September 15, 2006

2006 Religious Education Supplement

Following her mother’s path:
Daughter of late DRE enters youth ministry

By John Shaughnessy

The framed verse hangs above Emily Perkins’ desk, reminding her of her mother—the woman she lost to cancer, the woman who helped her discover the depth of her faith.

The 23-year-old Perkins glances up at the verse, which reads, “And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God” (Mi 6:8).

“She wrote that quote in a letter for me for my senior retreat in high school,” Perkins recalls. “It was one of her favorite Scripture verses. It really didn’t touch me until after she passed away. Then it made sense because it fit her and what her mission for her ministry was.”

Before her death on Valentine’s Day in 2004, Beth Perkins had been the director of religious education at Our Lady of the Greenwood Parish in Greenwood for about 20 years.

It was not the life that Emily, the oldest of Beth’s four children, wanted for herself.

Yet here she is—a recent college graduate—starting a new job as the coordinator of youth ministry at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Indianapolis. She’s now trying to help young people deepen a
faith that she once seriously questioned.

“When my mom died, it made me question my faith,” says Emily, a 2006 graduate of Marian College in Indianapolis. “It made me mad for a while. At the same time, I couldn’t stay mad long because I knew the kind of faith she had. And that was a comfort.

“I remember I had one conversation with her when she was sick. I had come home from school to visit. I was on the bed with her. She said, ‘I don’t know how long I’m going to be here. I know what I have to do. If I’m supposed to stay here and be a mother and a teacher, I’ll stay. But if it’s time for me to go to heaven, I’m ready to go.’

“After she died on Valentine’s Day, one of my friends said that God had chosen the ultimate valentine by choosing my mom. Valentine’s Day will never be the same for me. In a way, it’s a celebration of her love.”

So is Emily’s choice to follow her mother’s path.

“Education was a big thing to her, especially religious education,” Emily says. “She wanted us to know our faith and own our faith. I want our young people to know they are not just the future of the Church, but they are today’s Church. They are not too young to do things. They are not too young to own their faith.”

One of the most serendipitous parts of being at Our Lady of Lourdes for Emily is working with one of her mother’s closest friends, Beverly Hansberry, the parish’s pastoral associate and director of religious education.

“I’ve called her Beth a couple of times,” Hansberry says with a laugh as she sits next to Emily. “I think of her mother all the time. I think she’d be excited we were working together. It’s almost bittersweet, too, because I worked so much with Beth, and it’s a blessing to do it with her
daughter, too. They’re different in a lot of ways, but they have the same passion for ministry. I saw Beth developing into this wonderful, beautiful person. I almost see Emily as a step ahead of her mother at this age.”

Emily remembers the care and comfort that Hansberry gave to her family when her mother was dying. She knows the difference it made to her father, Dave, and her three brothers, Joshua, Andrew and Zachary. She knows the difference it made to her.

“She helped me plan my mom’s funeral,” Emily says. “We’ve become close friends since then.”
Emily’s plans now include trying to find the best ways to connect young people to their faith.

“Youth ministry just can’t be fun and games,” she says. “There needs to be an element of learning. An important part of my ministry will be teaching the youth religious education and information on
the liturgy. They need to be a full member of the Church. They need to understand what the liturgy is and how everything we do is connected to that in some way.”

Her thoughts soon drift back to her mother. “In my freshman year of college, I had just moved in and I was homesick,” Emily recalls. “I came home that weekend and we went to Lake Monroe. We went tubing and cooked out. She went on the tubes with all of us. We have some of the best pictures of her from that—some of the most sincere smiles from her.”

Emily can’t stop smiling either when she thinks about how her mother would react to her choice to become a youth minister.

“I think she would ask me if I’m crazy, but she would be thrilled,” Emily says. “She saw the Church for what it should be. She believed in the Church and the people of the Church.” †


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