Monroe, Downriver youths cite 'life-changing' experiences at Steubenville conference

Fr. Joseph Espaillat, spiritual director of the Archdiocese of New York's youth ministry office, elevates a monstrance during eucharistic adoration June 25 at the Steubenville New York youth conference at St. John's University in Jamaica, N.Y. In June, more than 90 teens from the Archdiocese of Detroit's Monroe and Downriver vicariates attended the Steubenville Youth Conference at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, which offers conferences around the U.S. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz, Long Island Catholic)

Teens' testimonials highlight deep spiritual conversions, upended expectations at Midwest worship experience

STEUBENVILLE, Ohio — As school starts this month at St. Mary Catholic Central High School in Monroe and St. Frances Cabrini High School in Allen Park, many students will be walking the hallways with a renewed sense of their Christian identity and a stronger personal relationship with God. 

In late June, more than 90 teenagers from the Downriver and Monroe vicariates, along with countless peers from across the Archdiocese of Detroit, attended the Steubenville Youth Conference, a summer weekend retreat at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio. 

During the three-day retreat, students listened to nationally known Catholic speakers, engaged in deep spiritual discussions, unburdened themselves of sin through the sacrament of confession, and experienced a transformative personal encounter with Jesus during adoration.

Teens from the Archdiocese of Detroit pose for a group photo on the campus of Franciscan University of Steubenville. (Courtesy photo)

Moved by the weekend, here are some of the high school students’ personal testimonies:

As I spent this weekend at Steubenville, it made me realize what I needed to change and fix in my life in order to be closer to God. During adoration, I felt His presence as if He was there with me, even though I couldn’t physically see or touch Him. It made me feel like I was just as close to Him as I could be close to the person standing next to me. It was my second year at Steubenville, and I think it was more touching the second time. I think it will only get better as the years go on. Even just seeing the people around me worshiping as a group made me realize how important it is to have someone to look up to.

  • Cyrus Marks, Class of 2022

My story is probably really common. I've been a Catholic my whole life, and I didn't want to come to the weekend; it was just something my mom had signed me up for. I had to give up going to a Baptist camp in Wyoming that I had been going to for years. I felt accepted there, for the most part. As long as I didn't say I was Catholic, the camp really brought me closer to God, but further from the Catholic faith, and I didn't think anything of it. I thought the Catholic faith was boring. I didn't think there was a Catholic community; for me, the word “Catholic” made me think, "old people, long Mass sessions, and people who were lukewarm in their faith.” People who didn't care, so I didn't care. This weekend brought me so close to God and changed everything I thought about the Catholic faith. Not only did the weekend change me, but it changed the way I think. I'm so thankful that my mom signed me up. I think every Catholic teen can experience Steubenville. During the week, I cried, laughed, I was happy and sad, but the thing that brought it all together was the praying and the talking, the worship and the friendship. I met so many new people and got to see them grow as I grew. The power of Jesus Christ was so strong, and it changed my heart for the better. I hope God touched everyone this weekend the same as He touched my heart.

  • Adam Stewart, Class of 2020

Once again, the most impressive part of our Steubenville retreat was the reverence that the entire population of teens show toward Jesus Christ, our Savior. It is so overwhelming to see thousands of young people on fire for Jesus. Eucharistic adoration continues to be the highlight of the trip for me. The power of the Holy Spirit is very evident. I am sure thousands of young people’s lives were changed this weekend.

  • Brian Flint, chaperone  

I am so very blessed to have had the opportunity to share the Steubenville experience with so many faith-filled adults and young people. The Spirit of God sure was moving in a very deep and real way in and through so many beautiful people. My heart is full of love and my soul is on fire for the Lord. The speakers were awesome, adoration was amazing and mass was beautiful. God is so very good … all the time ☺

  • Therese Tardiff, chaperone

(Courtesy photo)

This was my second year going to Steubenville, and my experience this year was a lot different than last year. This year was a little harder for me because I struggle with feeling like I belong, which is what the theme was.

I really enjoyed the talks especially from Sarah and Dan. Sarah kept saying that we belong and that everyone has their battles and we need to be there for each other. I also enjoyed the “Dating 101” talk because the thought of dating is exciting but gives me stress. Sarah pulled lists of what guys want in a girl and what girls want in a guy, and it was eye-opening because it was a lot of the same things.

