by Moira Cullings
ROSSVILLE — Four years ago, Angie Bittner took a chance on a new position with the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.
Since then, she has transformed the faith lives of countless young people in rural northeast Kansas.
As the rural youth outreach coordinator for the archdiocese, Bittner is a tangible example of the love of God.
And the kids couldn’t be more grateful to have her.
The ‘connecting piece’
The Northeast Kansas Rural Youth Council (NEKRYC) is one of many ways Bittner connects with high school youth.
Braden Myers and Sami Fischer, both founding members of the council, agree Bittner is the perfect role model.
“I wouldn’t have picked anyone else for the job,” said Fischer, a parishioner at St. Stanislaus Parish in Rossville.
“She has an aura about her that is peaceful and radiates the love and strength of Christ,” said Myers, a parishioner at St. Francis Xavier Parish in Burlington.
“She has a way of making you feel welcome, and that you are important in God’s plan — even as a teenager,” he added.
Fischer’s favorite event with Bittner was the 2016 World Youth Day in Poland, where she was feeling homesick away from her family.
“What helped me most was Angie,” said Fischer.
“We have a running joke in NEKRYC that we call Angie ‘Momma Angie’ because she really is a second mom to all of us with how much she cares about each of us,” she continued. “It was comforting to know that I had that kind of support.”
Bittner’s responsibilities range from organizing bus rides for out-of-town conferences to working with youth ministers on their own parish programs.
Attending national events like the National Catholic Youth Conference and local mission trips like Prayer and Action wouldn’t be possible for the youth in many rural parishes of the archdiocese without Bittner’s efforts.
“She’s the connecting piece that we had been missing to allow all of our kids to have the same exposure — no matter if you’re living in the big city or a small town,” said Ronda Smith, director of religious education at St. Leo Parish in Horton.
A helping hand
Bittner has been working as the rural youth outreach coordinator since 2013, when the archdiocese introduced an all-parish special assessment to fund youth outreaches in the inner city and to rural youth.
She has also been the youth minister for her own parish — St. Stanislaus — for about seven years.
Her family keeps her motivated, along with the audience she aims to inspire.
“I think our kids are so beautiful,” said Bittner. “They want to know the full truth. And when they have it shown to them in a loving, joyful and irresistible way, they embrace it.”
One of the most practical goals of Bittner’s work is to lighten the loads of rural parish pastors and leaders.
“She’s always keeping in mind how our priests are so busy and she’s trying to make everyone’s job easier,” said Smith.
Two of those priests are Msgr. Robert Bergman, pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Louisburg, and Father Jeremy Heppler, OSB, pastor of St. Benedict Parish in Atchison.
“It is great that Angie is always just a phone call away when I may have questions or need advice,” said Father Jeremy. “She is of help to the parish and also helps remind us that there is more to the church than just our parish.”
Through her outreach across many rural parishes, he continued, “we can work together to encourage the formation of a deep relationship with God, friendships rooted in Christ and living virtuously.”
Monsignor Bergman has also recognized the good that comes from having someone like Bittner there for support.
“Classically, the rural areas are great sources of vocations and families of faith,” said Msgr. Bergman. “[Bittner] helps the youth here know they are important and helps their families know that the diocese cares in word and action about them and their kids.”
That part of the job is particularly meaningful for Bittner.
“Family and parish life are the most important indicators of whether kids choose to stay true to their faith when they’re old enough to choose,” she said.
“We want to provide anything we can to help the Catholic Church be irresistible and irreplaceable in the lives of young people,” she added.
For Sally Olson, director of religious education and youth minister at St. Columbkille Parish in Blaine, Bittner “exudes love for everybody she’s around.”
“We are asked to express and show Jesus through us, and she does an awesome job of emitting Jesus through how she interacts — not only with the youth around her, but all the adults she interacts with,” she said.
The teens certainly agree.
“There have been many other times [Bittner] gave inspirational talks, sent emails or group prayers, and frankly kept Christ and the church’s teachings present in our busy teenage world,” said Myers.
“She took a group of high school youth and brought us together,” he continued, “showing us that we could be better stewards of the faith and disciples on the journey.
“The opportunities to learn and lead have made me a better Catholic and witness for our faith in Christ.”