By Steve Dabrowski
Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry
Special to The Message
75th Anniversary Reflection
“I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past…” – Thomas Jefferson
Reflecting upon 75 years of youth and young adult ministry in the Diocese of Evansville causes me to look forward, rather than spending too much time in the past. Nostalgia can often lead to a history that isn’t reliable. For example, a newspaper article in Jasper a few years ago claimed a young priest had begun St. John Bosco Catholic Youth Ministry back in the 1980s. That was curious news for Father Tony Ernst and me because we began the program on the Feast of Pentecost in 2001. But I find that error Providential: Ministries are most successful when a parish, city or diocese recall something as having been around forever. Such a view sees a continuity that connects the past to an ever-emerging tomorrow in which that ministry will thrive.
Another reason I prefer to ponder the future is that I am not originally from the Diocese of Evansville, and I started my time as the third director of my office in 2008. Although it has been a blessing to see the growth of youth, young adult and campus ministry over the last decade, I do not have personal experience of what things were like in the 1980s or earlier. The Outpost, for example, can only be something about which I’ve heard stories; I can never experience it except through the memories of others. But the Outpost itself is a great launch point for the future.
When it became necessary to sell the camp, the family of Louise Becker asked that the proceeds be placed into an endowed fund with the Catholic Foundation of Southwestern Indiana. That fund is earmarked to help the young Church attend events of the Diocese or those approved by the Bishop. Over my 11 years, more than $100,000 in scholarships have enabled young people from the 12 counties of our diocese to travel from Kansas City to Washington, D.C., and Poland to Rio de Janeiro. The death of the Outpost has sprouted a deep faith life for hundreds of diocesan youth.
Eleven years ago, there were only seven full-time youth ministers in the diocese; that number has nearly tripled. The same is true for parish youth ministries across the diocese; the numbers continue to grow as parishes recognize that youth are the Church today, and the assurance of a vibrant faith tomorrow.
Many diocesan programs have either been created or renovated to address the growing needs of the young Church. The Pilgrimage for Life has seen thousands of youth travel to Washington, D.C., to advocate for the dignity of all persons, from conception to natural death. A similar number have engaged in Confirmation Spectacular, a joint endeavor with the Office of Catechesis, to help parishes prepare youth for Confirmation. There are, truly, too many initiatives to name them all.
Several Associations of the Christian Faithful have continually evaluated the needs of the young Church. Today, Teens Encounter Christ, Source + Summit, Communion and Liberation, and Catholic Scouting (i.e. Scouts BSA, Girl Scouts of America and American Heritage Girls) are present in our diocese, and new character development programs are being offered as parish clubs.
As part of our forward glance, campus ministry at the University of Southern Indiana, University of Evansville and Vincennes University are receiving greater attention. The majority of the students who graduate from these institutions end up settling in the 12 counties of southwest Indiana. This requires an effort to help them grow in their faith as they leave home and prepare for their own futures. Toward this end, the diocese is investing to bring the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) to USI to assist our campus ministry there; and a new, revived Newman Center at Vincennes University is currently being explored. Combined with the efforts at the Newman Center serving the University of Evansville, the diocese is heavily invested in the faith development of these students.
Many faces have come and gone over the last 75 years, and our diocese looks far different today. But reflecting upon all that I’ve witnessed in a short decade of personal experience, and comparing that to the history of the diocese, it is clear that the past is not what should enthuse us. The future is full of hope, and I prefer to dream of that future as we continue to celebrate the past.
Steve Dabrowski is Diocesan Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry.