Anna Comitz is not one to back away from a challenge, especially when that challenge deals with the teenagers she works with. Comitz has lead the senior-high youth group for Sacred Heart and St. Ann’s parishes in Auburn and Owasco for the past four years, and on July 1 became youth minister for St. Mary’s Parish in Auburn as well.
Father Steve Lape, former parochial vicar at St. Mary’s, had led the parish’s junior- and senior-high youth groups, but he left the parish at the end of June to begin his first pastorate at St. Jerome’s in East Rochester. Comitz will merge the two senior-high youth groups and will open St. Mary’s junior-high group to kids from Sacred Heart and St. Ann’s, who do not have a junior-high youth group of their own.The junior-high group is something many youngsters at Sacred Heart and St. Ann’s have been eagerly awaiting, Comitz said.
“At Sacred Heart they’ve been wanting this. They have the hunger for something. They can’t wait to get into senior high,” she said.
Comitz is one of at least four youth ministers in the Finger Lakes region who minister to teens from several different parishes. This type of situation comes with its own challenges as well as its own benefits, the youth ministers said.
Martha DeBoover is the youth minister for St. Theresa’s Parish in Stanley, St. Mary’s Parish in Rushville and St. Michael’s Parish in Penn Yan, three of the six parishes that comprise Our Lady of the Lakes Catholic Community. The distance between the parishes is one of the biggest challenges she faces, she said. Stanley and Rushville are six miles apart, and both towns are at least 12 miles from Penn Yan.
The three parishes take turns hosting youth-group meetings, and some teens are more likely to attend youth-group events when they’re held at their home parish. It can be difficult to fairly distribute liturgies, community-service projects and meetings between the three parishes, DeBoover said.
Sister of St. Joseph Catherine Gibbons often faces a similar problem. Sister Gibbons, faith-formation coordinator for St. John’s Parish in Clyde, St. Patrick’s Parish in Savannah and St. Michael’s Parish in Lyons, leads a combined youth group for junior-high and senior-high students from the three parishes. St. John’s and St. Michael’s take turns hosting youth-group meetings, she said.
In Auburn, senior-high youth-group meetings will still take place at Sacred Heart, and junior-high youth-group meetings will take place at St. Mary’s, Comitz said. She acknowledged that working in two different places and with two different staffs might take some getting used to.
Athletic rivalries also posed a problem for Sister Gibbons. Clyde-Savannah and Lyons high schools are in the same division and have traditionally been rivals on the athletic field, she said.
“The kids would say to me, ‘They’re our enemies.’ I would say, ‘No, they’re our rivals,'” Sister Gibbons said.
She used the situation as a way to teach the teens to be Christ-like, loving even their rivals. Over time, the teens have learned to forget about the athletic rivalry, at least while they’re at youth group.
“When I have the kids together, they’re fine. They can do it, they can handle it,” Sister Gibbons said. “You build the church in a way, because you teach them the church goes beyond the doors of their physical parish they’re used to. It broadens their horizons and helps them recognize other people’s gifts.”
Having a combined youth group has actually been beneficial because the rural communities of Lyons, Clyde and Savannah don’t have a very large pool of kids to bring together, Sister Gibbons said. If each parish had its own youth group, the groups would be very small. There is more variety and interaction in a group with more members, she said.
The teens in DeBoover’s youth group also have overcome any differences they may have had and, in doing so, have also brought their parents together.
“You wouldn’t know that they compete against each other in sports. We’re all there together for the same reason. It’s amazing, and it’s such an example for the rest of our cluster,” DeBoover said. “It brings hope for the future of Our Lady of the Lakes. I think it shows the whole cluster how we can intermingle.”
Athletic rivalries probably won’t pose much of a challenge, since Auburn has only one high school and two middle schools, Comitz said. In fact, the combined youth group will help the students from different parishes come together the same way they do on sports teams, she added.
“I hope that it all works out, and I’m very excited about it. I’m blessed with two groups,” Comitz said. “My goal is to make each and every one of (the youths) a great leader when they leave me their senior year.”
Comitz also hopes to reach out and make a difference in the lives of each teen in the parishes she serves, even if she makes that difference through a simple gesture like a birthday card.
Working with teens is more than just a job for Comitz; it’s her passion.
“I don’t know what I do for them, but I know what they do for me,” Comitz said. “I’m not intimidated, I’m not scared; I’m just excited.”