NET aims to fire up faith in more teens across the country

| December 4, 2013 | 0 Comments


After 30 years, 26,000 retreats and helping more than 1.6 million Catholic teens embrace their faith, NET Ministries is adding teams and opening two regional offices as part of its Igniting Faith initiative.

The West St. Paul-based Catholic youth retreat ministry organization plans to add a team each year for the next five years, bringing the total to 16.

Annually, the teams of young adults reach 60,000 junior high and high school students across the country. By 2017, NET’s goal is 90,000.

Staying connected

“The young Catholic population is disengaging from the Church,” said Jim Hastings, NET’s director of development and communica­tions.

“We want to provide an opportunity for them to hear the Gospel in ways they can understand and identify with,” he said. “After NET experiences, 80 percent [of participants] stay connected [to the Church] somehow. We want to make that difference in 30,000 more lives during formative high school years.”

Since its beginning, NET has heard it should be doing more from bishops and other supporters who have witnessed the teams engaging adolescents through retreats and being present in Catholic churches and schools.

Adding teams will allow NET to reach more people like Sylvie, who, after more than 20 years, thanked NET for her retreat experience in a recent letter:

“On Saturday evening of the retreat, I heard a testimony of one of the Netters. I recall sitting in the pew of the church, and all of a sudden, like a light turning on, God became real to me. . . . God had changed these young men and women’s lives so much that they poured out their hearts to us, sharing such personal experiences, and gave up 10 months of their life to share it with thousands of others.”

The two regional offices — one in Cincinnati, Ohio, and one in California — will ensure permanent teams in those areas.

“By starting regional NET centers, there is more ministry, but we also see greater sources of fundraising and recruiting,” said NET founder and executive director Mark Berchem.

According to Berchem, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis could benefit from the national expansion — there is a better chance that parishes and schools could receive a team (right now there is a waiting list), and have their special requests for NET events granted.

Where the teams are added will be based on interest and whether it’s a good match.

“It’s a delicate balance in parishes with existing youth ministries,” Berchem said. “We want to make sure they want to work as a team.”

Something bigger

In a video produced for the Igniting Faith initiative, Archbishop John Nienstedt, president of NET’s board of directors, said the genius behind NET Ministries is that peers are leading their peers.

“You have young people who are excited and fired up about their faith, who go in and enliven the faith and even give the faith for the first time,” he said.

To finalize its plans, NET still needs to raise $600,000 of its $3 million goal.

“Most of the people who support NET understand that we have a national, if not international problem, of people [leaving] the Church at a considerable rate,” Berchem said.

“People like being involved in something that’s bigger than themselves. That’s why they partner with us.”

See more information about NET and its Igniting Faith initiative.

NET’s outreach in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis

  • Since 1981, NET has conducted 2,052 retreats for 157,000 Catholic teens
  • In 2013-2014, NET will conduct 100 more retreats for another 5,500 Catholic youths
  • Another 9,000 youths will attend one of the eight Lifeline Masses at the NET Center on the first Saturday of months October through May
  • 410 NET team member alumni live in the archdiocese
  • 15 members of 2013-14 NET teams are from the archdiocese

Teams assigned locally:

St. Peter in Forest Lake — 2013
All Saints in Lakeville — 2010-2013
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Hastings — 2009-2012
Divine Mercy in Faribault — 2005-2008

Full-time teams in schools:

Providence Academy in Plymouth
Cathedral High School in New Ulm (Diocese of New Ulm)

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