Father Andrew Strobl and Deacon Dana Nearmyer take to the high schools to lay out the archbishop’s 10-year vision plan
by Moira Cullings
LEAVENWORTH — Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann’s 10-year vision isn’t normally compared to video games and 1990s trivia.
Except, of course, when it’s explained to high school students.
Over the course of a week, Deacon Dana Nearmyer and Father Andrew Strobl visited all seven archdiocesan high schools to make a presentation to each student body on the archbishop’s vision.
For one very significant reason.
“We think you’re an extremely important part of this vision,” Deacon Nearmyer told students at Immaculata High School in Leavenworth at an all-school presentation. “So we want you to know about it.”
Deacon Nearmyer, who is the lead consultant for the office of evangelization and Catholic formation of youth, was concerned that without an opportunity like this, high school students might never understand the archbishop’s hopes for their future.
Deacon Nearmyer compared the building up of the church in the archdiocese to the Sagrada Familia, a church in Barcelona, Spain, that began construction in 1882 . . . and is still under construction!
“The archdiocese — not just a building, but the mystical body of Christ — is not done,” he said. “It was started so, so long ago, and each of us has to pick up these tools of evangelization to pass on the faith, or else it dies with our generation.
“We have to pick up this mission if we want our church to grow and be alive.”
His co-presenter, Father Strobl, is archdiocesan director of evangelization, in addition to being the pastor of Holy Name Church in Kansas City, Kansas.
The messengers brought added credibility to the message, said Allyiah Calvert, a sophomore at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park.
“I thought [the talk] was a good way to inform us about what we may be called to do later in our lives,” she said. “Especially because it was coming from a priest and deacon who have experienced God’s calling themselves.”
In fact, Deacon Nearmyer and Father Strobl were perhaps the perfect pair to reach out to this young audience.
With a combination of games, trivia and inspirational messages, the duo was able to keep their audience engaged, while challenging the young people to connect with their message on a deeper level.
“I think the way they explained things kept us interested and wanting to know more,” said Calvert.
For Deacon Nearmyer, there was no better way to present a Catholic vision to young people than by putting himself in their shoes.
“I had a lot of questions growing up,” said Deacon Nearmyer. “Hard, crazy ones.
“I was, like, ‘How did I get here? Why am I in this family, in this state, in this place? How did I wake up in the middle of a story I didn’t pick?’”
He spoke of the difficulties he faced and the curiosity he felt about Catholicism growing up, which many young people can relate to.
“God’s got this plan for all of us,” he said. “And we can pick up the mission, or we can walk into a different story.”
Accepting the mission
After asking the students a series of trivia questions, Father Strobl explained how walking within the plan God has for our lives is like answering every trivia question correctly — it isn’t easy.
“Here’s the challenge,” he said. “The story of our salvation is not just a story someone else tells to us. We were made to participate in the story of our salvation.
“But so often, it can feel like . . . it’s just a bunch of trivia . . . a test in theology.”
“So often, when it comes to the story of our salvation,” he said, “we treat it just as any other subject.”
Father Strobl went on to emphasize how much the story of our salvation matters, and how it’s up to all of us to play our part.
“The fact that they said we all have our own unique role in the church stood out to me,” said Calvert. “Some may feel as if they do not have a place, but they emphasized that God gives you one through the church.”
Katie Walters, a theology teacher at St. James Academy in Lenexa, was happy her students were able to attend the presentation.
“God has been at work throughout all of history and he wants to continue his work in each of us,” she said. “For young people to hear this message, I think is empowering and inspiring.”
The speakers also warned their young audiences how living a Christian life isn’t always easy.
“Any Christian that tells you that there’s not going to be a lot of pain in being alive is telling a story,” said Deacon Nearmyer. “It’s not true.”
“But being Christian gives meaning and purpose to our suffering,” he added. “It also gives us ways to replenish our hearts, to build ourselves up, to be able to walk through the world — not with a half-empty tank or driving on empty all the time.”
That point resonated in a particular way with Calvert.
“When we are involved in our faith and actively follow Jesus, we give meaning and purpose to our suffering and hardships,” she said.
Deacon Nearmyer explained that it is our brokenness that we bring to the altar during Mass, and that we don’t need to be perfect for God to accept us.
“God loves you in all your brokenness, in all your drama,” he said. “God loves you at this moment. And then he just wants to be with you.”
Once we accept that unconditional love, said Father Strobl, the next step is becoming the best people we can be and spreading the love and hope we have in God to others.
Walters is excited to see how her students respond to that call.
“For our young people to embrace the love of Christ is to then live a life spreading that love of Christ to those who are hurting,” she said.
“Christ was indifferent to no one,” she continued. “When he encountered someone struggling, he always did something to lift their burden. As disciples of Christ, we are called to walk in those same steps of compassion and service.”
“If we are willing to accept that this is our story, watch out,” said Father Strobl. “The rest of the archdiocese will be set on fire with love of God.”