I was so grateful to the friends I was able to spend time with because we were all helping each other out. I also loved adoration and the Masses and on Sunday morning I felt so much peace and happiness. Overall, I had a good time and was reminded that I am worthy because of God, my amazing friends, and other people I met.

  • Abby Younglove, Class of 2020

This is my fourth and final year of going to Steubenville. I have really enjoyed all the years coming here. Unlike my first year, I was very excited to come this year. I actually enjoy coming here and missed some of my friends' grad parties, and it was totally worth it. I’m coming away happier and with less worries. During adoration, all my worries were taken away and all of my stress. I just feel more at peace. I’m so glad I came, and will miss it.

  • Emily Hintz, Class of 2019

This year of Steubenville is my fifth and final year of going. I can honestly say that this year did not disappoint, just as the years before. This year's theme at Steubenville was “Belong.” The speakers and singers reassured us that we do belong to God, even if at times we don’t feel like we belong anywhere. Saturday night is my favorite because that is when adoration occurs. It is such a moving experience hearing the laughs and cries of others as Jesus touches their hearts. Steubenville is an experience that has touched my life and it will continue to touch the lives of others.

  • Brigiette Bogedain, Class of 2019

This is my first time attending the Steubenville retreat. I have been to things similar to this before, but this experience tops them all. I learned the importance of not letting others use me and not allowing myself to use others as well. Also, to value friendships and make sure I am around the right people, the people who will push me deeper into my faith, not away from it. 

There is a sentence that stuck to me that I believe was said by Fr. Dave during his speech on heaven and hell. He said, “Don’t be concerned about what can kill the body, but be concerned about what can kill the soul.” I do not fear death, but I do need to stand clear of the things that lead me closer to the eternal death, by standing away from sin and with my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 

My most memorable experience by far was adoration. The praise and worship was so beautiful, and the emotion, the emotion was such a gift from the Holy Spirit and is certainly something I will never forget. That peace and just the Holy Spirit filling the room caused me to do things I would not have expected myself to do. Not only were my hands being held in the air, but from time to time I would find my hand placed on another person’s shoulder and just praying over them. The happiness and joy I felt is indescribable and could only have come from the Blessed Trinity. 

In the book of Jeremiah 29:11 it says, “For I know the plans I have for you says the Lord; plans for welfare, not for woe, plans to give you a future full of hope.” In my small groups, we talked about how God has a great plan for all of us, but what I struggle with is knowing what that plan is. Through the discussion, I’ve learned the importance of patience. Most everyone knows we should be patient, but for some reason I felt that I should know what God wants of me for my future. I now will continue to try to live my life one day at a time the way God would want me to and wait and see what God has planned for my future. I want to thank everyone who keeps this all running, the leaders, sisters/nuns, priests, and more. This is experience was such a blessing. I hope and pray I can come back next year and that many others will come and experience this incredible Steubenville retreat as well!

  • Angela Sweeney, Class of 2023

My experience at Steubenville was nothing like I’ve ever witnessed. After going on countless retreats with my school, I realized that this conference cannot be compared. This was my first time attending Steubenville, so naturally I was very nervous and uneasy. However, the first night, a switch went off. The talks were inspiring, and hearing everyone singing “Reckless Love” was a turning point for me — to be in a room with 2,000 people my age who are so passionate about their faith. The friendship talk and also the “Dating 101” workshop were both very eye-opening. I gained inspiration and a new perspective through both of these. Adoration was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever experienced. To recognize the Lord’s presence was such an amazing opportunity. Seeing the ways He was affecting those around me struck me emotionally, and I became overwhelmed. It was truly amazing and almost indescribable. Overall, my experience was one I hope to keep with me as I continue on. It is so comforting to know that I do belong and will always be welcome in God’s family. I believe everyone should take advantage of this amazing opportunity. I promise it was so worth it!

  • Abbey Johnson, Class of 2019

Courtesy photos

Honestly, the Steubenville Conference was exactly what I needed this year. The week before the trip I had gone to a STEM camp, where I was in the midst of around 300 other incoming juniors. The difference between the two camps and my experiences at them could be highly contrasted. At STEM camp, I was surrounded by comparison, constant competition, fake friendships, lots of social media (which contributed to the comparison) and many teenagers who may have looked perfect but were really broken on the inside. 

