The Spirit Alive

A History of St. Cronan's Children and Youth Ministry

By Madonna Kuciejczyk-Kernan

"Parishes that demonstrate trust in the Spirit alive in our children embrace not only our children but also the Spirit who dwells in them." – Gerard Pottabaum To Walk With A Child.

St. Cronan's Children's and Youth Ministry has been animated by trust in God's Spirit these past 20 years.  Through the years we've been graced by actively journeying with the Spirit alive in our children and youth while they sang, danced, mimed and proclaimed the Word with reverence, enthusiasm and a sense of their ministry.  We have been moved by the Spirit alive in our children as they have shared the meaning of God's Word in their daily lives during Children's Liturgy of the Word.  We have been touched by the Spirit alive in our children as they have explored the mysteries of the reign of God, the sacred gift of living a sacramental life as beloved children of God baptized to be priest, prophet and leader, and being nourished by the Eucharist to be co-creators with God of this reign.  We have delighted with the Spirit alive in our children as they performed Godspell, sold us Cronan's Crunch, or asked us to sign their petitions embodying the Beatitudes and the social justice teachings in today's world.

For over 100 years children have been a treasured focus at St. Cronan's.  The lives of many parishioners have revolved around their children and nurturing their growth.  A parish school, taught by the Sisters of Loretto, ministered to their spiritual and academic needs until it closed in 1970.  In the late 1970s the parish shifted to a predominantly older membership and few children were part of the parish.  Young families with babies and toddlers brought new life to the parish in 1982.  At that time, older children could be counted on one hand and there were few teens.  Early on, Children's Liturgy of the Word was created to nurture the spiritual life of the children at their developmental level.  Every Easter there was a children's Mass in which the music, homily and celebration was focused on the children.

In 1987, a small group evaluation of the parish's needs brought to the community's attention that the babies and toddlers were growing, that more families with children were joining the parish, and that we had preteens and teens with a whole new set of spiritual and social needs.  The parish decided that our children and youth would be empowered and nurtured in their gifts by being lectors, choir members, and liturgical dancers for the whole church community on a regular basis.  The parish chose to celebrate 6 Children's Masses a year and to form a Children's choir as a way of enhancing our children's sense of belonging to the liturgical life of the community.

Youth groups for junior and senior high students were established.  The Children's Masses continued until 1994 when they were replaced by Family Masses and the children's choir became a family choir.  Family Mass was conceived as a way to continue empowering children and youth in liturgy as well as consciously painting a broader picture of who we are as a parish family and addressing the concerns of some parishioners without children.

In 1993, another parish wide evaluation process looked at youth needs as one of its areas of focus, and we found that children's ministry was falling through the cracks. A Youth Commission was formed to give focused attention to the needs of children and youth within the parish community. We unsuccessfully advocated to hire a staff member/consultant with expertise and responsibilities in the area of spiritual development of children. The Spirit, however, carried us forward. I found myself embarking on a year long research of ways to improve Children's Liturgy which culminated in the format and resources used today. Prayer leaders receive training in sharing with children the story of God's love, honoring their developmental needs so that they can fall deeper in love with God.

In 1995. the Youth Commission met with the Liturgy Commission to establish guidelines to enhance participation of children and youth in liturgy.  They reaffirmed the parish commitment to 4 family masses a year.  The Youth Commission also supported parents' decision to continue faith formation (PSR) and sacramental preparation at St. Cronan’s rather than joining a regional School of Religion.  In 2000, Lisa Von Stamwitz was hired as a pastoral associate with responsibilities to support the spiritual development of children and youth.

The Youth Commission reconvened in 2002.  The commission met with Lisa to evaluate the past year and set goals for faith formation of children and youth for the coming years.  The Faith Formation process begins with the treasuring way we as a community welcome babies and toddlers during our liturgy.  It is fostered in the preschool and early school years through Children's Liturgy and nurtured through the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.  Faith formation proceeds through ongoing reflection on Baptism and Eucharist, then Reconciliation, the Prophets and Jubilee justice, living the Beatitudes, and exploring the social justice dimensions of the Gospel through "A Just Faith."  Faith formation continues with Confirmation preparation and post-Confirmation process using a model which invites participation of the whole community.  The Youth Commission oversees faith formation and other aspects of children and youth ministry.

Many, many parishioners have shared their gifts with our children over all these years.  I first became involved in children's ministry in 1987 as coordinator of the Children's Masses and director of the Children's Choir, even though I was single and had no children.  The Spirit tapped me on the shoulder.  Today the Spirit continues to inspire the commitment of adults, with and without children of their own, to share in nurturing the Spirit alive in our children.  Clearly we as a community have embraced the children and youth of the parish as ours, and have taken seriously our promise at each baptism to support parents and Godparents in Christian community.  It takes a village to raise a child, African wisdom proclaims.  At St. Cronan's we have realized this is particularly true in our spiritual village.  Our children and youth need the continued involvement of a parent co-op and the larger community.  Is the Spirit tapping you?