Youth ministry on the side, please
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| | Catholic Herald/Julie Kelemen
Mary Jo Edge, a youth ministry catechist at the Cathedral of Christ the King, Superior, pauses from dishing up lunch for students at the parish school. Edge is the 2011 winner of the Diocese of Superior’s Fr. Harold Dodge Award for Excellence in the Ministry of Catechetics.
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SUPERIOR -- Parents and teachers of young people in middle and high school religious education classes know the challenges of passing on the faith to some of these youths. It’s when the tougher questions, debate, rolled eyes and repartee start for many of them:
* “Why do I have to go? They just say the same thing all the time.”
* “I already know this stuff: They say it in church all the time.”
* “I don’t believe in God so I shouldn’t have to go.”
* “It’s boring.”
* “I’ll go, but I don’t get anything out of it.”
* “Can I go to my friend’s church’s youth night instead?”
* “Can I bring my friend to CCD?”
Mary Jo Edge, a catechist for the Cathedral of Christ the King Parish in Superior, has heard or heard of these sentiments. Yet she still firmly believes and states, “When you think about what you do and why you do it, it’s by the grace of God — truly by the grace of God. It’s a blessing, it’s an honor, it’s a privilege to be with the people you’re with.”
Edge, 62, is this year’s winner of the Diocese of Superior’s Fr. Harold Dodge Award for Excellence in the Ministry of Catechetics. The award was formally presented to her after a special Mass at the diocesan education office’s She’s planning for the future when she does that: Edge wants to make sure she’s a familiar face to middle school kids when they move on to public high school and CCD, the parish youth group and confirmation preparation. (There are no Catholic high schools in the Diocese of Superior.)
“It’s good to make contact with (those) kids,” she said of the middle schoolers.
Edge explained that she has gravitated toward serving this age group because, “They give you a lot of energy. They keep you going. They’ve got some really good questions.”
Edge has been married to her husband, Doug, for 41 years, has a married son and a five-year-old granddaughter.
Last week, Edge took a break from serving cling peaches and fish sticks to Cathedral School’s students to speak with the Herald about her ministry. She’s been a member of Cathedral parish since 1991.
So what is this “grace” of which she speaks?
“Grace is blessing,” she said, “We’re blessed with the gifts God gives us, and a blessing is a grace.”
Edge said of her award, “I don’t really know for sure who nominated me,” and arched her eyebrows in surprise. Like many of the diocese’s award winners, she shrugs at the idea that she does anything special.
She even hesitated to be interviewed. She sees herself as ordinary.
Edge explained that she got the award for her “working with the youth.” CREs are nuts-and-bolts workers who handle the practical realities of passing on the faith to young people. They make phone calls, run the copier, take attendance, make sure supplies are available and so forth.
“I had that role for quite a while,” she said.
Edge now has an aide, Diann Nelson, to help with that. “She’s my right arm. When we have two different permission slips or somebody calls me off hither and yon in different directions, she is my helper. I’m very easily distracted.”
In recent years, Edge’s catechist work has made her a spiritual shepherd for middle and high school youth exclusively, both in CCD classes and with the parish’s youth group, Teens Out Night, or TON for short.
“I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve done,” she said.
The middle to high school age group can both frustrate and hearten parents. Youth this age often deeply think about things, though not necessarily in directions parents or teachers want them to. Young people’s questions — even grilling — about why Catholics believe and do what they do has begun, along with some youth questioning why they need to attend CCD.
Edge said this age group keenly looks for where they fit in. So many insecurities are kicking in, yet she remains happy and positive. Still, the average young person or parent sometimes has problems that make positive attitudes hard to muster.
“When you’re in a struggle situation,” she said, “Sometimes you don’t see beyond that wall. You think it’s never going to get better.”
Edge said that with some youths she has an opportunity to have a one-on-one conversation but not often, and not really as a catechist.
“That kid was early or late and you say, ‘How’s it going today?’ I think the biggest thing is that we have a presence in their life. (We) let them know that we’d be available to talk out something with them or even just to hear them whine and complain. Everybody has a bad day. People are really under a lot of stress nowadays. Parents are working sometimes two or three jobs to make ends meet. Kids are feeling all this pressure. When I was growing up we didn’t have to contend with any of that. Going to church was everything. That was where we had fun. We played outside for a half hour before we went in to say the rosary.”
For some young people, coming to CCD or the parish’s TON group feels uncomfortable because they don’t know any other kids who are Catholic, Edge said. When they get there, they don’t know anyone.
“We have to be welcoming to everyone. We really, really stress that our youth group is not only open to our Catholic kids in the city of Superior … but they can bring their friends. They are welcome to come, even if it’s for Mass. We can say, ‘We’re glad you’re here. You’re not going to go to communion, but this is how we worship.’ I think that’s huge — huge that we are open. They are under enormous pressures right now — the texting, Facebook, Internet, the pressure of their friends that perhaps don’t go to a church. They’re just hanging out there. We don’t have to preach. We are present to them. We are that side that shows Jesus to them — that we can be open to what they say.”
© Superior Catholic Herald, February 2, 2012