Diocesan youth have ‘amazing’ encounter with Jesus at Steubenville conference

Among the 5,000 high school students who attended the Steubenville STL Mid-America Conference at Missouri State University July 7-9 were young people from the Diocese of Peoria, including St. Thomas the Apostle in Peoria Heights, St. Mark in Peoria, Blessed Sacrament in Morton, St. Matthew and The High School of Saint Thomas More in Champaign, St. Patrick Church of Merna in Bloomington, and Marquette Academy in Ottawa. (Provided photo)

High school students from around the Diocese of Peoria weren’t sure what they were going to find at the Steubenville Mid-America STL Conference at Missouri State University, but Jesus was waiting for them and he knew what he wanted them to find.

It was none other than himself, present in the Eucharist, that touched hearts and lives and sent the young people back to central Illinois excited to tell their friends and classmates about the encounter they had with the Lord.

One of them was Jillian Sander, a member of Blessed Sacrament in Morton who will be a senior at Peoria Notre Dame this fall. She said going to eucharistic adoration with 5,000 other young people, all of them with their hands raised toward Jesus in the monstrance, was amazing.

“I felt really touched and I feel closer to God because of it. I’m definitely bringing back home a desire to grow spiritually.” — Anna Stein

The moment she keeps returning to was when Father Mike Schmitz, one of the speakers, took Jesus in the monstrance up and down every aisle at the Great Southern Bank Arena until he reached the second level. There, he held the monstrance up for all to see.

“It was like Jesus looking down on you from heaven, looking at all of us,” Sander said. “It felt so real. It was amazing because I had never experienced anything like that before. It was wonderful.”

“Sometimes Catholicism seems so small and close at home and the community you see daily and weekly,” said Anna Stein of St. Mark in Peoria and a junior at Chesterton Academy of the Sacred Heart. But being at the conference “reminds you that it’s so much bigger and that all the nations praise God in everything. It was beautiful.”

But it was also close and personal, she told The Catholic Post.

“I felt really touched and I feel closer to God because of it,” Stein said. “I’m definitely bringing back home a desire to grow spiritually.”


The three-day conference included talks by Father Schmitz, director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Duluth, Minnesota and chaplain at the Newman Center for the University of Minnesota Duluth; Sarah Swafford, founder of Emotional Virtue Ministries; Ennie Hickman, a youth minister, coach, domestic missionary and international speaker; DJ Bernal, an evangelist, coach and leadership consultant; and Sister Josephine Garrett, CSFN, a licensed professional counselor from Tyler, Texas. There was also music and testimony from Catholic worship leader Kyle Huelsing.

The theme was “Refuge,” which was taken from Matthew 11:28.

Mary Cushing, director of faith formation and a middle school religion teacher at St. Thomas the Apostle in Peoria Heights, added that there was an afternoon of games and dancing on the Quad.

This was the first time the Peoria Heights parish had been to a Steubenville conference, according to Cushing. They took 12 students and traveled with 21 students from St. Mark in Peoria.

“I wanted them to have an opportunity to really just encounter Jesus as a person and not just in religion class,” Cushing said. “They’re really good at learning about Jesus in the Catholic schools, but they need these evangelistic opportunities to really encounter him personally.”

For Blessed Sacrament in Morton, who sent 25 students with Joseph Wizieck, the parish’s junior high and high school youth minister, it was an opportunity to “kick start” the National Eucharistic Revival with the teens.

“Any time there’s any trouble in life, that’s our safe spot, our safe place to run, no matter what’s going on, is the Eucharist.” — Joseph Wizieck

“Adoration and the Mass were the two focal points that they thought were the most powerful, so it did exactly what we thought it was going to do, with the focus on the Eucharist,” Wizieck told The Catholic Post. “It was a powerful weekend for sure.”

He said the theme of “Refuge” — especially in Jesus truly present in the Eucharist — was especially appropriate.

“Any time there’s any trouble in life, that’s our safe spot, our safe place to run, no matter what’s going on, is the Eucharist,” Wizieck said.

Father Austin Bosse, parochial vicar at St. Jude in Peoria, said adult leaders can do everything to set the stage at events like the Steubenville conference for the young people, but it’s Jesus who makes the biggest impact.

“Adoration just always, always, always takes the show. It’s such a beautiful reality,” he said.

Father Bosse called it “mouth-to-mouth resuscitation” to the life that Jesus wants to see growing in the youth.

Sander wants to share what she received.

“I think I brought home some joy, definitely some joy,” she said. “I feel like I can definitely spread Jesus around to others better than I have ever been able to before.”

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