Fr. Aaron Laskiewicz at a previous Wisconsin Catholic Youth Rally. (Submitted photo)

Organizers of the Wisconsin Catholic Youth Rally thought the 2020 event was going to be a record breaker.

Registration for the event at Carroll University was at an all-time high in its 15th year, and organizers at Arise Milwaukee, which hosts the conference, were rolling out a brand-new experience for Catholic schools that had received overwhelmingly positive feedback.

But at the last-minute, an uninvited guest upended the carefully laid plans. With COVID-19 emerging as a threat to public health, Gov. Tony Evers restricted public gatherings to 250 people, and though many registrants of WCYR still wanted the conference to go ahead, Arise Milwaukee made the decision to comply with the governor’s order.

“It was our first annual Catholic Schools Edition on Friday. We had a sellout crowd for sixth- to eighth-grade Catholic school students, with the middle and high school edition on Saturday,” said Brian Magliocco, executive director of Arise Milwaukee. “We had a record attendance of almost 1,900 between the two days. It was really exciting. Then, literally the day before, Thursday, was the day that Gov. Evers announced they were going to have to go to no groups over 250 people. We had the event set up and we had to tear it all down literally hours before the event.”

A year later, Arise Milwaukee is back at it, and though the conference will look a bit different this year, the return of a little normalcy is especially sweet.

“What we’re excited about is, while it seems like many events ministries are solely doing their events virtually, we felt called to have an in-person option,” said Magliocco.

WCYR 2021 will be taking place both in-person and virtually from its base at Holy Apostles Parish in New Berlin on Saturday, March 13. The gathering will not be as large as previous years, to comply with archdiocese and state of Wisconsin health protocols, and the length has also been shortened to a half-day event.

The theme of the rally is the same as last year — “Fiat,” a particularly fitting sentiment in a world gripped by a global pandemic. Last year’s scheduled keynote speaker, Nic Frank, will return, as will musician Josh Blakesley from Houston to provide worship music. Fr. Enrique Hernandez and Fr. Aaron Laskiewicz will be the principal celebrants.

Registration is open to groups, individuals and even to families who do not currently have teens at home. “The content we’re offering is not necessarily just going to be youth-based,” said Magliocco. “It could be something that someone that doesn’t have a teenager could be interested in signing up for, as just an uplifting Lenten experience.”

Several parishes are opting for the virtual model, hosting teens in their own parish space. Arise Milwaukee is encouraging these groups to get creative about planning additional in-person programming, such as having Eucharistic adoration in their own sanctuary while listening to the live-stream of praise and worship from the adoration at WCYR in New Berlin.

“Whether you’re coming in person or virtually, we don’t want this to be something where you sit on your couch or sit in a classroom and stare at a Smartboard,” said Magliocco. “We want this to be something different from just another Zoom meeting.”

Adrian Lynch, youth evangelization coordinator at St. Mary Parish in Hales Corners, will be incorporating the three-hour WCYR event into a day-long retreat for teens at his parish. “We feel that with all this craziness, we still want the youth to feel that their church is here for them,” he said. “We’re planning a whole-day thing with the rally being in the middle of it.” The day will begin with Mass in the morning and continue with the rally, which will be shown in the parish gathering space and gym.

“We’re going to black out the windows and have our sound system going — we want to create the ambiance where the kids will be excited to be here,” said Lynch. After the rally concludes at noon, the teens will share a meal, followed by an afternoon and evening retreat with Confession and large-group, socially distanced activities.

“Our youth needs to see that our church is still there,” he said. “St. Mary’s is still here. I know sometimes, especially with a bigger parish like ours, it’s more of ‘you come when you need us.’ But this is us saying, ‘We’re open and we need you.’”

“The longer this (pandemic) goes on, the less connected people feel to each other and to the Church, and in some cases, even though they’re back in school, they may not be back in church,” said Magliocco. “We probably don’t know the effects of what COVID-19 has had on these teenagers, and we probably won’t know that for many years. But I think that, for the students, it’s key to try to have some sense of normalcy in this abnormal year — which is now becoming an abnormal two years.”

To register for WCYR 2021, visit The cost is $15 for in-person and $10 for virtual.