Newark native lands post in Rome

By Jennifer Burke/Catholic Courier    |    12.20.2009
Category: Young Adult


Bobbie Anne Abson McGrath, 23, knows God has a plan for her. She doesn't always know the details, but three months ago she learned the plan apparently includes a two-year stay in Rome, Italy.

On September 1 Abson McGrath will become director of the St. Lawrence Youth Center in Rome. She will fly to Rome later this month to train with the current director of the center, which Pope John Paul II opened in 1983.

"It's the youth center that Pope John Paul II gave to the youth of Rome in the beginning of his pontificate. He asked that the youth of Rome would welcome the youth from around the world," Abson McGrath said.

Abson McGrath, who grew up attending St. Michael Parish in Newark, is certain God had a hand in this recent turn of events.

"It was a little bit miraculous," she said.

Abson McGrath has always liked working with young people. For several years she's hoped to eventually become a full-time youth or campus minister, and even served as a parish youth minister while she was in college at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa.

It was at St. Vincent University that another piece of the puzzle fell into place for Abson McGrath. In 2002 she met several representatives of Emmanuel Community, an international Catholic institution. She said she was at first wary of the group's charismatic nature, but also attracted to the community's focus on adoration, compassion and evangelization.

Members of the community seemed to embrace a healthy blend of spiritual elements and had a beautiful sense of liturgy, Abson McGrath said, noting that she eventually became comfortable with the community's philosophy.

"It was something that I could accept although I didn't want to be a part of it," she said.

That changed in 2004, however, when Abson McGrath enrolled in a nine-month missionary-formation program at the Emmanuel School of Mission in Rome. The school's students live in and staff the St. Lawrence Youth Center, which is under the patronage of the Pontifical Council for the Laity.

"Living at the school, living in community (with Emmanuel members) and participating in their liturgies really drew me in and made me want to join," Abson McGrath said. "I actually took my first step in the community in June 2005."

Abson McGrath returned to the United States after World Youth Day 2005, which took place in Cologne, Germany, in August. She applied for a number of youth-minister and faith-formation coordinator positions at parishes throughout the diocese. When she wasn't hired for any of those positions, Abson McGrath took a job as a nanny and prayed for guidance.

Meanwhile, she kept in touch with her colleagues in Emmanuel Community, some of whom were still at the St. Lawrence Youth Center.

"At first I was really disappointed. Now obviously I see how the Lord worked through all that," Abson McGrath said. "In March I was just praying that the Lord would give me a mission. Then one day I just got this e-mail asking if I would like to accept this two-year (directorship)."

Abson McGrath quickly accepted and is looking forward to stepping into her new role. As director, she will be responsible for scheduling priests to celebrate Masses at the center and for arranging the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.

The youth center houses the cross used during the inaugural World Youth Day in Rome in 1986. People from around the world travel to the center to see the cross, which is also occasionally brought to churches around Italy. Abson McGrath will be responsible for scheduling such trips and making sure the cross is in the right place at the right time, she said.

Abson McGrath is also looking forward to planning and hosting programs and events -- such as Christian-music concerts and prayer services -- at the center. The programming can be free-standing or it can be timed to coincide with other events in Rome.When Pope John Paul II passed away, for example, the center presented a special adoration service, which Abson McGrath attended.

"It's really open-ended in that way," she said.

Abson McGrath said she is not yet sure what she'll do at the completion of her term as the center's director. She said she thinks she'd like to become a campus minister, which would enable her to help young adults understand the significance of their faith.

"I think that college is one of the most important times in our spiritual life because it's when our faith either becomes our own or disappears," she added.

As a campus minister, Abson McGrath could give a spiritual boost to young adults seeking to learn more about themselves and their faith. She has had many such spiritual boosters in her own life, including her uncle, Father William "Mickey" McGrath, pastor at St. Columba/St. Patrick Parish in Caledonia. Abson McGrath and her uncle -- who was ordained in 2000 -- are more than just relatives; they're close friends, as well, she said.

"He's very spiritually supportive. He's just really a wonderful resource," she said.

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