by Mary McGoff.
When members of MH attend conferences of any kind, one of the things we do is make efforts to connect with people. Those we meet, we seem to meet by chance, but we know that there is no "chance" with God.
We know that it is the Spirit who puts people in our paths; this is one of the reasons we attend conferences. What are the fruits of these encounters? Most of the time, we don’t know. The fruits are in God’s hands.
Signed, Sealed, and Delivered was the theme of the Second National Catholic Collegiate Conference (NCCC) held in Indianapolis, Indiana, from November 21 to 23. There Teresa Gehred and I represented Madonna House at a display table where we had the opportunity to introduce the 400 young adults attending this event to our Madonna House life.
Madonna House had an ad in the program book and our booth was in the main hallway of the Marriott Hotel, the main venue of the conference. So there was lots of traffic, and we had lots of time to engage the young adults.
Some of our "chance encounters," our "Holy Spirit moments" include the following:
Several groups of African-American kids had walked by our booth but hadn’t stopped. "They should stop at our table so we can tell them about Catherine and her work in Harlem," I said to Teresa. Almost immediately, a group of four girls did a U-turn and came to our table.
I really wanted to connect with students from some of the agricultural schools, like Purdue and Michigan State. I wanted to talk with them about Catherine Doherty’s vision of apostolic farming.
But after walking through the conference room looking for sweat shirts from these and other agricultural schools, I didn’t spot any.
Then later on, while I was sitting at our booth during a lull, a young man in a sweat shirt with the word, "Lafayette," stopped by. Purdue is in Lafayette, Indiana.
"Are you from Purdue?" I asked. He was, and we had a great chat. He has a sister doing pro-life work in Raleigh, North Carolina, where we have a house, and he said he would tell her about Madonna House.
On our display table, we had a lap top with a loop of MH pictures, some giveaway rosaries and medals, a felted lamb, holy cards, brochures, copies of Restoration, and some giveaway MH books. The lamb and rosaries seemed to be the eye-catchers, and some people stopped to chat.
At one point, we were down to just a few giveaway books, such as Doubts Loneliness, and Rejection. (How do you decide who to give that to?)
A young man who had visited our booth before, stopped by, and I said, "We want to give you a book. How about this one, Fr. Pat McNulty’s I Live Now Not I?"
The guy started crying. He had just been to confession, and what he and the priest had been talking about was the subtitle of that book, "Life as it is Now Becomes the Mystery of Love in Christ."
Archbishop Joseph Tobin, bishop of Indianapolis, one of the speakers and the celebrant of the closing Mass, stopped by our table to tell us that he had spent a week at Madonna House before he became a priest and that he had met Catherine and Fr. Eddie.
One afternoon, we had about an hour and a half free, and we decided to connect with another event which was being held nearby at the same time as the conference we were attending: the National Catholic Youth Conference for high school students from across the United States.
In the 1980s before I joined Madonna House, I was a youth minister in my hometown of Indianapolis, and at that time my parish and diocese was encouraging the teenagers to attend this event.
It was exciting to see how it has grown; 23,000 students attended this one. (Hopefully, many of them will attend the much-newer young adult conference in the years ahead.)
We walked around their thematic park, where there were over 200 booths and a large area for interactive activities. This is where the teens spent their time between workshops. As you can imagine, it was pretty "wild"—noisy and, for us adults, exhausting. We only talked to three people.
Two of them were at a booth whose big green sign caught our attention: "Gardening". "That’s kind of Madonna House-like," I said and we went over.
"Have you ever heard of Madonna House?" we asked the man sitting there. "Like Canada Madonna House?" he responded.
"Yes, that’s us."
"Shatzi Duffy is my godmother." Shatzi is one of the MH staff!
So we had a chat with Shatzi’s friend, Mark Ginter, and his son John, who operate a family farm in southern Indiana.
We had supper that night at a mall. It was as loud as the teenage convention center, so we ducked into a store to look at gadgets.
A young clerk came over to see if we needed help. "Are you with the NCYC?" she asked. "Yes, we’re with the college kids."
"I was there two years ago," she said. We had found another person whom we could tell about Madonna House.
At the closing Mass at the football stadium, at which the two groups were combined, we randomly chose a seat about ¾ of the way from the entrance. The first announcement was a request for the adult volunteers of the teen groups to stand up.
We looked about fifteen feet to our left, and there was Elizabeth Pillari, who had spent a year at Madonna House as a working guest in 2011. She was now a high school teacher and was with the high school conference. It was a happy reunion.
It was a full weekend, one which Teresa and I definitely see as a time of many blessings. For one thing, it gave us hope to see so many young people excited about the Church and attending the more serious workshops. They seemed to be like the young people who come to Madonna House: interested in the faith, open, and wanting to be with others who believe.
We’re hoping that some of them will come to Madonna House for our summer program or during their school breaks.
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