Siena program offers faith formation, ‘community of other young women’

By John Rohlf

The Message assistant Editor 

Seeing a need for a program similar to the diocese’s Savio program for young men, the Siena program was launched a couple of years ago and has seen early success. 

Michaela Kunkler, Campus Minister at Mater Dei High School and one of six leaders of the Siena program, noted the Savio program was introduced six years ago and saw increased participation. Kunkler said they kept hearing from high school girls that they wished there was a similar program for young women. 

Kunkler said at that time, Ellie Hermann and Emma Clark approached Diocese of Evansville Director of Vocations Father Tyler Tenbarge about starting a similar program for young women in the diocese. 

“That’s kind of how Siena was born,” Kunkler said. “The hope is to have that formation for teen girls 13-18 still in high school and to give them a community of other women that are pursuing God and trying to become the women that God’s created them to be.” 

The program’s first meeting included some girls in the diocese by invitation. They were individuals the leaders knew were interested. This meeting was a test run of getting a group together and asking what they would want to see from the program. Kunkler said there were 12-20 girls at that meeting. 

Kunkler said Siena debuted at the 2022 Cleric Cup. 

“Some of the girls that were in that initial meeting showed up in their Siena shirts,” Kunkler said. “And it’s like surprise, this is a thing. And then I think at the next meeting, I think we had 60 girls show up.” 

Kunkler said the group’s numbers now generally fluctuate from 30-50 individuals, depending on the month. 

Madeline Freeman, an incoming senior and member of Annunciation Parish in Evansville, knew of the Savio program prior to hearing about the Siena program. She said one of the benefits of the Siena program is it is something she can do with her sisters. 

Freeman added that it has been fascinating to get to see girls from parishes all over the diocese, a sentiment echoed by Emma Fuhs, who is a member of Holy Cross Parish in Fort Branch. The incoming sophomore noted she gets to see other youth from other areas of the diocese. 

“It is so cool to me to know somebody outside of just Gibson County,” Fuhs said. “And just to have that safe place and to have those friends that you can go to and are all in our diocese, just all around. I met new people that I didn’t know and I got to just be with them. And just having the same beliefs and just being friends and finding new friends, it’s very comforting for me.” 

Freeman noted the strength of the community in the Siena program. She said the group is a group that is on fire for their faith and wants to grow together and lift others up. 

She also credited the six leaders of the program, who she said are “some of the sweetest young women that you will ever meet.” 

“They want to know the girls. They want to grow in relationship with the girls,” Freeman said. “It’s not like they just stick to that young adult group … No, they want to get out there with the girls and really want to live life with the girls. They want to know what we’ve been doing and know what’s been going on.” 

Kunkler believes the program allows individuals to pursue their faith in a way that is different than in the classroom. She said this is especially the case for those students who attend the parochial high schools. 

She stressed Siena also offers an opportunity for young women to meet other young women in the 13-18-year-old age group who are on fire for their faith. 

“I know sometimes it’s easy to feel isolated in the world today. Especially with social media and things like that,” Kunkler said. “So to be able to find that community of real people that you can actually encounter face to face, I think is really important.” 

Siena does not meet in the summer and will begin meeting again in the fall.