After drug use and despair, teen’s conversion includes parish, pro-life leadership

| January 15, 2015 | 2 Comments
Sam Sinjem of St. Michael in Prior Lake is a strong leader in the parish youth group after struggling in his own life. He credits the help of people like parish youth minister Pat Millea. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Sam Sinjem of St. Michael in Prior Lake is a strong leader in the parish youth group after struggling in his own life. He credits the help of people like parish youth minister Pat Millea. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Sam Sinjem was putting his life back together in the fall of 2013.

A faithful Catholic throughout his childhood, the 18-year-old Prior Lake High School senior strayed during his early teenage years. He made some bad choices, and made some bad friends. Eventually, he turned away from God and to marijuana.

But, he had been reeled back into the fold by his parish youth minister, Pat Millea, at St. Michael in Prior Lake over the course of several months.

Things were clipping along nicely in his junior year until the fateful day of Nov. 11. He casually checked some tweets on his phone while at school, and was horrified by one piece of news — friend and spiritual role model Chase Michiels had been killed in an accident when he lost control of his truck and was ejected from the vehicle.

The two had met at a Catholic Heart Work Camp in July 2013 in Charleston, S.C., with Michiels spending a lot of time with Sinjem, encouraging him in his budding faith. The two, who lived more than 1,000 miles apart, had vowed to get together again.

Little did Sinjem know that the next time would be at Chase’s funeral in his home state of Louisiana.

“It was on my birthday that he passed away,” Sinjem said. “My life froze.”

Upon hearing the news, he sought out his parish youth ministers and connected with Gina Tupy, a St. Michael youth minister who has since retired. Together, they sorted through his feelings, which would include a renewed spiritual resolve.

“Through losing Chase, I had to make the choice of either falling back into the dark hole that I was in, or find light in the darkness,” Sinjem said. “I made the choice to live a life of positivity in God’s light, and live my life for Chase. Now, my life has made a complete 180. I used to crave weed, but now I crave the Eucharist.”

That leadership includes passion for the pro-life cause, stirred in part by his mother’s longtime example. He’s an elected board member of his school’s growing, 3-year-old pro-life club, Lakers for Life.

An empty hole

This kind of behavior would have been hard for anyone, including Sinjem, to imagine just two years ago. He was in the midst of a rough period that worsened after his father was diagnosed with a rare form of Alzheimer’s disease.

Meanwhile, he was supposed to be preparing for confirmation.

About the only spiritual thing that was happening in Sinjem’s life at that time was a simple prayer that God would fill the empty hole in his life.

He went back to Millea and made a confession: He was not doing the preparation needed for receiving the sacrament. Millea then had a choice to make — tell Sinjem he wasn’t ready for confirmation and postpone it, or use the short amount of time left to help Sinjem get ready.

Millea chose the latter.

“It was easy to see the potential in him at that point and say, ‘OK, what can we do to make sure that you’re prepared for the sacrament and, more important, what can we do to make sure you’ve got what you need to stay committed, stay faithful and grow from this?’” Millea said.

The way Sinjem has lived since his May confirmation — including his parish and pro-life club leadership — proves Millea made the right decision. Sinjem considers himself blessed to be surrounded by many supportive and faith-filled people, especially Millea, whom he says provided fatherly guidance when his own father was unable to do so because of his illness.

“These people, honestly, have changed my life,” Sinjem said. “I can’t thank them enough. Without them, I would not be where I am today.”

Marching on WashingtonSam Sinjem is among 188 youth and adults from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis participating in the national March For Life in Washington, D.C., Jan. 22, the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in America. Archbishop John Nienstedt is among the local contingent.

Follow @March_For_Life on Twitter with #WhyWeMarch

Local events

Prayer Vigil for Hope, Healing and Mercy
7-11 p.m. Jan. 21
St. Mary’s Chapel at the St. Paul Seminary

The vigil is open to all and is a special invitation to those who have been hurt by abortion to pray for hope and healing. The evening includes Mass with Bishop Andrew Cozzens, eucharistic adoration and the opportunity for the sacrament of reconciliation.

For more information, contact Sonya Flomo at (651) 291-4515.

Prayer Service for Life and March for Life rally
10:30 a.m. Jan. 22
Cathedral of St. Paul

The annual prayer service commemorates the millions of lives lost to abortion and the many women and men wounded by abortion. All are invited and welcome to the event, led by Bishop Lee Piché. Immediately following the prayer service, participants will walk to the State Capitol for the Minnesota Concerned Citizens for Life March for Life rally.

Because of the Red Bull Crashed Ice event, parking and street access will be limited. For more information, contact the archdiocese’s Office for Marriage, Family and Life at (651) 291-4488.

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Category: Respect Life