Parish Spotlight: Audrey Huck and St. Angela Merici, Metairie, Louisiana
“So many adults have conversions later on in life, and they’ll go to something like a Bible study and say, ‘I was in Catholic education my whole life, and I never knew this.’ The truth is, they were taught it; I can guarantee. They have heard it. But unless we’re living it, we’re not going to remember it. And that’s the whole point.”
Give Them Something to Remember
Audrey Huck, a graduate of Ave Maria, told us, “I was 24 when I became a youth minister. Still, I never saw myself as a youth minister. My vision of a youth minister was a super dynamic, fun, crazy person who’s playing the guitar and really energetic. And I was like, ‘that’s not me, so I’m not supposed to be a youth minister.’ But it just kind of fell into my lap.”
Audrey spent two years as a youth minister before starting a family and a new job. In her new role for a parish consulting firm, Audrey interviewed client parishes all over the country, writing articles featuring parish ministries. Multiple parishes raved about YDisciple, and God continued to prepare her for ministry down the road. So, when Audrey found herself back in parish ministry, “I was like, this model just makes a lot of sense.”
“Previously, I had a huge youth group; almost 100 kids came faithfully to our monthly youth nights. I also had a very strong Core Team. And for two years back-to-back, I took 60 high schoolers to the March for Life. But what I also saw was, so much happens in a teenager’s life in a month’s time. They could come to this one youth night and love it. They could even come monthly, but that didn’t mean we were necessarily giving them what they needed to make it when they were back in their day-to-day lives. If they couldn’t attend one monthly meeting, then it’s two months before we saw them, and I just felt like we weren’t meeting their needs to the fullest potential.”
“YDisciple seemed like a great thing to do to supplement our youth gatherings, and fill our kids in a small group, too. So, I tried to sell it to the parish I was serving at the time, but it just wasn’t the right time. So, when the opportunity presented itself to me at St. Angel Merici, I was really eager to give the program a try.”
“As adults, we sometimes approach sacramental prep like, ‘I’m the expert, let me fill you.’ Adults can feel nervous and want more structure, but that’s not what a teen wants or needs. It’s a real challenge we face with Catholic education because, yes, they need to know Church teaching, but if they’re not living it, if they’re not being transformed by it, then what’s the point? They’re not going to remember it. They’ll be in the same position as those adults I reference earlier.”
Audrey Huck, St. Angela Merici Catholic Church, Metairie, LA
Taking a Fresh Approach
“Fr. Beau Charbonnet, pastor at St. Angela Merici in Metairie, Louisiana hired me first to lead Parish School of Religion (PSR). Because of COVID, we needed to move to a remote program and this was a good fit for me as I predominantly work from home with 2 young children. My role quickly expanded to confirmation, however, due to COVID, we knew we and we knew we needed a fresh approach.”
“A lot of confirmation programs can feel like school after school; teens don’t want to be there, and the teens that do have a relationship with God feel like they’re being punished. So, I came to Fr. Beau with the idea of YDisciple, and he was immediately supportive and onboard.”
“Louisiana is very culturally Catholic. Unlike some areas, where there is one church and one priest covering a huge span of area, we’ve got churches left and right. But because it’s culturally Catholic, there’s a lot of evangelization that needs to happen. I had 34 candidates for confirmation and only one of them is a public school student. All the other kids are enrolled in Catholic high schools. So, they’re getting theology and formal instruction, but what can be lacking is the heart of religion. What we needed to build on was making sure that we allow them to encounter the person of Jesus Christ, and develop a relationship with the Holy Spirit, so that the sacrament means something. Because otherwise, it’s just another empty ritual we go through.”
Hitting the Ground Running
“I was hired August 1st and hit the ground running for our January 5th confirmation date. The Archdiocese requires at least six months of preparation for the sacrament, so we just had to go fast. Additionally, COVID was happening. We ended up with three boys’ small groups and three girls’ small groups, led by 12 mentors, offered two different times: Monday and Thursday.”
“Getting volunteers for a program like YDisciple is often the biggest challenge. In fact, I think that’s why a lot of parishes hesitate to launch it. But we are really blessed here at St. Angela Merici thanks to the success of our Alpha course. It’s really transformed the life of our parish and so many adults have fallen in love with our Church through it. In fact, almost every single one of last year’s Confirmation mentors was an adult who had previously been involved in Alpha. Because Alpha is also based around small groups, it’s become the perfect springboard for our YDisciple Team. These adults have personally experienced the benefits of small groups, relational approach to ministry, and so they’re in a great place to help provide that for our youth.”
“In total, we had eight YDisciple sessions which took place September through December. We began with The Invitation, a 4-session series on Discipleship and then we had our retreat. Then after the retreat, we wrapped up our formation utilizing Never Alone: Life with the Holy Spirit. “
Candidates performed their service project requirement for Confirmation with their small groups.
