A story of scandal is always a draw for us fallen human creatures. The stench of sin brings a flavor unparalleled to the woeful stories of the broken world, both on national and on personal level.
But we humans are drawn more to stories of survival. To stories of beating the odds. To stories that inspire us to be stronger. To stories of perseverance, faith and hope.
This is one such story – one that is centered around a group of young adults who refused to back down from a challenge. It is a story of how patience and zeal brought forth a victory over the “killing breath” of Covid-19. And the best part of it is…that none of it is fiction or exaggerated. It is all genuine.
The story begins in the fall of 2017 with a scattered group of young men and women between the ages of 18-35. At that time, the Mater Dei Latin Mass Community FSSP in Harrisburg, PA was experiencing a small boom in young adult attendance. So naturally, they wished for fellowship.
The “Young Adult Group” or YAG as it became commonly called, had a rocky beginning, characterized by spontaneous events and patchy communication. And game nights. Lots and lots of game nights. Unnamed and unconsecrated, it had only one purpose – a social outlet for lonely persons.
While this was an excellent starting point, it became clear that being “just a social outlet” was not enough. The initial boom of interest soon slowed to a trickle. Attendance became sparse. Months passed with few to no events. It was clear that the young adults needed something more.
After a meeting with several young adults and the assistant chaplain, it became clear that order and consistency were the things needed for success. And so by fall 2019, a three month rotation of events had developed: a house party, a Sunday brunch and a “bigger event”. This “bigger event” would take the form of many things: bowling outings, potluck picnics, laser tag, and sports games to name a few. A second coordinator was added to handle the growing number of communications. Father started adding philosophical discussions and meditations from Scripture to boost intellectual growth. The early months of 2020 saw a growing momentum, with plans to expand the number of meetings and to take our first trip to Emittsburg, MD.
Enter Covid-19. In the space of only days, a dizzying series of events happened. Employees were furloughed. Mass was suspended. The trip to Emmitsburg was cancelled.
Had we had the benefit of foresight into how long the pandemic was to last, despair might have filled the ranks. We could have thrown up our hands. What happened instead, though, could be embodied by the verse Matthew 26:41, “Watch ye and pray.”
March 2020 went by with a Rosary Rally and increased penance at home. Easter and April went by, with seemingly no sign of Masses returning. Still, eyes continued to watch the directives coming from the Capitol…and more importantly to watch the colors on the PA map. By this, I mean the restriction status, denoted by the colors Red, Yellow and Green. Taking it one week at a time, the coordinators planned and schemed for the upcoming summer, waiting for that “inch” to let them go the mile.
That “inch” was given in May 2020 by way of a Yellow county designation…which allowed for a five mile hike up Peter’s Mountain in Duncannon. From there, sights were set on to an even bolder enterprise: to host a “regional” TLM parish volleyball tournament.
You may ask yourself, how is this possible? Are not TLM parishes spread out over hundreds of miles?
Well, here in Pennsylvania, there are several Traditional Latin Mass parishes. We have four FSSP parishes, 1 ICKSP parish, a traditional Discalced Carmel, and several diocesan parishes including Queen of Peace in Patton, and St. Joseph’s in Lancaster. All of which are within three hours drive of each other. In fact, many of our YAG members “bounce” between these parishes. And Harrisburg, being centrally located, is a perfect hub.
The idea of a regional volleyball tournament had been swirling around since pre-Covid days. But as lockdowns and restrictions tightened and loosened accordingly, simple things such as reserving a pavilion proved to be a massive headache. Another inch had to be given…this time to Green Phase. And Dauphin County – the county in which Harrisburg sits in – was proving to be one of the last counties to even consider it.
In a whisper, cancellation of the tournament was talked of. But the YAG coordinators refused to consider that. Whether that was because of hope or desperation, we will never know for certain. But whatever the case, it was down to more watching, and more praying.
And then, just about a month before the proposed tournament date, Dauphin County attained Green status.
