volunteers or staff, you have to use the strengths, passions and talents God has given them to help them do their job well. Easier said than done. Read the book. Enjoy the learning.

Strengths Finder 2.0 ($14) or Strengths Based Leadership ($16) by Tom Rath
One of these two books are used each summer in the formation of the Love Begins Here Core Team. Both of the books include a code to take the Strengths Finder Test (so make sure to not buy the books used). Upon taking the test and reading over your results, you will learn to see your top 5 strengths in the working world and learn how to develop them. Typically, the Core Team will use Strengths Finder 2.0, and the directors use Strengths Based Leadership. The first is an introduction to the individual strengths and the second deals with how to manage them. These books would be a very worthy investment for any catechist or member of your leadership team, or among co-workers — as long as you take the time to have conversations where you learn about the strengths and how to implement them.

The basic idea of these books, which follows from the wonderful First Break All the Rules, is that you have to let people be who they are. Everyone has strengths. You need to learn what they are and give them opportunities to use them. Only then will teams and leaders find success, especially in the area of helping their people develop and grow.