By STEPHEN O’KANE, Staff Writer | Published January 29, 2009
More than 80 Catholic college students gathered in Atlanta to ring in the New Year with the 25th National Catholic Student Coalition Leadership Conference.
Under the theme “Our Catholic Faith, Our Nation in Need,” the students listened to keynote speakers and participated in workshops Dec. 31 through Jan. 4, while meeting their peers from around the country.
This year two speakers led the conference: Paul George, co-founder of ADORE Ministries, a nonprofit serving the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, La., and Jill Rauh, outreach and youth and young adult coordinator for the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Others, including priests, religious, college students and ministry leaders, also presented workshops on a variety of topics, including how to follow one’s heart, how to avoid burnout in ministry and how to connect faith with caring for the environment.
While attendance was down slightly from previous years, those who came said they were able to connect on a closer level.
“We all had a blast really,” said Jennifer Benoit, conference chair 2008, by e-mail. “It was kind of nice to be smaller because you had more of an opportunity to meet everyone and get to know them on a more personal level than our conferences with 300-500 people.”
Dorothy Polchinski, associate director for adult and young adult ministry in the archdiocesan Office of Religious Education, presented a workshop on social justice.
Entitled “Social Justice Begins in the Womb,” it focused on teaching young adults how they can grow in their knowledge of the dignity of life.
Recognizing that social justice begins in the womb starts with each person recognizing his or her own dignity as a child of God, she said.
Polchinski, who studied theology at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome, Italy, as well as at Franciscan University of Steubenville where she received her master’s degree in 2006, has been involved in a variety of ministry roles for over 13 years.
One of eight children, she also gave several personal testimonies, including her parents’ “yes” to life. She told the story of how a doctor nearly persuaded her parents to have a procedure to prevent them from having additional children. If they had listened to the doctor, she would never have been born, Polchinski said.
She also told the story of a group she was involved with in college. The group of students encountered a mother and a father who were waiting for their appointment at an abortion clinic. The couple had already paid for the abortion and came outside to smoke a cigarette.
After talking with the young adults, the couple decided not to have the abortion.
The group raised funds and bought everything for the mother on her baby gift registry, Polchinski said.
She wanted to give the students an encouraging message: that they can make a difference.
At the end of the workshop, she led a brainstorming session to help them prepare ideas to bring back to their home campuses.
In the eyes of the NCSC, the conference was successful.
“So far, nothing but positive responses,” said Benoit. “(The students) are all full of joy, spirit, enthusiasm, and they all feel very blessed and inspired to go back to their campuses and share their faith and what they’ve learned.”