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Vocations are fruits of St. Ann youth program

By Angela J. Palacios
Special to The Texas Catholic

COPPELL — Michael Baynham remembers kneeling at a chapel at St. Ann Catholic Church, surrounded by his fellow youth group members. Their eyes were fixed to the center of the room.

At the altar stood the monstrance, glowing with the reflection of the candlelight. Baynham couldn’t help but notice a burning desire in his heart.

It was at this confirmation retreat where Baynham’s spiritual transformation began, a journey that would change his life.

“I was in Adoration and I just heard God calling me; I was just 15 years old and I heard the call to be a priest,” Baynham said.

Nearly four years later, Baynham is a second-year seminarian at Holy Trinity Seminary in Irving. He attributes his spiritual foundation to the youth ministry program at St. Ann that helped form him through high school.

“The youth group made a really big impact on me,” Baynham said. “It got my prayer life going and it taught me a lot about the faith, things that every Catholic should know but that I hadn’t been taught anywhere else before.”

An active program

With more than 300 high school students who attend the program each week, St. Ann’s youth ministry program gives students more than just something to do. The program is active with retreats, service projects, mission trips and weekly meetings.

Each week, the youth are given the opportunity to engage in fellowship, daily Mass and faith discussions where the youth can grow spiritually while gaining a network of friends.

“It helps with your faith that you have a group of friends that believe in things you do so you’re not pressured to do junk,” said 16-year-old Hailey Armstrong.

Led by youth ministry director Kurt Klement, the program has given way to 13 men who have considered a vocation to the priesthood or religious life in the past five years.

“The impact of the youth ministry is one of the most consistent factors of all these guys,” Klement said. “They are all beautiful young men and you would have never known that out of all the guys who went through the seminary only one of them went through Catholic school.”

Answering the call

Although the small suburbs surrounding the area are rich with protestant churches, the fruits of St. Ann’s youth ministry program are evident.

“We offer the sacraments, the church’s fullness of the teaching and the rich treasure of tradition and the spiritual life,” Klement said. “We can learn a lot from our protestant brothers and sisters in areas such as going out into the culture to engage young people and in evangelization but the young people are hungry and they are searching for something that even transcends the here and now.”

As a member of St. Ann’s Parish for more than 10 years, Baynham joined the youth group once he began high school after seeing his older brother, Jeffrey, go through the program. After hearing the call, under his parents’ guidance, he decided to stay in school for the remainder of his high school days.

“When I first told my parents they were kind of shocked and they wanted me to live a normal high schooler’s life but once I reached the end of high school they were really supportive of me entering seminary and pursuing a priestly life,” Baynham said. “But the time I spent at the Adoration chapel was really what gave me peace in my answer to God.”

In 2005, St. Ann’s Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration chapel, one of a few in the Diocese of Dallas open 24 hours a day, was dedicated in honor of Pope John Paul II for an increase of vocations from the parish.

A spiritual journey

Brother Peter Bares, a member of St. Ann’s for more than 10 years, is currently living in the Monastery of Saint Benedict in Norcia, Italy, awaiting another year to make his solemn vows. As a one-time regular youth group attendee, Bares remembers the journey it took to get where he is now.

“I was not a picture perfect holy roller, even though it may have seemed that way to others sometimes,” Bares said. “I definitely bought in to a lot of the lies of the world and I am no stranger to sin. But having that influence from the youth group and the sort of fervent Catholic subculture we were blessed to have to call me back to my senses and to goodness was certainly indispensable in making me who I am today.”

After entering the monastery at the age of 19, Bares continued through observing the life of a Benedictine monk, and later to make simple vows. Now several years later, Bares recalls the friendships and influence the youth ministry gave him.

“Since most of my good friends were also involved in the youth group that ended up meaning I had some really good peer pressure that no doubt made a big difference in decisions I made during high school,” Bares said. “The fact that several of [the St. Ann’s youth] are now, have been, or are becoming seminarians is a huge and extraordinary blessing in which I still find a lot of encouragement to persevere.”

Angela J. Palacios, The Texas Catholic’s 2009 summer intern, is a freelance writer in Corpus Christi.