“Be prepared. Things are going to be different for the foreseeable future.”
Those were words spoken by Tom Conboy, the director of the Office for Youth & Young Adult Ministry, as he gathered the staff on March 17 to inform them they would begin working remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Little did Conboy know how different it would be.
With parishes and schools closing, it meant youth ministry programs stopped gathering in person at their parishes. Large events the office had planned needed to be postponed or canceled, along with groups coming in for meetings or retreats at the St. John Paul II Youth Retreat Center in Kearny. Summer Camp has since been canceled.
However, in all this, Conboy said, “We had to still continue the mission of our office—supporting the coordinators of youth and young adult ministry in our parishes.”
Taking creative steps, they have been doing just that these past few months.
Rich Donovan, the associate director for trainings and events, has been organizing and carrying out a weekly check-in call for parish coordinators of youth ministry. This weekly virtual call allows them to share what is going on in their own personal lives during the pandemic, but also to share ideas and resources with each other. Donovan also puts together a weekly email that highlights various resources and information that parishes can use for their own programs, and he has been overseeing an extensive COVID-19 resource page on the office’s website at www.newarkoym.com.
When the stay-at-home orders were put in place by the governor, Gary Nova, associate director for CYO Athletics, explained that they were right in the middle of basketball playoffs. “We had games still set to be played in all of our counties that suddenly had to stop,” he said.
Even though sports remain at a standstill, the CYO Athletics staff has kept busy. “We have been using this time to look at our rules and all that we do in CYO sports and see how we can improve and streamline things for our programs,” Nova said.
The second annual Pastoral Juvenil Hispana (PJH) Teen Retreat, which would have been May 1-3, worked around the current circumstances. Marisally Santiago, associate director for PJH and Young Adult Outreach, and the PJH committee took sessions from the planned retreat and transformed them into virtual sessions. She has also been holding virtual gatherings for PJH leaders and young adult ministry leaders to keep them connected and to share resources. “This has really allowed for more outreach and more expanding,” Santiago said of these unprecedented times. “We have had the opportunity to reach some people and get people involved in our virtual meetings and gatherings who traditionally would not have been able to do so due to conflicts.”
Retreats and Challenge Course Leadership Retreats at the Kearny facility have also made adjustments. “We were just about to move into our busiest season of the year when everything had to stop,” explained Joel Gomez, associate director for retreats. “We are currently beginning to put together virtual retreats in case we cannot gather in person come this fall (so) schools and parishes can still have retreat opportunities. We hope to have something out by July 1 on these new opportunities.”
With the retreat center currently closed, Conboy said it has allowed for improvements across its five-acre campus. “Our maintenance men have been doing a thorough cleaning and disinfecting of the building,” Conboy said. “It has also given them the chance to catch up on painting and other maintenance tasks to keep the facility up to date and ready for when we can start to welcome our youth and young adults back here.”
Lastly, Conboy shared how proud he is of the entire team. “From our administrative staff to associate directors, right up to our maintenance,” he said. “These past few months have been hard for all of us, but I remember something Rich Donovan shared with me, ‘During a crisis, creativity can thrive!’”