by Jill Ragar Esfeld
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — “Wasn’t the children’s Mass beautiful?” exclaimed Msgr. Stuart Swetland, pastor of Our Lady & St. Rose Parish here.
In a parish that has a long history of ethnic diversity, Our Lady & St. Rose entered Black History Month with a display of their youngest parishioners’ faith and devotion.
The youth Mass is this parish’s way of encouraging its young people to know they are an important part of this Catholic community and responsible for carrying on its traditions.
Youth leaders Jonathan and Patricia Goering have three children of their own and extensive backgrounds in teaching.
They know how important it is for students to be able to relate to their teachers, and similarly believe it’s important for youth to relate to active members of their parish.
“We often talk about minority teachers and how kids need to see themselves,” said Jonathan. “So, for me, kids need to see themselves involved in the Mass and connected with the church.”
His wife agreed, acknowledging that many adults in the parish look forward to the youth Mass because it gives them a glimpse of the future.
“I think a lot of times older adults think the children aren’t carrying the faith on the way they did,” she said. “With the kids being up there and being part of the Mass, I think it gives them hope.
“There’s still a future.”
The children perform all the lay minister responsibilities during the Mass.
“The kids are serving and ushering and greeting and providing the music, responses, readings,” said Patricia. “So, they are part of the Mass, not just showing up and being quiet in the pews.”
The youth Mass is a project of the parish youth group called Young Disciples in Training. Patricia has led the group for longer than she can remember.
Jonathan was raised in the Mennonite faith but converted to Catholicism, partly because of the warm and welcoming community he found at Our Lady & St. Rose.
He joined Patricia in mentoring the youth group after they were married.
Both have a love of music.
“So, I brought up to Jonathan,” recalled Patricia, “[that] I wished our kids had music as part of what they’re doing.”
So, they started working with the Young Disciples to sing a musical devotional or meditation during Mass.
“Once everyone was comfortable with that,” said Patricia, “the kids were encouraged to learn more music, and we were asked if we would do a whole Mass.
“We said, ‘Yes, we think we’re ready for that.’ So we’ve been doing full Masses now for around eight years.”
Jonathan sees involvement in the Mass as an important step in helping youth feel connected to their church community as they struggle through the process of becoming productive adults.
“God really kind of saved me,” he said. “My senior year, I had some issues, and my faith kind of pulled me through that.
“I hope we can make them understand those connections and how lifesaving sometimes they can be.”
“When you’re in a pinch and you don’t know what to do,” he continued, “there’s always somebody you can talk to, you can count on.”
The couple wants their young disciples to feel connected to their community and their Catholic faith.
“I feel like there are so many things I’ve learned to understand as an adult,” said Patricia. “When I’m working with the kids, I try to help them kind of break things down in ways that no one ever shared with me or put it that way, when I was a kid.
“I do that so the kids can make those connections; have that foundation, earlier in their faith.”
The COVID pandemic has meant that youth couldn’t get together for more than a year, and that was difficult.
But the joy experienced when they finally reunited was inspiring.
“We had our first Mass this October,” said Patricia. “I truly have never seen them as excited, as happy, as joyful as they were for that Sunday.
“They were just beaming.”
“The church felt it, too,” added Jonathan. “We got a lot of comments like, ‘That was just awesome!’
“It was good.”
Subsequent youth Masses have been equally joyful.
Quoting the Gospel of Matthew, Msgr. Swetland said: “What anyone ‘with eyes to see and ears to hear’ could tell is the sincere faith that the children and their teachers and directors demonstrate when they help our community praise and worship God.”
The Goerings feel the youth of Our Lady & St. Rose treasure these opportunities to support their church.
“They are the future,” said Patricia. “And they want to be. They want a role and they want to belong.
“That’s part of being in community.”