John Thompson is living a youth minister’s dream.

As director of youth ministry for St. John Vianney Parish, Brookfield, Thompson is in charge of the parish’s John Thompson, director of youth ministry at St. John Vianney Parish, Brookfield, leads his Faith-A-Thon team in practice, May 3. (Catholic Herald photo by John Kimpel)Faith-A-Thon teams. Faith-A-Thon is a faith facts contest, according to Thompson, described on the Inspirio website as a religion-rooted competition co-sponsored with the Archdiocese of Milwaukee as “a series of games based on … Scripture, doctrine, sacraments, church history, saints, current events, etc.,” as well as “the perfect complement to your religious education curriculum.”

The competition, whose questions are based on the archdiocesan curriculum and religion textbooks, is geared to sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders enrolled in parochial schools or in religious education classes. St. John Vianney and other participating entities, including St. Joseph, Big Bend; St. Mary’s Visitation, Elm Grove; St. Anthony on the Lake, Pewaukee; Holy Apostles, New Berlin; and Waukesha Catholic Middle School, among others, are limited to four teams of six players.

That’s where the youth minister’s dream kicks in. Not only does Thompson not have to frantically recruit to fill 24 slots; he has six to eight times that number – 150 to 200 youngsters – clamoring for positions on the four St. John Vianney squads.

What’s more, Thompson’s parish has been a perennial powerhouse in the tournament since its inception in 2001. Highlighting the latest Faith-A-Thon for the school: the eighth-grade team’s trophy-winning triumph in the playoff final May 9 at Inspirio, Nashotah (until recently known as Tyme Out Youth Ministry and Retreat Center).

Pruning well over 100 candidates to two dozen team players is accomplished through a tryout – “a test,” Thompson explained, “of general religious knowledge.” While the youth minister didn’t want to give away specific questions and answers, he told the Catholic Herald the test consists of 25 multiple-choice questions, some Bible-based and others addressing such Catholic hallmarks as the Immaculate Conception.

Boys and girls with the best test results become Mighty Doves, as the St. John Vianney teams are nicknamed. Each squad of six elects a captain; under the captain’s direction, team members meet for voluntary, pre-tourney practices which supplement Saturday morning sessions at the parish.

“They’re that enthusiastic,” Thompson said about the youngsters’ practicing voluntarily. “It’s wonderful to see that enthusiasm.”

In an email to the Catholic Herald, St. John Vianney associate pastor Fr. Philip Schumaker echoed Thompson’s remarks.

“I can tell the kids are having a fun time and I am proud of them to see how they get excited about learning their faith,” wrote Fr. Schumaker, who, in his first year as a priest, accepted Thompson’s invitation to serve as Doves chaplain.

“The Faith-A-Thon program is a great way for children to get involved with their faith, and to get to know their faith,” he wrote. “One thing that we need to stress more in the church is catechesis by helping others to grow in knowledge of their faith by teaching it. The Faith-A-Thon program does just that and it also makes it fun for (participants) to learn by turning it into a little competition.”

Some 20 high school students, aided by a handful of adults, help prepare the Doves for inter-parish competition at the four or five Saturday practices at St. John Vianney. One adult parishioner, Karen Parks, described those sessions via email.

“They practice,” Parks wrote, “with games, prizes, food, etc. High school (volunteers, many if not all of them former Doves) have as much fun as the middle schoolers.”

Thompson, comparing the general practices to “a birthday party,” noted that singing and dancing supplement the snacks and games, and joked that Faith-A-Thon is the only sport in which one can compete at St. John Vianney, “and both eat and practice at the same time.”

Competing as a middle schooler, and now coaching younger students as a Brookfield Central High School junior, Jason Hubler has found Faith-A-Thon instructive and a source of camaraderie.

“You learn so much about your faith,” Hubler mused during a phone interview. “It really strengthens your faith, deepens it, broadens it – just makes it that much richer. I really love Faith-A-Thon because the people who are in Faith-A-Thon are, without exception, amazing people. There’s something almost magical about it.”

As for his revisiting the program as a coach, Hubler said, “I love being able to help others with their faith – encourage their faith, help them understand it.”

Hubler saluted Thompson, who recently acted as his confirmation sponsor, as “an amazing head coach (who is) incredibly knowledgeable” about Catholicism. He added that St. John Vianney’s youth minister “is one of those rare people who can be your friend and your mentor and your guide.”

From Faith-A-Thon tournaments in which he competed a few years ago, Hubler recalled a “Jeopardy!”-like contest; another game known as “Quick Questions” that required rapid-fire responses; and a competition which called for arranging index cards, each labeled with a Mass part such as “penitential rite” or “homily,” in chronological order.

He even remembered a question from a final round, wherein questions are the most difficult: “What is the English translation of the term ‘Parousia’?”

Undoubtedly because of his continued exposure to the faith-building sport and the St. John Vianney head coach who “cares so much” and “really knows what he’s doing,” Hubler hasn’t forgotten the answer: “Second Coming.”