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 | By Joey Reistroffer

Helping teens stay true to the faith during and after confirmation

“HI! I’m a hobo for heaven,” Colin Doering said as he addressed the confirmation class of 2023 at St. Paul the Apostle Church. It was the introduction to a full-day retreat during the first week of Advent. Over 30 candidates were preparing for this life-changing sacrament on the journey toward confirmation, and the Diocesan Missionary Team (DMT) came to Spartanburg to help point the way. The DMT works to reach young people “on the ground” in their parishes and Catholic schools.

Hobo is short for homeward bound,” Doering explained. “Hobos are people who travel from place to place. Our true home is in heaven. We’re all, as I like to say, hobos for heaven.”

It’s a long trip to heaven, hopefully a lifetime, with plenty of opportunities to pull over and read about those who have gone before us on this magnificent odyssey.

Doering encouraged the candidates to read about the saints.

“The saints teach us how to love others. A saint is someone who is in communion with God in heaven. St. Teresa of Calcutta offered her entire life to Jesus. She sought no attention for herself,” Doering said of this saint who cared for the poorest of the poor in the most horrible conditions.

“You all are called to be saints,” he added. “A saint is a sinner who never stops trying. And a saint is someone who never stops saying yes to God.”

Patrick O’Sullivan, another hobo for heaven on the DMT, said he immediately noticed a lot of “competitive souls” in this confirmation class, so they took a break and played the Trash Can Game with Doering and O’Sullivan showing them how. 

Basically, the group holds hands and forms a circle around a trash can. Then they maneuver, pushing and pulling, trying to get an opponent to run into it. The last one standing wins. The class got the point when they saw Doering hip-bomb one opponent, who hit the can. Game on!

O’Sullivan was right, and the gameplay got intense until all but one was eliminated. The team tailored all its games toward this competitive spirit, and the teens loved it.

“They were immediately willing to dive in, and it has carried on throughout the day. This is a great group of kids,” he said.

After one game, O’Sullivan delivered a sobering message. He told the class that a few years after confirmation some Catholics fall away from their faith. He said they looked stunned.

“No one had ever told them that that happens,” O’Sullivan said, adding that we “should tell the kids the honest truth. They will take it in, and they will digest it. That opens the door for the challenge.”

That challenge is to learn the Catholic faith and stay true to it in a positive way that will draw them closer to Jesus.

“The Church is a community. We’re here to have fun and be a family. It is not just about harsh doctrine,” O’Sullivan said. “God will keep you intact as long as you desire to have that relationship with him.”

O’Sullivan talked to the candidates about prayer, sacraments, fellowship and service.

“If you practice the first three, you will find yourself doing the fourth,” he said, then broke the elements down one by one.

  1. Prayer: “If you truly want a relationship with God, that is the easiest way to do it.”
  2. Sacraments: “Our Lord gave us these to remain close to him.”
  3. Fellowship: “These are your fellows,” O’Sullivan said, pointing to the candidates. “We’re not ever called to walk this life alone.”
  4. Service: “It can be as simple as walking a little old lady across the street, working at a soup kitchen, doing chores or just talking with someone.”

This is what being a Catholic is about, and he told them how the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit that they receive during confirmation blesses them with everything they need to go forward.

Those gifts are wisdom, understanding, knowledge, fortitude, counsel, piety and fear of the Lord.

“Pray about these things,” O’Sullivan said. “Even after confirmation, continue to pray about these gifts.”

A.K. Parker, one of the confirmation teachers, said the DMT was on the mark.

“I know most of these kids, and I can see them stepping outside their comfort zone, and that is a tribute to this team,” she said, adding that the candidates were clearly engaged in the retreat, leaning forward and truly listening.

“Our job is to build their relationship with Jesus Christ … because if we can’t plant that seed or desire, we are going to lose them,” Parker said.

Kate Gibson, director of youth ministry at St. Paul, applauded the DMT.

“They really know how to engage teenagers, even the ones that don’t want to participate,” she said. “They know how to make it meaningful for them.”

O’Sullivan was very humble about the compliment. He said that sometimes it takes hearing the message from a new face before it hits home.

And sometimes that new face just might be a hobo for heaven.

Joseph Reistroffer is a long-time writer who teaches religious education classes at St. Paul the Apostle Church in Spartanburg. Email him at