Youth at Steubenville NYC Conference Find ‘Belonging’ with God

Members of the group from the Diocese of Allentown with their “Belong” T-shirts.

By ALEXA SMITH Director of Office of Youth, Young Adult and Family Ministry

More than 55 teens and their adult chaperones from the Diocese of Allentown boarded buses July 19 to St. John’s University in Queens, New York for the annual diocesan Steubenville Youth Conference.

This was the fifth consecutive year that diocesan youth attended the conference in New York. It is part of the series of conferences that originated from Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio.

Attending parishes from the Diocese were: Assumption BVM, Northampton; Cathedral of St. Catharine of Siena, Allentown; Holy Trinity, Whitehall; Queenship of Mary, Northampton; St. Elizabeth of Hungary, Whitehall; St. Joseph the Worker, Frackville; SS. Simon and Jude, Bethlehem; and teens who are part of Schuylkill Catholic Youth Ministry, a regional youth ministry program serving Schuylkill Deanery.

The group was led by Alexa Smith, director of the Office of Youth, Young Adult and Family Ministry, and Annie Sarlo, interim secretary of Catholic Life and Evangelization. Also attending was Father Brian Miller, pastor of St. Joseph Parish, Frackville and St. Charles Borromeo Parish, Ashland.

Teresa Heller, member of St. Ambrose Parish, Schuylkill Haven, celebrated her 30th year attending a Steubenville conference with the Diocese.

This year’s conference theme was “Belong.” The Diocese of Allentown T-shirts showcased the theme with the word “Belong,” replacing the “O” with an image of the Sacred Heart. The coordinated shirts helped group members identify each other among the nearly 2,500 attendees.

“Attending this conference always energizes my own faith,” Smith recalled of her six trips to the Steubenville conferences.

“Watching the teens and chaperones connect with God in this unique way has always been inspiring to me.”

The ministry team for the conference included praise and worship musician Josh Blakesley accompanied by Sarah Kroger; Catholic speaker and author Chris Padgett; Catholic hip-hop artist and speaker Bob “Righteous B” Lesnefsky; Catholic author, speaker and singer Emily Wilson; Catholic author and speaker Joel Stepanek; and Franciscan Father Rick Martignetti.

The weekend centered on our belonging with God – how we were made to receive God’s love regardless of the strengths and weaknesses we have as perceived by the world.

Speakers discussed some of the ways we strive to impress others, often by pretending to be someone we are not, and how our faith calls us to recognize that we are made in God’s image and likeness, and that we are loved for who we are, not for what we can do.

For information on the next year’s trip to Steubenville NYC, email Alexa Smith at

Youth, Adults Reflect on ‘Amazing Experience’

Alex Bauer, a teen from Holy Trinity Parish, Whitehall, reflected on his first experience attending a Steubenville conference.

“I never felt this close to my religion or my relationship with God until I went on this trip,” said Bauer. “It was such an amazing experience. I liked seeing how it impacted me in a better way and … how it impacted others.”

Jacob Challenger, a teen from Schuylkill Catholic Youth Ministry and student at Nativity BVM High School, Pottsville, enjoyed his second Steubenville conference.

“I was thrilled to gather with like-minded young people to worship God, and gain insight and inspiration from the presenting speakers,” said Jacob.

Jacob’s mother, Maureen Challenger, attended the trip as a chaperone. “Experiencing Steubenville alongside Jacob and his friends was such a blessing,” she said. “The music was incredible. The opportunity to devote so much time to the Lord was refreshing.”

“Father Brian Miller told me that the Steubenville conference is a life-changing experience,” said Christian Smith, a recent graduate of Marian High School, Tamaqua.

“At the conference I immediately realized that Father was not wrong and wished I would have attended in prior years of high school. Between the inspirational talks, Mass, praise and worship, and adoration, the weekend was absolutely amazing, and better than I ever could have imagined.

“Adoration was my favorite part because, during that time, I felt closer to Jesus than ever before.”

Monica Gutman, youth minister at Holy Trinity who chaperoned, noted, “Just seeing a couple thousand teens singing, praising and jumping for the Lord is an experience I wish every Catholic could see.”

Monica’s daughter Ella joined her as a chaperone, and son Luke as a youth participant.

“Coming back to Steubenville for the third time was a whole new experience for me,” said Ella. “The power of Jesus was even stronger, and I felt inspired by all the teens who proclaimed their life to Christ.”

“I liked how the speakers were relatable to me and to my life,” added Luke.

“I think that every Catholic youth should attend,” said Dana Seisler, who chaperoned as part of Schuylkill Catholic Youth Ministry.