GARDEN CITY—Carrie Dupre was not a Catholic when she started attending Life Teen meetings with friends at St. Michael Church in Garden City about five years ago.
Two years later, however, she converted to Catholicism and now this Winthrop University freshman helps lead youth group activities at St. Anne Church in Rock Hill.
Dupre, 18, said it was the camaraderie and vibrant faith of Life Teen members and group leaders that led her to the strong, faith-filled life she leads today.
“The adult leaders in Garden City were very welcoming and supportive, and they encouraged me to be comfortable even when I was a different faith when I started,” Dupre said in an interview with The Miscellany. “The Life Teen program offered a lot of good core material about the faith. I would recommend it for any teen that really felt they wanted to have a stronger connection with God.”
Dupre is one of many young people who have strengthened their faith through St. Michael’s Life Teen program, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.
Life Teen is an international movement for Catholic youth, ages 13-17, that started at a parish in Mesa, Ariz., in 1985. It has since spread to an estimated 1,050 parishes in 22 countries, according to its Web site, www.lifeteen.com.
The first Life Teen group developed a format that is still in use in parishes today. The program combines a weekly Mass for teens and their families with meetings called “Life Nights” that focus on catechesis. Some groups meet weekly, while others vary the schedule.
Many parishes also have a program called Edge which is designed for middle school students. Life Teen programs are approved by the parish priest and led by adult volunteers. At Life Teen Masses, young people often serve as lectors and ushers, and most feature high energy, contemporary music.
Susan Starr, director of St. Michael’s youth ministry, said about 50 teens regularly attend the weekly 5:30 p.m. Life Teen Mass and the dinner and meetings afterward. Music is provided by a band comprised of teens and young adults.
“There’s been phenomenal support here,” Starr said. “The surprising thing about the 5:30 Mass is that even though it’s a youth Mass, it’s not just young people who come. We see some of the older people who come and say they love to see the young people in the church taking such an active role.”
Father Raymond Carlo, pastor of St. Michael, said the program offers teens a structure that can help them grow in their faith.
“They discuss different issues, and then also have a fun activity together,” he said. “There’s real content in what they do at the meetings. I think the proof of its effectiveness is that many kids who are in college now still come back regularly and participate in the Mass and help with the music.”
Father Carlo said one young man who completed the Life Teen program is seriously considering a vocation to the priesthood.
Currently, eight parishes in the Diocese of Charleston offer the program, according to Joseph Maggio, youth ministry leader and Life Teen coordinator at St. Mary Magdalene Church in Simpsonville.
Maggio and Starr said the meetings often focus on topics and themes provided in material from the national organization, but many leaders may alter the format slightly according to the needs of their groups. Groups also hold social activities and do service projects together.
“We really stress the life of Christ, and we try to bring them to the love of Christ,” Maggio said. “We want them to know a Christ they can truly believe in, and can see his work in the world. Hopefully, they pass that knowledge on to others and continue to grow closer to Christ themselves.”
At St. Mary Help of Christians Church in Aiken, Life Teen is part of their youth program, which also includes regular Bible studies, weekly Masses at 5 p.m. and other activities, said Joan LaBone, director of youth ministries.
“Life Teen sets up a model that really helps the kids to connect the Mass with what they’re learning through regular catechesis and at the Life Nights,” LaBone said. “Everything we do always comes back to the Mass.”
Msgr. Steven L. Brovey, vicar for Divine Worship and Sacraments for the diocese, said those who use the Life Teen format are required to follow the same liturgical norms and rubrics as any other Mass.
In the past, the program received criticism when some Life Teen leaders wanted to have the youth stand at the altar with the priest for the consecration, and promoted a change in the response of the congregation at the dismissal of the Mass. This has since changed.
“These innovations are not permitted,” Msgr. Brovey said. “Each and every Mass celebrated in a parish must follow the same directives as put forth by the church regardless of the age of those who happen to be in attendance.”
Alex Muller, 17, is a high school senior who plays guitar in the Life Teen band at St. Michael. He said the program changed his life by introducing him to other young Catholics who were living their faith.
“It’s taught me how to be a good person and to be close to God,” he said. “I’ve learned how to be the best I can be in my faith even throughout the struggles of being a teenager.”