STURGEON BAY — They followed their noses down the stairs and through the hall to where the pizza — seemingly miles of pizza — lay waiting. They had just finished Mass at St. Joseph Church, but the celebration was far from over.
This was the April 30 quad-parish wrap-up for Life Teen and Edge, ministries headed by youth minister Sarah Gavin. For weeks before the evening, Gavin issued invitations to parents, families and parish members — as well as the students themselves — to celebrate together the successful work of the year just ended.
“Life Teen isn’t just about teens,” Gavin has insisted many times, and she encourages adults of the parishes to join the Life Teen Mass on Sunday nights, or to sit in during Life Night activities.
The social hall was jammed, and Gavin said the crowd was bigger than she had anticipated. She said it with a grin, as she table-hopped to visit with everyone, including those who lined the walls when the tables could hold no more.
They had maybe 30 minutes to fill up on pizza and a vast array of desserts before everyone headed back up to the church to listen to a guest speaker, who held them spellbound with his tales of personal tragedies that he chose to view as blessings.
“Happy,” as he insists he be called, talked about the children he and his wife adopted when they couldn’t have children biologically.
“I pray every day for those teenagers who let their children be adopted rather than abort them,” he told his listeners.
He talked about the car accident that took the life of his son and traumatized his daughter. He talked about adopting his own grandchildren when their mother couldn’t care for them. He talked about life-threatening health issues, and about the string of “coincidences” that helped shape other aspects of his life.
“All of you will have something ‘bad’ happen to you in your life. The question is, what will you do when it happens?” he challenged the group. “Will you see these things as blessings?”
The feedback Gavin collected when the evening was over indicated that year ended on an overwhelming high.
“It was an amazing night!” one person told her. “Thank you for opening up to the parish families. I was truly moved beyond words many times tonight!”
“My eyes are still swollen,” another woman said. “My 8-year-old said, as soon as we got in car, ‘I have homework to do. I need to send Aunt Pam (who lives in Texas) a letter. She inspires me.’”
“I was given hope tonight,” yet another person said. “I’ve been focusing on why God allows bad things to happen instead of focusing on my blessings. Tonight that all changes.”
Gavin and her core team of volunteers oversee approximately 65 Edge (middle school) students and 100 Life Teen members. Besides their weekly meetings, the two groups go on separate mission trips during the summer and help out at many of the parish functions.