By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published February 23, 2017
SMYRNA—Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory honored leaders in youth ministry and graduates of a University of Dayton faith formation certificate program during a Jan. 30 awards luncheon at the Chancery of the archdiocese.
The archbishop celebrated Mass in the chapel prior to the ceremony. He presented five Companions on the Journey Awards of the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry.
The Companions on the Journey Award is the highest recognition from the NFCYM for a diocese to confer. The award recognizes excellence in youth ministry, commitment to ongoing education and formation, longevity in ministry, commitment to young people and outstanding leadership locally.
The Companions on the Journey recipients are Barbara Garvin of Holy Cross Church, Atlanta; Linda Koerner of Corpus Christi Church, Stone Mountain; Kathy Wolf McCormick of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Atlanta; Lynn Ory of St. Oliver Plunkett Church, Snellville; and Randy Raus of Life Teen.
Also recognized were 15 parish ministry leaders who earned certificates in catechesis and three others who received certificates in youth ministry, both from the University of Dayton’s Virtual Learning Community for Faith Formation.
Archbishop Gregory congratulated the recipients and thanked them for working with youth and for their desire to improve their skills.
“It’s important in a local church to have the folks who assist on the local level with the encouragement of faith development,” said the archbishop.
He acknowledged that working with children is a meaningful endeavor.
“They are the bright promise of tomorrow,” said Archbishop Gregory. “They represent the present, but in a very special way they also represent the future.”
The archbishop expressed gratitude for those who take up the work of catechesis.
“Thank you for helping to train people, to help them strengthen their faith, those who are coming to the church as inquirers and people searching for a church home. Thank you for putting out the welcome mat to them and for them,” he said.
Kathy Wolf McCormick
Katherine Angulo, associate director of youth ministry for the archdiocese, announced the Companions on the Journey honorees.
“It’s truly an honor to be able to be here and recognize the love, commitment and holiness of our youth ministers,” said Angulo. “We are fortunate to be located in an archdiocese where the care for the young church is so visible.”
McCormick began her work as a youth minister at St. Jude the Apostle Church in Atlanta, serving for six years. She then moved to Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Atlanta before becoming director of youth ministry for the archdiocese for four years, and its director of faith formation for another four years.
McCormick worked for RCL Catholic publishing company for a dozen years in product development, sales, and as a catechetical speaker. She returned to work on the parish level as director of faith formation and evangelization at the Cathedral of Christ the King more than three years ago.
McCormick has a journalism degree from the University of Georgia and a master’s in pastoral studies from Loyola University New Orleans. She is married and has three stepchildren and two grandchildren.
“When I was the director of youth ministry for the archdiocese, I had the privilege of working on the evangelization committee of the NFCYM. I have great respect for the NFCYM organization. It works tirelessly to serve the Catholic youth of our country,” said McCormick.
She said glory for the award goes to God.
“The Lord called me to serve the youth of this archdiocese, and I am glad I said ‘yes.’ Serving the youth of our Church has blessed me more than I can say,” said McCormick.
Garvin was youth minister of St. Pius X Church in Conyers from 1988 to 2000, before joining the archdiocesan youth office for nine years. In 2009, Garvin began serving as youth minister at Holy Cross Church and is now its director of faith formation.
“It was an honor and blessing to be recognized with the group of people honored. They are all friends as well as co-workers and I’m blessed to have them in my life,” said Garvin.
Her husband of 40 years died last year, and many youth ministry colleagues attended the funeral and supported her in that time of grief.
Garvin has two grown children and six grandchildren. She has a certificate in youth ministry from the Center for Ministry Development, a certificate in advanced youth ministry from Life Teen and Steubenville. She received an award for Shaping Catholic Identity in the Church’s Life, Faith and Mission at the National Catholic Educational Association convention in 2006.
“I am in the trenches,” said Ory, youth minister at St. Oliver Plunkett Church. She credits the other award winners for teaching her along the way, especially Garvin.
“I learned from Barb,” said Ory. “She’s the one who shaped and formed me.”
Ory said one amazing aspect of having served through the years is watching the growth of young people who then come back and volunteer.
“It’s been quite an experience,” said Ory.
She began her time at St. Oliver Plunkett as youth minister in 1998. From 2004 to 2008, she served as coordinator of middle school ministry for the archdiocese.
Her husband of 38 years, Randy, was ordained a permanent deacon Feb. 4. They have two daughters and two granddaughters.
