September 29, 2017

Faith leaders honored for their commitment to young people

Ashley Barnett of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Bloomington receives the archdiocese’s 2017 Youth Ministry Servant of the Year Award during a Mass on Sept. 5 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. She poses for a photo with Archbishop Charles C. Thompson and Scott Williams, the archdiocese’s director of youth ministry. (Photos by John Shaughnessy)

Ashley Barnett of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Bloomington receives the archdiocese’s 2017 Youth Ministry Servant of the Year Award during a Mass on Sept. 5 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. She poses for a photo with Archbishop Charles C. Thompson and Scott Williams, the archdiocese’s director of youth ministry. (Photos by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

She was a high school freshman then, a teenager struggling with being taunted and bullied.

People made fun of Ashley Barnett because of her small stature, the result of her being born with the most common cause of dwarfism.

“I had a difficult time reconciling why God would make me like this if he knew it would be so painful,” Barnett recalls.

So when a high school senior at her parish invited her to join a faith-related youth group, Barnett was hesitant before she cautiously accepted.

“I didn’t want to be made fun of again, but people were kind and friendly. I kept going back. I didn’t realize how much I was being saturated in God’s love. By the end of high school, my heart changed. I really became in love with him.”

Now 28, Barnett strives to help create a deep relationship with God for young people—in her role as youth minister of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Bloomington. Her efforts led her to be recently honored with the archdiocese’s 2017 Youth Ministry Servant of the Year Award.

Barnett received the honor during a Mass on Sept. 5 in SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. Anita Navarra of St. Mary Parish in Greensburg and Leah Massingale of St. Michael Parish in Greenfield were also honored during the Mass, which celebrated leaders who serve in Catholic school, catechetical and pastoral ministries across the archdiocese.

The award is a thrill for Barnett, but the joy of working with the parish’s youths matters most to her. One of the teens, Jenna Dedek, views Barnett as “an extraordinary light of Christ in this world. She not only shows young people who Jesus is, she exudes happiness which spreads to those around her. She is the perfect example of what it means to walk with another person on their faith journey.”

Sometimes that shared faith journey includes taking a group of highschool youths to the March for Life in Washington or the National Catholic Youth Conference. On Friday mornings, it also means she cooks breakfast and leads a Gospel discussion for about 40-50 middle-school students before they head to classes at the parish school. Always, she wants to lead them to a closer relationship with Christ.

“My greatest joy is seeing my kids truly happy, and seeing them sink their teeth into the truth of who Jesus is. It’s just awesome to see the Lord who changed my life is now changing their lives. I just want to do for them what somebody had done for me.”

Keeping Christ close to the heart

Twenty-eight years have passed, but Anita Navarra still remembers the phone call that changed her life.

“I was in high school,” says Navarra, remembering the call she received from Franciscan Sister Marie Schroeder, who was the director of religious education at St. Mary Parish in Greensburg at the time. “All I remember is her saying, ‘I need your help. I think you would be good sharing your faith about Jesus.’ ”

Navarra laughs and adds, “I couldn’t say no. Besides, I enjoyed the children and their excitement, and they haven’t gotten rid of me since.”

Now, Navarra is the director of religious education at St. Mary, the parish where she has received the sacraments of baptism, reconciliation, holy Communion, confirmation and marriage.

She is also the recipient of the archdiocese’s 2017 Excellence in Catechesis Award.

“The award is very humbling,” she says. “I’m sitting in the chair of the director, but it really is our parishioners and their families who are doing this. I could not do this without them, our team here at St. Mary’s and Jesus.”

Thoughts of Jesus are always close to Navarra’s heart and efforts.

“My Catholic education has helped me want to serve others and stay connected to Jesus in my life,” she says. “We can provide all the educational programs, but the main focus is on Jesus—and how we can live out that Gospel message.

“That’s what we’re all looking for. That’s what we’re all called to be—disciples of Jesus.”

Embracing the beauty and wonder of life

As the recipient of the archdiocese’s 2017 Saint Theodora Excellence in Education Award, Leah Massingale has two main goals in teaching science to her middle-school students at St. Michael School in Greenfield.

One is to introduce them to the beauty and wonder of the world that God has created. The other is to reinforce for her students that God sees beauty and wonder in them.

“It’s important that my children see that God has made them in his image, that they are special to him,” she says. “Every day, I look around the classroom and see the wonder in their faces, and the joy that comes when they understand something.”

St. Michael’s principal Patty Mauer says Massingale is motivated by “the possibility of writing a success story with each child that enters her doorway.”

“She welcomes all with open arms, but she definitely has a soft spot for those who have yet to see God’s gift in themselves,” Mauer notes. “Middle schoolers so eagerly want to fit into the mold of peer expectations, but often measure themselves short for one reason or another. She works hard for them to see the positive.”

Massingale longs to show her students the difference they can make in the world.

“I try to serve as a good role model, demonstrating patience, fortitude,

self-control and gentleness in my dealings with them,” she says. “When I fail, I ask for their forgiveness. When they fail, I remind them of the beauty of grace.”

Most of all, she hopes the example of her life will draw them closer to Christ.

“I hope they look at me and see the love that Jesus has for them.”

That approach was the focus of a homily shared by Archbishop Charles C. Thompson during the “Mass for Co-Workers in the Vineyard”—the title of the Sept. 5 liturgy that celebrated pastors, principals, school presidents, youth ministers, religious education directors and other leaders across the archdiocese.

Changing hearts and lives

“Our authority is linked back to something greater than ourselves,” the archbishop noted. “Jesus is the second person of the Holy Trinity, and there’s nothing greater than the Holy Trinity. We rely on that connection with Jesus to carry out the mission that has been entrusted to us. That’s why I like that word ‘co-workers.’

“All of us have been given the gift, the privilege, the honor, to be a part of this authority of Christ to teach, to proclaim the Good News. It’s an unusual authority we’re given. In the secular world, authority is power, it’s prestige, and it’s our glory. In the Church, authority is responsibility. The power is not through prestige, but where we’re most effective is through the power of mercy.”

The archbishop encouraged the leaders to focus on the power of mercy to change hearts and lives.

“Pray for the grace each day that each time we hear the word of God, that we celebrate the sacraments, that we lead those people there toward Jesus,” he said. “We’ll be astounded time and time again, amazed at the power and the grace of Jesus’ words and his work in and among us. May we always have the confidence, the courage to take with us that power to our ministries, to our services, to the people touched in the name of Jesus Christ.”

On a day of celebration, the archbishop ended his homily by celebrating the connection he has with the leaders, and the great opportunity he shares with them.

“We’re truly co-workers in the vineyard, never losing sight that it’s not about us as it is about glorifying God, leading others in and to us, to Jesus Christ. When we do that, when we have been faithful to the Gospel, in carrying out the mission entrusted to us, the world is a better place.” †

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