By Jennifer Mauro | Managing Editor
For three members of the Diocese’s staff, the path to the new diocesan Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministries has been in the works for a while.
For close to two years, Cristina Imparato and Jerry Wutkowski have been serving the diocesan Department of Evangelization and Family Life as ministry assistant and assistant coordinator of young adult ministry, respectively.
Father Martin O’Reilly, parochial vicar in St. Catharine-St. Margaret Parish, Spring Lake, and diocesan chaplain of youth ministry, arrived to the Diocese last summer after working with young people for more than 20 years in his native Ireland.
But it took the hiring of Dan Waddington as part-time member of the diocesan Department of Evangelization and Family Life in the spring to make the new department complete. Now, as full-time director of the Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministries effective July 1, Waddington and the team are ready to work together to heed God’s call in serving the young people of the Diocese.
“We want to be a support to both youth and young adults and also to those who serve them,” Waddington said.
As pastoral associate and youth minister in St. Barnabas Parish, Bayville, for 20 years, Waddington knows firsthand the importance of supporting those who walk with young people every day.
“We want every leader to know they can trust us to help them further their mission to bring youth and young adults to Jesus,” said Waddington, who holds a master’s degree in counseling psychology from Georgian Court University, Lakewood.
Imparato, the department’s new coordinator of young adult ministry, agreed. “We are at their service.”
History in the Diocese
Before July 1, youth and young adult ministry was most recently coordinated by the Department of Evangelization and Family Life. The ministry, however, has a long history in the Diocese, said Terry Ginther, diocesan chancellor.
Ginther explained that youth and young adult ministry was primarily aligned with Catholic schools and religious education. In 2011, when the Curia was restructured, Ginther made the case to Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., that the ministry belonged with the Department of Pastoral Life. It then was entrusted to the then-new department of Youth, Marriage and Family Life.
“In essence, the diocesan reorganization brought together a working group to develop a continuum of ministry beginning with teens, continuing through young adulthood, through marriage and into family life – and it was to engage both English-speaking and Spanish-speaking Catholics,” she said.
“Our experience between 2011 and 2017 with this working group model allowed a vision for evangelization to emerge across the phases of family life that was focused on making disciples,” she continued, citing initiatives that produced both the Plan for Strengthening Marriage in 2015 and the “Together in Mission” project that was introduced this year. “As a result, over the last year, Bishop O’Connell elected to move responsibility for evangelization and adult faith formation from the Catholic education area into Pastoral Life and Mission, pairing it with our efforts to strengthen marriage and support family life. This shift gave rise to the Department of Evangelization and Family Life.”
She said that experience also convinced leaders that a more intentional and comprehensive development of efforts for youth, campus and young adult ministry was needed. “The director and staff of the new Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministries will be focused on these efforts.”
Citing the number of Faith in Our Future Cohort action plans that name a goal related to youth or young adult ministry, “the time is right for the Diocese to focus increased resources on a department dedicated to improving outreach and engagement among youth and young adults,” Ginther said.
Committed to the Task
Timing is something with which the team is quite aware.
Waddington admits he is surprised to find himself taking on a new role after such a long stint working with St. Barnabas Parish teens. But after receiving word from Ginther on the new department – along with weeks of prayer and discussion with his wife, family and friends – he moved forward.
“It was overwhelming,” he said of the decision. “I went on a long discernment to see if this is what God was calling me to do.”
Said Wutkowski, who has taken on the role as ministry assistant, “You don’t know what God is going to ask you when you say yes to him.” Wutkowski was originally contacted for a one-year position with the Diocese when he first arrived two years ago by way of campus ministry at Illinois State University.
With statistics showing there are roughly 370,000 young people in the Diocese, all agreed the new department shows Bishop O’Connell is dedicated to teens and millennials.
“It shows a commitment on behalf of our Bishop and Diocese to support and encourage our youth and young adults to take an active part in our Church today,” Waddington said.
Imparato, who previously served in youth ministry for 12 years in the Diocese of Metuchen, said she is looking forward to implementing new plans and continuing practices recently put in place, such as coordinating countywide retreats and meetings of youth leaders.
“It’s been amazing getting to this point. We feel like this is Spirit-led,” she said. “We are excited to see where God leads us.”
Father O’Reilly stressed that there are already numerous programs and practices in place that are working well. “We don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” he said.
With that being said, he still asks that those in the Diocese pray for the new department because “with the Holy Spirit, we can achieve anything.”
To contact the Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministries’ staff, visit www.dioceseoftrenton.org/family-life-staff-1.