New youth ministry effort is a work of collaboration

Teens in a new high school youth ministry group in south St. Louis County have been meeting for only a few months, but already their new space is transforming into a place where collaboration rules.

John 15 is an effort of four south St. Louis County parishes -- Annunciation in Webster Groves, Our Lady of Providence in Crestwood, St. Michael the Archangel in Shrewsbury and Seven Holy Founders in Affton. The group started meeting in August, under the guidance of youth minister Tim Lucchesi.

Gabrielle Murphy, a teen from St. Michael, said she came on the recommendation that Lucchesi was "the greatest youth minister ever. I came the first night, and I knew almost no one. But then one night I came alone and I discovered it was already like a family to me."


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In 2012, the four parishes also started Holy Cross Academy, a new Catholic school system that brings together the resources of one school community across four campuses. Lucchesi noted, however, that John 15 isn't connected to the academy, but rather an extension of the same collaborative nature the four parishes have been sharing in recent years.

Lucchesi said the interest in starting a combined youth group was borne from a Luke 18 retreat he gave in April 2013 at Our Lady of Providence, where he previously had been serving as youth minister. Many of the teens on that retreat were eighth-graders at the new Holy Cross Academy, so Lucchesi, along with pastor Father David Rauch, decided it would be a good idea to open the retreat to all four parishes.

"We discovered when we did that, you can have a substantial-sized program when you open it up to all four of them," Lucchesi said. "A lot of parishes are struggling with their resources these days, so here is one way we can do full-time ministry to benefit the teens ... and in turn benefit the parishes to have the energy of young people on fire for Christ."

Lucchesi said that all four parishes cover his salary and benefits as a full-time youth minister. A core team made up of adult leaders representing each of the parishes also is in the process of being developed. Parents and other parishioners have begun contributing in several ways.

The name John 15 came from the inspiration of the saint, who was beloved by Jesus.

"St. John the Apostle was young and beloved by Jesus, just as the young people of the Church are beloved by Jesus today," said Lucchesi. "In the Gospel of John, chapter 15, there are many important lessons for young people today. Messages such as, 'I am the vine, you are the branches,' and 'when you are rejected, remember they rejected me first.' John is a role model for young people in the Church."

Teens meet twice a week -- on Thursday nights in the newly designated youth room on the campus of Seven Holy Founders; and again on Sunday afternoons after Mass. Earlier this month, the four pastors came to give the teens a blessing at one of their Thursday night meetings.

Reading from the Book of Blessings, Servite Father Paul Gins, pastor of Seven Holy Founders, told the teens that the pastors' hope is that they "give witness to our faith in Christ. We are all one in our foundation that the Lord has given us."

Father Rauch of Our Lady of Providence said that he's a big believer in critical mass. Sharing resources, as so many other parishes and schools across the archdiocese also are doing, hopefully will "break down the parochialism that keeps us from working together."

Sprawled out on worn couches and bean bag chairs, teens shared how they're already feeling comfortable with one another in their new setting.

"I feel it's like a family," said Lauren Miller, a member of Our Lady of Providence and a high school senior. "But it's an extension of that. I still get to be connected with the parish and with the group."

Julie Shipley of Our Lady of Providence said she didn't know anyone when she came to the first meeting, although some faces looked familiar from the Luke 18 retreat. "I've grown to know these people over time," she said. "It's been great."

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