The Role of Retreat
“Day retreats are often hard because usually the kids don’t have any prior relationships and feel like, ‘Why am I here?’ In one day, you just don’t have the time to break down those barriers to get to depth. But because we’ve already had four weeks of small group instruction, the small groups had already broken through all that awkwardness. The Holy Spirit was working because every teen highlighted the retreat in their final interviews with Fr. Beau. I even had one adult say, ‘This is the best retreat I’ve ever been on,’ and I was like, ‘How can a confirmation day-retreat be the best retreat you’ve ever been on?!'”
“Toward the end of the retreat we had Eucharistic Adoration with Praise and Worship music and we offered prayer teams. We prayed over the teens. Many of the teens came and were prayed over for the very first time. Even many of our adult mentors had never experienced the Holy Spirit in that way! It was just a beautiful and truly powerful experience.”
YDisciple Outside of Confirmation Preparation
Because Audrey leads PSR, and because confirmation is junior year, they will host YDisciple for public school freshmen and sophomores as well. “It’s a really small group, two teens. So I talked to the CYO director, who is super supportive, and we will open it up to youth group kids. That’s a win for me because public school kids need to get plugged into the church and the community as much as possible! They’re not always connected to the daily life of the parish community the same way. Catholic school kids are, so that’s what we’re looking for. For that, I’m going to do [the] newest series on prayer, and the next one coming as well. There’s no point in trying to drill information into these kids in the hour they are here because it’s not going to plant seeds, it’s not going to change their hearts, its’ not going to change their lives. I’d focus less on content and more on the heart of the faith; if we can get them to the heart of the faith, the content will follow because they will have that desire to know God. You have to have that love first; otherwise, the desire isn’t there.
YDisciple Subscription vs. FORMED Access
“We subscribe to YDisciple even though we have FORMED because I wanted access to all the programs as they came out. Secondly, I wanted to utilize the training videos for the mentors. I led an orientation for my mentors on how to do YDisciple and find the material.”
“I like YDisciple because I think that the [videos are] very well done; it’s very relatable. I think kids respond to it because it’s not in any way, shape, or form academic. What I see happen to these kids, religion gets reduced to academics because they’re in Catholic school. And for some kids, their theology classes are stressful, and that’s unfortunate because kids don’t like the subjects they think they’re bad at because they feel bad at it. So if you’re struggling academically in your religion class, I see them apply that to their faith. Not that religion should be fluff or that we shouldn’t teach them anything. It’s just not meant to be an academic subject. It’s intended to be a way of life. And so it’s a real challenge we face with Catholic education because they need to know dogma, but if they’re not living it, if they’re not being transformed by it, then what’s the point? They’re not going to remember it.”
Before the Confirmation Mass, all small groups met for prayer, exchanging gifts, and a final small group session.
Partnering with YDisciple and Flocknote
“I came in and said if we’re doing YDisciple, we need to do Flocknote. I think Flocknote is a huge asset because teens do not read their emails, but they’ll read a text. Flocknote gave our mentors an effective and safe-environment-compliant way to communicate with their teens. Prior to every YDisciple meeting, they would send a reminder through Flocknote. And throughout the week, they could send little words of encouragement. It just helps connect the teens and build those relationships, which is what YDisciple is all about. We’re dealing with juniors in high school, so the more we engage them and get them to take responsibility, the better. So, we text the teen in addition to sending a parent email. We launched Flocknote just for youth ministry at first, then we launched it to the whole parish in January, and now other ministries are getting on board.
Mentors: Do Not Say, “I am too Old”
I pray that the Lord keeps sending the right mentors our way and moves in hearts that the right people say yes. Because that’s important, having people who aren’t going just to preach but will walk the walk with these teens and form relationships. I believe that no ministry program should exist in one person because if that person leaves, everything falls apart. So my prayer is that we can grow the program and grow the philosophy. I want to build something that’s going to last. And because we’re expanding YDisciple to PSR, we need even more volunteers.
“One of my mentors just said, ‘I think I’m too old. I think more effort should be made to have younger people.’ Teens don’t really care about your age. It’s not about your age. It’s not about your personality. It’s about your authenticity. Are you authentic? Do you really care about them? Do you really care about the faith? Because teens see through fakeness. You just have to love them. It’s funny I had to say this to my mentors, and I don’t blame them because I felt the same way. But because there’s that barrier where adults feel like ‘Oh no, it has to be someone young,’ it tends to be harder for them to say yes, and so that’s why we really just had to handpick volunteers. We approached mentors and said, ‘We want you for this movement, this program.’”
St. Angela Merici Parish staff takes seriously their call to make disciples of all nations, beginning with the families in their region. They seek to fill up and send out the faithful and have seen them bring new life to other parish ministries. St. Catherine of Siena famously said, “Be who you are, and you will set the world on fire”; this parish lives into that hope, one small group at a time.