On a mission: youth groups spend part of summer in service

By: By Tom Dermody

Editor’s Note: Following is just a sampling of mission trip activities that young people from around the Diocese of Peoria took part in during the summer. An album of group and action photos will be posted on The Catholic Post’s Facebook page.



“It was the best week of my life, hands down.”

Such was the high praise of Peoria Notre Dame High School student Sydney Peters for a week earlier this summer spent in Miami.

But while Sydney and 50 others from her school did enjoy recreation including visits to the beach and the Florida Keys, what made their mission trip of conducting a summer camp for students of the city’s St. Mary’s Cathedral School so life-changing was sacrifice, service, and experiencing the love of God.

The Peoria Notre Dame group is pictured above with participating Miami students outside St. Mary Cathedral School.

“The trip reignited the fire I have in my heart for God, and I am certain that it did the same for everyone who went,” said Peters.

The students were accompanied by 11 parents and faculty members, including Father Adam Stimpson, chaplain, and Sister Sara Kowal and Sister Mary Amanda Howard, both members of the Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary. The religious community is based in Miami, and a member serves as principal of the cathedral school.

This is the second year that a group from Peoria Notre Dame has traveled to Miami to conduct the summer camp, “In the School of Mary and the Saints.” Three years ago, the camp was led by students from the St. John Paul II Newman Center at Illinois State University.

“Our students were responsible for carrying out the entirety of the camp, which they did with great joy, generosity, maturity, sacrifice and love,” said Sister Sara, who teaches theology at Peoria Notre Dame. She called the June 13-22 experience “an encounter of hearts” in which students “big and small” grow in love for Jesus and one another.

Nearly 100 children from St. Mary’s Cathedral School and other area schools took part in camp activities.

“The work we did during the day was like bootcamp for the soul,” said Peters, adding that teaching a group of preschoolers provided constant reminders to be patient and loving.

During the evenings, the Peoria Notre Dame group further bonded with one another and Christ through shared praise and worship — including Eucharistic adoration — as well as recreational activities. They also had a meeting with Mother Adela Galindo, SCTJM, foundress of the Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary.

“On this trip, I got to know God, my friends, and my teachers a lot better than I did before,” said Peoria Notre Dame student Siobahn Devlin. “I had amazing conversations with people and I made a lot of new friends.”

Sister Sara told The Catholic Post that a theme of each summer camp is that Christians are called to be “the light of the world.”

“We desire that these young men and women bring back to their families and school the gift they have received, and that they continue to grow into more ardent and intrepid witnesses of Christ’s love,” she said.



PONTIAC — A week of serving those in need in northern Indiana and drawing closer to God through prayer and the sacraments in mid-June was an unforgettable experience for members of the youth group of St. Mary Parish here.

“We attend Catholic HEART Workcamps every other year and have visited different locations each time,” said Jamie Woolford, youth group coordinator. “We all leave for a camp with a different idea of what it will be. We all return knowing we repaired homes, restored lives, and fed the hungry while spreading joy, meeting new people, and helping define who we are as Catholics.”

This year the group joined 200 other teens from throughout the country serving the communities of South Bend, Elkhart, and Mishawaka. The St. Mary’s group stayed at a middle school in Mishawaka and took part in daily Mass with praise and worship music led by Ben Wagner.

For youth group member Sarah Herr, a memorable moment from the week came while picking up trash, mowing the lawn, and cleaning out empty apartments in a transitional housing unit.

“It was nice to see to see all the wonderful employees that worked for the shelter,” Sarah told The Catholic Post. “They said they look forward to the CHWC workers coming every year. The smiles on their faces and kind words after we finished was something that I will never forget.”

Bridget Schopp recalled planting flowers, painting, and doing repairs at the home of an elderly man. “He was extra nice to us,” said Bridget, noting how he loaned them his tools, “so we wanted to do something extra nice for him by planting some flowers.”

Woolford said the shared experiences — which also included skits, talks, and an eight-mile canoe trip — provided the youth with “tools” for future Catholic living.



The Diocese of Peoria was well represented at a weeklong Catholic HEART Workcamp earlier this summer in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Sharing the love of Christ through various service projects and prayerful activities were 32 members of the St. Philomena/St. Michael Youth Group from Monticello and Bement, accompanied by six chaperones including Father Bruce Lopez, pastor.

Also taking part were 27 teens from Epiphany Parish in Normal, accompanied by Father Daniel Gifford, parochial vicar, and six other chaperones.

The Epiphany group performed service projects including yard work, housewhork, painting, and home repair for those limited by age or disability. They also assisted Catholic Charities at the Exodus Residence in downtown Minneapolis, serving men and women who have been released from hospital care but still need help to fully recover.



PEKIN — On July 23, Father Scott Potthoff, parochial vicar at St. Joseph Parish, blessed members of the parish’s Catholics in Action Youth Group and team leaders as they left for nine days serving Native American children on the Standing Rock Reservation in South Dakota.

Deacon Tim Blanchard, youth ministry director, has coordinated the trip for the past 13 years. Among the 17 youths on this year’s trip were representatives of St. Mary Parish, Delavan, and St. Philomena, Peoria. St. Joseph Parish has a sister parish relationship with St. Bernard Mission on the reservation.



CHAMPAIGN — Calling it “our best camp ever,” co-manager Mickey Nickrent said a July 6-12 Catholic Heart Workcamp hosted by The High School of Saint Thomas More here, drew 301 young participants from seven states.

“They worked in nine towns,” said Nickrent, who with her husband Tony have helped organize the weeklong experience blending service opportunities with Catholic worship and teaching since 2008.

The “heart” in the camp’s title stands for “Helping Everyone Attain Repairs Today,” and Champaign was one of 50 U.S. cities to host a camp experience this year.

Teams of campers spent their days performing service work throughout the region, including in the nearby tornado-ravaged community of Gifford. Other activities included assistance at county parks, Red Cross shelters, a soup kitchen, and five churches.

Members of the staff and management team included Father Geoff Rose, OSFS, who served as chaplain; Tony and Mickey Nickrent; Chelsea Nickrent; Erin Hermesch; Mara Bennett; Lisa Bolliger; Colleen Haadsma; Wayne Gross; Catherine McNeal; Allison Steen; Mike Morris; Cameron Polomski; Adam Spiess; and Mathias Andrulewicz, musician.

About 10 priests from the Champaign vicariate helped with reconciliation on Wednesday night of the camp. The theme of camps throughout the country this summer was “Beautiful Mess.”



Fifty-four teens and 14 adults from St. Francis of Assisi Parish in West Des Moines, Iowa, spent a week volunteering in the tornado-damaged community of Washington in early July.

The group was housed in the Cursillo-TEC building of the Spalding Pastoral Center in Peoria.

Deacon Bill Richer, youth ministry coordinator, said this was the parish’s 15th annual mission trip. “Our motto is ‘Be Christ to everyone, and see Christ in everyone,'” he told The Catholic Post. The Iowa youths performed a variety of service in the Washington community, including preparing ground in a city park for laying sod, painting, and picking up debris.

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