Who Is Doing the Heavy Lifting?

Spotlight: Dowling Catholic High School

Small Group Ministry in a Catholic High School Setting…During COVID.


We started this school year with a lot of unknowns. Where will we be able to host our small group meetings? Will we even be able to host small group meetings? What precautions do we need to require? What effects will it have on our small group dynamics? Praise God, any false mirage of control that Satan could have tempted us with vanished before our eyes. Rather, we had two options. The first was to submit to anxiety, stress, and fear and to try to carry the burden of COVID and it’s ambiguity on our own. The second was to surrender and rely on Him who created us and created this ministry. 

“Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7 

“Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him, and He will act.” Psalm 37:5 

As we reflected, we realized that this year was actually no different than any other. We shared the same amount of control as any other school year prior (which was none), and Christ still had the same amount of control that He had since before this ministry even began (which was all of it, if we gave it to Him). We also saw that our mission of making disciples remained the same. The only thing that changed was perhaps a matter of how. Suddenly we felt a lot like Mary in the Annunciation. 

“How can this be?” Luke 1:34

In 2017, our Catholic high school was not shy to observe the national trends of youth leaving our Church, and they weren’t too proud to think our alumni were some great exception to these statistics. While it was true that our graduates could probably take a test on Catholicism and receive a passing grade, this was no indicator of their personal beliefs or relationship with the Lord. As such, our school decided to launch a brand new ministry rooted in small group discipleship to help students keep the faith after high school and beyond. 

Never mind that I had no youth ministry experience or theology degree, my name got tossed in the hat for the new coordinator position (truly an act of God). Nevertheless, when offered the position, I had the only thing I needed – a clear call from the Holy Spirit to this specific ministry. He would provide the rest. 

Because of my lack of experience, some might say I was ignorant enough to take the job, but I believe I was awake enough to know my weaknesses and that I couldn’t do anything without Him. Personally, I believe He chose me for the position because He didn’t want someone to rely on themselves or their past experiences (of which I had neither option). Each day I would find myself in the school chapel asking the Lord what exactly He wanted me to do that day. Sometimes it was obvious; other times, it felt very silent. 

“Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”  John 15:4-5

When starting this ministry, I received two pieces of advice. The first was to stay rooted in prayer. If this ministry truly is His, then He should be leading and guiding it. Not the other way around. The only way to know how He is leading is to come to Him. Frankly, if we haven’t prayed for our ministry in a day, have we done our job? Additionally, our personal prayer will be the number one item Satan will want to attack. We cannot give what we do not have. 

The second piece of advice was this: do not be afraid of your growth (or lack thereof) or numbers or time. Strive for high quality and effectiveness in every single small group. Would you rather go wide and reach 1,000 souls who can’t remember what they experienced the following day, or reach a few whose lives are changed forever (and as such many more lives are changed because of them)? We went with the second option

I started the job in July of 2017, and we didn’t have a small group until October of 2017 (that’s a lot of time trusting and waiting!). I trusted God would bring the right students and the right mentors at the right time and that the harvest was rich. We believed that if God called someone to the ministry, they were called to walk with a specific soul. Every decision was highly discerned and prayed with, even those decisions that seemed small. By December, we grew to four small groups simply by word of mouth. By May of our first year, we had 17 small groups. When students started to encounter Jesus, they couldn’t help but overflow and share with their friends, who, in turn, wanted to join. 

In three and a half years, 463 students have received weekly personal investment from an adult faith mentor.

(2020-2021 year is only halfway completed)

Fast-forwarding to this school year, we have had more growth in our fall semester than any other semester prior. This December, we reached the same number of small groups that we ended last school year with (each year experiences some loss due to graduating seniors). The Gospel is still true, Jesus is still seeking redemption, and the harvest is still ripe. This year is just as ambiguous as years prior; it’s just more blatantly obvious.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.  In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. John 14: 1-3

Jesus doesn’t lead us to dead ends. It is He who takes us to Himself. If we surrender our ministry to Him and show up to pray each day, we cannot fail because He does not fail.


Addie Magruder was born and raised in Des Moines, IA, and attends St. Francis of Assisi parish. She currently is the Ut Fidem Coordinator at Dowling Catholic High School. She comes from a family of five and loves coffee. In her free time, you’ll find her climbing indoor rock walls because, well, Iowa.


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