From there, it was a flurry to put the old plans into execution. A pavilion on the outskirts of Lower Paxton Township was snatched up. Two other TLM parishes accepted our hasty invitation, and the turnout amounted to about 50 people…coincidently, the maximum allowed under the then-current restrictions!
To cut a long story short, the tournament was a smashing success, even if our team did not win the laurels. In addition to the many friendships that it facilitated, it also led to cross-participation between members of differing YAGs. This helped many who still struggled with tight restrictions in their own communities.
By fall 2020, we had gotten over the largest hurdles and had expanded our meetings as we had planned. That being said, Covid-19 still threw a curveball every once in a while. For example, Governor Wolf’s December ban on indoor dining brought forth a 40 degree picnic with restaurant takeout as one of our brunches. (Though I should put forth a disclaimer: we were bribed with false promises of a balmy day by the weatherman.)
But as we looked back, we realized that we now had an established group – one that looked as if it would stay. In our community, many of the social groups are dedicated to a particular saint. And so, Father initiated an election to choose our own patron. And like many elections of 2020, it was drawn out much longer than it should have. After a failed attempt at email-in balloting, and an aborted in-person election, St. Catherine of Siena was voted as patron saint of our YAG in October 2020. We had chosen her – albeitly at the subtle influence of various persons who shall remain nameless – in light of her legacy as a lay voice of orthodoxy amidst a quite broken world. Our YAG was officially consecrated to St. Catherine of Siena on February 27, 2021, complete with her Litany and a blessing of an image of her by Beccafumi.
Since then, the YAG has only grown in leaps and bounds. Our email list now boasts of over 60 members. Instead of just one monthly meeting, we now have at least two, if three or four. We have just finished our first official Zoom Bible Study, which was on the book of Genesis. We have been adding on corporal works of mercy including meals for a local hospice and volunteering at the Discalced Carmel of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in Fairfield, PA.
Our fellowship with other young adult groups has increased dramatically. Examples include the Voyage Young Adult Group from the Diocese of Harrisburg and the Penn State Latin Mass Group, which was featured on OnePeterFive not too long ago. We have also started to reach out to several Juventutem chapters in the state to build a regional TLM young adult network. We’ve begun connecting other organizations in the diocese, such as the pro-life group Undefeated Courage. A small group of us have participated in the Pilgrimage for Restoration, and we plan to do so again this year. And our now-annual regional TLM volleyball tournament – now with extra time for planning – is also slated to be much bigger.
I think the pandemic has taught our little community some really important lessons. How to be patient. How to be resourceful. How to communicate and network with others. And most importantly, how not to back down from a challenge, but to work around.
A momentous challenge is like meeting a big Stonehenge-style boulder. Some only stare at it, if not beat their heads into it. But others shoot up ropes and scale it. Still others use their feet to walk around it. And some will patiently and painstakingly tunnel underneath of them…if not through them.
But we could not do any of this on our own. It is only through the grace of the Triune God, and the intercession of our Blessed Mother, St. Joseph and our indomintiable patroness St. Catherine of Siena, that we have met every challenge we have come across. And we pray that we may do so for years to come.
In closing, I would like to encourage my fellow young adults to consider starting Young Adult groups in your own parishes. Or, if there is already one established, please consider joining it. The fruits of the fellowship alone are quite beneficial to the soul, especially in these trying times. Once that community is established, you have the power and the tools to, as St. Catherine would say, “set the world on fire”…for Christ.
Jessica Michonski is the Assistant Coordinator of the St. Catherine of Siena Young Adult Group, based out of Mater Dei Latin Mass Community, FSSP, Harrisburg, PA. A Traditional Catholic since 2010, she is also currently a first year graduate student studying public history through Fort Hays State University. She hopes to work in a living history museum, that is, unless Prince Charming finds her first. In addition to writing blog posts and novels, Jessica indulges in many other hobbies including fiber spinning, sewing modest clothing, gardening and baking.