Oftentimes teens find it easier to live out their Catholic faith in the safe environment of a youth retreat than in a more difficult situation such as public high school. The same cannot be said of 18-year-old James DeWitt III, who is known for sticking to his convictions no matter what.
This determination is part of the reason James — who goes by Jim — received the diocesan Hands of Christ recognition last fall. His parents nominated him for the honor because they are impressed by the enthusiasm he brings to his faith and his fierce commitment to it.
“We are so proud and grateful to God for the spirit so alive and on fire that we see when (Jim) prepares for and comes home from retreats and conventions,” Jim and Nancy DeWitt wrote in their son’s nomination letter. “We are grateful, too, for his commitment to live his faith in action, not only in these retreats and activities, but more so in his daily family life and school life. He tries to live a moral life of character in his school, even when this goes against the grain of convention.”
Jim, who recently graduated from Newark High School, doesn’t go out of his way to push his faith on his peers at school and in the community. Instead he prefers to provide a quiet example by abstaining from drugs, alcohol and harmful behaviors he knows go against church teaching.
“I don’t drink, and I don’t smoke or do drugs. I don’t try to be in people’s faces about that. I just try to set an example by myself without stuffing it down anyone’s throat,” he said.
Jim’s approach seems to work, as several people have told him they admire the way he lives his life, he noted. Since his peers know his convictions he doesn’t often find himself in situations where they are tested. Even so, it was difficult when some of his friends decided to drink, he said.
“It was a little hard, but I knew that this was the path I had decided to follow and was what I wanted to do with my life. (Alcohol) is something I’ve chosen to stay away from,” he said.
As a high-school freshman Jim became involved with the youth group at his parish, St. Michael in Newark, and that participation has helped him hold fast to his faith and convictions. Through the youth group he learned about the diocese’s youth-retreat program and, at the suggestion of his father, he attended his first diocesan retreat as a freshman.
“I didn’t know what to expect, but ever since I’ve been completely hooked,” Jim said. “Just going to that retreat and meeting the people who shared that faith and making new friends — it was an awakening experience.”
Jim continued to attend diocesan retreats throughout the rest of his high-school years and even staffed them during his junior and senior years. He met some of his closest friends and his girlfriend through these retreats, and he credits the retreats with shaping his teenage years. At these retreats, he met people who shared his faith and values and was able to explore and deepen his own spirituality.
“I think that every Catholic youth should attend these retreats,” he said, adding a bit of advice for first-time retreatants: “Try to keep yourself as open as possible.”
Delving into something as personal as one’s spirituality can be a little scary and uncomfortable at first, but the end result is definitely worth it, he said, noting that he always comes home from a retreat feeling refreshed and “like a clean slate.”
Last October, Jim and a few other people from his parish attended the National Catholic Youth Conference, which was held in Atlanta, Ga. The conference was a life-changing experience, and the closing Mass — which was held at the Atlanta Falcons’ Georgia Dome — was especially moving, he said.
“It was absolutely the most amazing experience of my life. To see half of the stadium filled to the brink with like-minded Catholic youth … it was intense,” Jim remarked.
During the four-day conference, Jim met Catholic teens from various parts of the country, and he still keeps in touch with teens he met from Texas and Iowa. He also met and forged friendships with a lot of young people from the Diocese of Rochester that he hadn’t met before.
At NCYC, Jim was surrounded by approximately 18,000 other teens who were excited about their Catholic faith. This experience had a lasting effect on him and even changed the way he looked at his faith after returning home to Newark.
“Sometimes when you’re at a smaller church, I find it’s a little bit harder to see God in everyday life. Going to something like (NCYC) really helps you see he’s really all around us,” Jim said.
Jim not only sees God all around him, but he also has found his own ways to show God’s love to others. As a freshman and sophomore he served as a youth representative on St. Michael’s parish council, updating council members on youth happenings in the parish while keeping himself up-to-date on other parish events. Through the parish youth group, he has served at French-toast breakfast fundraisers and has volunteered with the Newark Free Lunch Program.
Jim also is a member of Newark High School’s chapter of the National Honor Society and participated in an organization that helped underclassmen adjust to life at the high school.