Former model calls teens to choose ‘authentic love’ at Diocesan Youth Rally

Following an afternoon of talks, games, adoration, and the sacrament of reconciliation on March 23, participants in the Diocesan Youth Rally make their way from the Spalding Pastoral Center in Peoria to St. Mary's Cathedral for a closing Mass celebrated by Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

Every day presents choices between authentic love and imitation love, and a former fashion model urged 150 teens attending the 2019 Diocesan Youth Rally on March 23 to say “yes” to authentic love.

“Too often our world distorts love and says it’s just about this act or this feeling and you can do whatever you want,” said Leah Darrow, who was a contestant on the television show “America’s Next Top Model” and now is a Catholic speaker, author, and the married mother of four young children.

Leah Darrow, a former model and the keynote speaker for the 2019 Diocesan Youth Rally, shares her story of faith. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

Authentic love, she told the group in the first of two talks at the Spalding Pastoral Center in Peoria, is “what you’ve been made out of and for.” It brings out joy and peace, is fruitful, total, honest, divine, and can change the world.

“Authentic love will never make you hide something from other people who love you,” said Darrow. “It will never send you to the confession line.”

The other option of love, which the world and culture often promote, tells us “it’s no big deal, it’s your body, it’s your choice.”

“Imitation love will always be imitation,” said Darrow, who shared with the youth personal stories of how she has chosen imitation love in her past. “Imitation love will not fulfill you. Imitation success won’t comfort you.”

The start of knowing authentic love, Darrow emphasized, is to know Jesus Christ.

“God made you to be a saint, the best version of yourself,” she said. “You have been made for greatness. I challenge you to go all in with authentic love.”


Darrow’s presentations formed the bulk of the afternoon rally, which also included games, an hour of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and the sacrament of reconciliation, and vocation talks for boys and girls. The event, coordinated by the diocesan Office of Evangelization and Faith Formation, concluded with a Mass celebrated by Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, at St. Mary’s Cathedral.

In his homily, Bishop Jenky urged the youth to take advantage of the season of Lent.

“Pray more, spend a little quality time with the Lord, even if it’s just a ‘Thank you, Lord’ or ‘I love you, Lord’ or ‘Help me, Lord,’” said the bishop. “If possible, go to an extra Mass during the week. Get to know your best friend, Jesus Christ.”

Victoria Kortz, a senior at Peoria Notre Dame High School and a member of St. Mark Parish, prays before the Blessed Sacrament during an hour of the youth rally devoted to adoration and the sacrament of reconciliation. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

Bishop Jenky also encouraged fasting — “giving up some treat and putting money in the poor box is a great thing to do!” — and acts of love. “Be nice to that kid in school that other people ignore. Visit your grandmother in a nursing home. Make a difference by showing Christ’s love to one another.”

Throughout the year, the bishop told the youth, “our faith in Jesus Christ should change everything about us, make us into new people.”


Serving as master of ceremonies for the day was Sister Clara Maria Malay, SCTJM, a member of the pastoral staff at St. John’s Catholic Newman Center at the University of Illinois. Several communities of consecrated women were represented at the rally and came together to answer questions during a vocations talk for girl attendees.

Meanwhile, Father Geoffrey Horton — a chaplain at the St. John Paul II Catholic Newman Center at Illinois State University in Normal and parochial vicar at three area parishes — presided at the eucharistic holy hour and gave the vocations talk to the boys.

In presentations punctuated with humor, Darrow — who now lives in the St. Louis area — told the teens that it’s OK to have questions about their Catholic faith. “It just means we have human brains and they’re working,” she said.

One of those questions might be why the church teaches that sex is only for within marriage. “That’s a great question to find the answer to,” said Darrow. “Trust me, culture doesn’t want you to ask why. They’re just saying ‘Don’t worry about it. Just do it.’

“Culture doesn’t want you to be curious for truth. The beautiful thing about being Catholic is we seek that out, we’re not afraid of it.”

Sister M. Bernadette, FSGM, a theology teacher at Alleman High School in Rock Island, draws smiles from a panel of consecrated women as she responds to a question about how Sisters choose their names. The youth rally included separate vocations talks for girls and boys. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

She urged the teens not to wait to be holy, telling them “your witness is powerful” and calling them to be “a light for your family and your school for Christ.”


After two major presentations, Darrow used her final words at the Diocesan Youth Rally to challenge teens to take an action in the “crazy place” known as social media.

“I know you’re all there,” she told the group.

“I ask that you would take the time to go through and unfollow every group or person that is not breathing life into your life,” said Darrow.

“The people that you allow to influence you affect you,” she continued. “If they are creating senses of jealousy or anger, unfollow them. You don’t have to ask their permission.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: More photos from the youth rally will be posted to The Catholic Post’s site on Facebook.


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