APPLETON — Matthew Uchytil is one of 12 missionaries from across the country who are part of the 2020-2021 Spiritus team. Spiritus was founded in 2009 under the direction of Eden and Katherine Foord, directors of the Mount Tabor Center in Menasha, in response to the call of Pope Benedict XVI for young adults to enter into the mission of the church.
The young adults on the Spiritus team donate nine months of their lives to serve the church. Since its inception, Spiritus has worked to inspire Wisconsin Catholic youth through retreats and youth ministry to help form them into lifelong missionary disciples and leaders.
Uchytil, along with his older brother and sister (Michael and Mikayla) and younger brother and sister (Marcus and Maria), was homeschooled by his parents, Joseph and Mary. He was first exposed to Spiritus when he was middle-school age.
“Michael and I were going to SS. Peter and Paul one day and we saw one of their posters advertising this teen discipleship event. My brother went there and really enjoyed it,” recalled Uchytil. In time, all the siblings took part in Spiritus events.
“It was a real blessing to encounter these young adults who were on fire for their faith, who loved God, and were fun and exciting and normal, too. That was so cool. It transformed my life in many ways,” said Uchytil.
In 2018, Uchytil volunteered to spend a summer working on a Totus Tuus team. Totus Tuus (Latin for “all yours”) is a summer catechetical experience for young people from first grade through 12th grade. “That was my first dip into youth ministry and I absolutely loved it,” he said. “It was the best and hardest summer of my life. I was serving God fulltime in all of my work. It was a huge blessing.”
For the past couple years, Uchytil has been busy earning his information technology degree from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., and working as an intern at the business where his father is employed.
“As time went by, I felt my heart drawing back to service in youth ministry. It was an opportunity to serve wholeheartedly for the Lord,” he said. “I wanted to spend another year, both in service and in discernment, as well. It’s something on my heart, discerning whether I’m called to a deeper service, the priesthood or religious life.”
In mid-August of 2020 a team of seven young men and seven young women began nearly a month of training. “Then we started going on missions and going out to retreats,” he said. Even with COVID-19, they’ve still been able to do physical retreats as well as online retreats.
“We work with second- through 12th-graders. We have in-house retreats and overnight, if they’re interested. We go anywhere in the state. Through our virtual retreats we’re able to do retreats for anyone in the nation, theoretically, the world,” added Uchytil.
The Spiritus retreats help students love Jesus more, learn about their faith and become better Catholics, he said.
“I think the most important part is to be a witness to the students, to share our stories about how Christ has influenced us and how we think he’ll influence their lives if they make that same step,” he said.
Retreats have a tremendous impact on youth, said Uchytil. “The biggest blessing to me, similar to those who impacted my life, is to share my story with them and for their hearts to be changed in prayer,” he said. “Through that witness, we see their hearts transformed by God. We see them really open up and experience the faith for the first time. Perhaps to see the Passion of our Lord and to see all the pain that he went through in his suffering and the crucifixion.”
One-on-one time with the youth has proven to be invaluable. “We ask what intentions they have or what can we pray for them for. Sometimes it’s a simple thing. Sometimes it’s really big things that weigh on these kids’ hearts like (issues with) a sibling or a father who’s struggling with addictive substances or even someone who’s close to them who might be in prison,” noted Uchytil. “It’s just beautiful to see what happens and to see how they are open to God. That’s really amazing to see God work through you to transform these kids’ lives.”
The youth aren’t the only ones whose lives are impacted by the SPIRITUS program. Team members are formed as lifelong missionary disciples through routines of prayer, spiritual direction, service and weekly formation courses.
“Not only do we get to minister to the students, but we also get to minister to each other,” said Uchytil. “We help each other on our spiritual journeys, as well. We’ve developed a deep friendship between the 12 of us. It’s just a fantastic group of people. They love you for who you are, but love you too much to leave you there. So, we get to grow and develop as a team.”