“I have been blessed to have had many ‘companions on my journey,’ great support from the St. Oliver’s community and amazing volunteers who dedicate their time and talent to help our young church,” said Ory. “I am forever grateful to them all.”
Koerner started in youth ministry in Pennsylvania with her husband, Greg, before their 1982 move to Atlanta. After arriving, they volunteered at St. John Neumann Church in Lilburn as well as with the Engaged Encounter ministry and its board of directors. She became youth minister at St. John Neumann in 1999.
“It was wonderful watching the teens grow in their faith and love for our Lord over the years,” said Koerner.
She now sees them active in their faith communities as adults, raising Catholic families of their own. She watched several young men discern the priesthood, including Father Llane Briese.
“I was doing a job that I loved and had such a passion for these teens that I sometimes felt guilty getting paid to be the youth minister,” she said.
Koerner said while there were challenges and frustrations, they disappeared when seeing the light of Christ in a teen’s eyes.
In 2013, Koerner became director of faith formation at St. Pius X Church in Conyers, serving children, teens and adults. This year, she moved to the same position at Corpus Christi Church in Stone Mountain and loves the many nationalities represented there and sense of one human family.
Koerner and her husband of 43 years have three married children and eight grandchildren.
Her first pastor, Father Jim Fennessy, encouraged further education and Koerner has always taken advantage of classes available. She participated in the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia and is enrolled in the University of Dayton program.
When she learned of the award, Koerner felt undeserving and called it a “blessed and humbling day.”
Raus was unable to attend the ceremony as he was in Haiti on a mission trip.
Raus was Life Teen youth minister at St. Ann Church in Marietta for 11 years. He helped start the XLT prayer nights now hosted worldwide through Life Teen.
For the past decade, Raus has been president and CEO of Life Teen, “a movement of the Holy Spirit for teens in the Catholic Church.”
Raus was the catalyst for the two Life Teen camps in north Georgia—Camp Covecrest in Tiger and Camp Hidden Lake in Dahlonega. More than 5,000 young people go to weeklong camps there each summer. Parishes also use these camps for weekend retreats.
Raus’ home office is in Sandy Springs at the Life Teen Catholic bookstore, Mission District. He lives in Marietta with his wife, Monica, and their eight children. He holds a bachelor’s degree in business from the University of Alabama.
Raus was one of three youth ministers who brought Life Teen to the archdiocese in 1992.
“Life Teen is now in 53 parishes in the Archdiocese of Atlanta,” he said.
Under Raus’ leadership, Life Teen began hosting Steubenville Atlanta, bringing the national Catholic high school youth conference each summer to the metro area. Close to 3,000 teens attend the conference annually.
Honorees shaped local youth ministry
McCormick and Garvin were two of only six full-time youth ministers at parishes when they took up their work in the late 1980s.
“What happened with our crowd was that we finally put youth ministry on the map,” said McCormick.
Other parishes began to look toward having full-time youth ministers and devoting more resources to programs.
The Life Teen movement also helped parishes focus on serving youth and created a unity not there before. Garvin said even those parish ministries not currently using the Life Teen model were formed by it.
“It’s a discernment. You need prayer and spiritual direction just like any other vocation,” said McCormick about those considering working with youth. “There needs to be support for that person.”
She shares another word of advice, “If you don’t have a prayer life, get one.”
The Companions on the Journey winners say they enjoy being an extended family to the youth in their programs, a faith family.
Smartphones and social media have changed the game, they admit. Children are learning things sooner but have the same needs.
“They still want to be cared for,” said Garvin.
“They wanted to be loved and belong,” added McCormick.
McCormick said the youth ministry in the archdiocese is extremely vibrant. At Christ the King, the youth program is now called “Young Church.”
“They are the church of today,” said Koerner about young people.
Bill Clarke, coordinator of professional development for the archdiocesan Office of Formation and Discipleship, recognized the 18 graduates of the two certificate programs of the University of Dayton.
“For the past 12 years, the University of Dayton through their Virtual Learning Community for Faith Formation has been a pioneer in online Catholic religious education,” said Clarke.
The program offers certificates in catechesis and youth ministry with 500 online courses, serving 23,000 students from 70 dioceses in the U.S., and others abroad.
“Our archdiocese is one of a select group of dioceses called partner,” noted Clarke.
This partnership provides catechists from the archdiocese the chance to receive a tuition grant or incentive.
“Both programs require a great amount of effort on the part of the catechists to do it, anywhere from 18 to 24 rigorous months of study,” he said.