Jim Love was a 16-year-old high school student in Chicago in 2007 when he first attended the National Catholic Youth Conference, then in Columbus, Ohio.
“That trip was really important. It was not what I expected at all,” he now says. “With 25,000 students there … you don’t expect it to be a very individual experience … but it was very, very personal.”
A member of St. Bede the Venerable Parish, Chicago, at the time, he went with a group of about 40 from the Archdiocese of Chicago and described it as a time to “show your faith out loud.”
“I’m pretty energetic so it takes a lot to get me into a meditative mode,” he said. “Within a few minutes of me being there, I lost my voice. But I think for the first time I was challenged to calm down.”
Love said he felt “uncomfortable” trying to meditate and pray in public.
“I found myself opening my eyes and looking around, which I’m assuming a lot of people do that,” he said. “That was eight years ago and it still has an impact.”
Love attended this year’s NCYC gathering, Nov. 19-21 in Indianapolis, but this time he served as a chaperone.
“My favorite part was seeing some students that reminded me of myself when I was their age,” he said of students full of energy. “Just seeing them go through the emotions that weekend and having the moments that I had of ‘this is cool.’”
Love, 24, a Marquette alumnus, attends Mass at Gesu Parish or the Basilica of St. Josaphat in Milwaukee. He works for Catholic Financial Life, which sponsored six students to attend the conference. He said the Archdiocese of Milwaukee sent six buses filled with students, about 230-250 people total.
They joined with thousands of young people from across the country at the biennial conference.
This time, Love said, he felt more tired having been a “floater” chaperone but it didn’t prevent him from participating in the conference.
“I definitely had my moments when I was in the zone again,” he said, but he added it’s been awhile since he was in high school. “I definitely felt old for the first time in a while.”
Love said he expected the students to ask him about his experience, but they didn’t.
“I don’t think they really cared,” he said. “I don’t blame them for not asking me. I think they were just there to experience their own thing.”
Grace Sheetz, a junior at Catholic Memorial High School and member of St. William Parish, Waukesha, attended this year’s conference. In an email to the Catholic Herald she described it as “an experience of a lifetime.”
“The feeling I got when walking into Lucas Oil Stadium and seeing all of the people was a feeling like no other,” Sheetz said. “It was pretty special to be in a stadium full of 23,000 teenagers that was absolutely silent reflecting in prayer.”
Mackenzie Lanham, a senior at Catholic Memorial and member of St. Anthony on the Lake Parish, Pewaukee, was a first-time conference attendee.
“When I was first asked about the NCYC conference in Indianapolis, I was neutral,” Lanham said in an email to the Catholic Herald. “I didn’t see the point in traveling all the way to Indianapolis for a retreat. However, when I saw the promos for it on YouTube, I was excited and quite confused. What the heck were cheese beads? How could a priest be a ninja? Why all the sparkles and crazy hats?”
Yet, she said she enjoyed everything the conference had to offer.
“My faith was re-energized and friendships strengthened,” Lanham said. “I wish I could go again, but I’m a senior, and it was my first and last time there.”
Fellow senior at Catholic Memorial and member of St. Anthony Parish, Pewaukee, Megan Weiber, described NCYC in an email to the Catholic Herald as “an incredible experience.”
She said one of the highlights was the opening night ceremony.
“It astounded me how 24,000 people could gather and all strive toward the same goal to become closer to God, and his great love and forgiveness,” she said, adding she is reminded to continue to live her faith when she sees any of the trading items she brought back from the trip.
“NCYC pulled me closer to God in the best way possible,” she added.