by Marc and Julie Anderson
KELLY — Ask any Catholic teenager in the Nemaha-Marshall Region what their favorite annual church event is, and chances are they will say the Kelly Youth Rally.
Fifteen-year-old high school sophomore Noah Quigley has attended the rally at least five times.
Quigley was among 475 youth representing 14 different parishes at the 20th rally held Aug. 19. It’s an event he looks forward to every year.
“I get to hear other people’s perspectives on how they solidified and/or found their Catholic faith,” Quigley said. “It makes me proud to be a Catholic.”
The rally’s climax each year is its closing Mass, which this year drew some 900 and was celebrated by Father Daniel Schmitz, pastor of Annunciation Parish in Frankfort, St. Columbkille in Blaine and St. Elizabeth/St. Monica Parish in Blue Rapids. This year’s rally also featured keynote speaker Paul J. Kim.
A graduate of the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Kim is an international speaker, beatboxer and comedian. In two separate sessions, he described his own faith journey — from being bored at Mass to literally sobbing after praying the “first honest prayer” in his life at a Franciscan University conference in Arizona.
Quigley found Kim’s talks both challenging and inspiring.
“Paul J. Kim described what it was like to take the long hard road to Jesus in paradise. That story was the most inspirational Catholic story I’ve ever heard,” Quiqley said.
Like Quigley, Rachel Koch, a high school senior and a member of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Onaga, said she was inspired by Kim, especially as he discussed how just one person can have a powerful impact.
“A message that I will take away from the rally,” Koch said, “is how important it is that we pray daily and how our attitude toward people can really affect their lives. A story he shared with us was when a student in high school almost committed suicide, but a single act of kindness from someone completely changed his mind.”
“To me, this is absolutely mind blowing by just how much impact we have on other people’s lives,” she continued. “The story he shared truly changed my perspective on life and makes me want to be the best version I can be.”
That same talk, said 16-year-old Courtney Huerter, touched her heart, too.
“I would love to be the kid who helps someone out when they are in trouble, and it helped me see that everyone has feelings,” she said. “So, smiling or saying hello to that one stranger you see somewhere in public could cheer them up and help them be happy.”
Huerter represents the second generation of her family to attend the rally. Her aunt, Sheila Talley, was among the 150 students who attended the first rally held in 1998. Although Talley’s own children are not old enough yet, she took them to the closing Mass this year and recalled that first rally beginning with a hay-rack ride from the church to the site.
In eighth grade at the time, Talley then belonged to St. Mary Parish in St. Benedict.
“I vividly remember Matty Molnar (now deceased) heading up the music on our trailer,” Talley said.
“I remember it being an event that we looked forward to every year,” she added. “Of course, there have been a lot of changes and upgrades to the event over the past 20 years, but the general theme and the overall sense of pride in your faith remains the same.”
That pride perhaps explains why Leah Hermesch now organizes the event and works with scores of volunteers and donors to make it successful.
“Every year, I am thrilled to hear from parents of the youth that attended. There are many important messages that can be heard throughout the day and, if they open their heart, they hear that one thing that God has been trying to tell them,” Hermesch said.
For Koch, the rally’s importance cannot be overstated.
“Young people need inspiration, and meeting new people is a great way,” she said. “It is amazing to be able to experience this and to have this opportunity in a small town.”
“I always look forward to seeing and hearing the new speakers,” concluded Koch, “because they always have a strong message to help you carry through life.”