So, when I came to Steubenville after a week of all that, I felt as if I could be really and truly myself and not some overly intellectual and competitive version of myself. I felt as if I had come home, and the message of belonging was especially applicable after a week of feeling as if I had to change myself in order for people to like me and feel like I could be accepted where I was. The theme really hit hard for me and it was exactly what I needed to hear. 

The speakers, music ministry, and priests were especially amazing, too. However, the thing that impacted me the most was God and His amazing and all-powerful presence. My first Steubenville Conference, I really felt God, and the second I didn’t necessarily have all the feels, but I experienced an overwhelming sense of peace. This year, I experienced both of these truly amazing things. 

Throughout the course of the past year, I’ve come to appreciate the Mass much more than I used to, so the Masses this year I definitely paid more attention and recognized their great importance. Friday night’s praise and worship session and talk started off the weekend really well, and Sarah Swafford really knew how to speak to us. Saturday night, as usual, was absolutely life-altering. I could see Jesus visibly moving among my fellow high-schoolers, and I, too, experienced his awesome presence during the Eucharistic adoration. I felt this simply overwhelming sense of peace, belonging and love. It was so joyful, almost as if I couldn’t have been mad or distracted by anything; that was how close I was to God and filled with His Holy Spirit. 

Additionally, I was extremely blessed to have the opportunity to rest in the Spirit during the course of the night, and that was just a fantastic encounter with the Lord that just left me speechless at the power, love, mercy, grace, and joy of our God. This Steubenville retreat was my best one by far, and I will certainly never forget it. God really touched and came down to me this weekend and was speaking a lot of truth to my heart that I really needed to hear through the speeches, talks and songs. I would recommend the conference 110%. The Lord our God is so amazing, and His love truly ineffable. The Lord revealed these and many more truths to me this year, and I will never forget this experience.  

  • Margaret Roelant, Class of 2021

Today, I just finished my fifth and final conference at Steubenville. Each one has been so beautifully different while still keeping the purpose and faith of it front and center.

I was especially excited for this year’s conference because I recently changed my college to Franciscan less than two months ago and it will be my new home for the next four years. While it was awesome to see the campus again, meeting and making connections with some of my future classmates was even better. The people are incredible at Steubenville, and it’s always been an awesome time being together with so many like-minded people, or at the very least, people who have in some way been called to be there. 

A great example of this is the night before we left, a guy from our group couldn’t go. One of my best friends, who couldn’t ever go before, was able to go last minute for free. He’s struggled with many questions he’s had in past years and it’s torn him apart, but this weekend he truly got to see how the Holy Spirit works through people who let Him into their lives. Four more of my classmates were inspired to go for the first time this year as well.  

This year I’ve really struggled with questions myself. In January, I experienced the worst depression I believe is even possible. I had to start from nothing and ask every doubting question that came to mind for months, and it was awful. However, nobody and nothing can make any sort of valid argument against Christianity. Thankfully, God gave me the answers I needed and gave me many past experiences (like Steubenville) to keep me on track. This weekend cemented all of the work God has been doing through me the past six months.  

This often happens at Steubenville. People find themselves and give themselves to God. I was recently tasked with helping someone in our group who barely knew anything about Christianity with finding Jesus. It quickly got out of my hands and into God’s own hands because he had an incredible conversion experience that I found really inspiring and I will never forget. Steubenville is also an ideal place to meet new people, like my new accountability partner, and reuniting with friends I’d made on past trips who I only get to see once a year. 

Every year, the main attractions of this weekend come on Saturday, when we have adoration and I go to confession. Adoration, for me, is an inspiration because of the sacrifice Jesus made for us and because of the almost unbelievable reverence of all of the people in attendance. This year, I asked God to break me down and allow me to restart. I found exactly that within the night. During adoration, I broke down and cried for the first time in five years. And later I went to confession and truly felt new again.  

Through music, the speakers, the sacraments, open minds, and the grace of God, Steubenville changes a great number of people’s lives every year, and I am so happy to have been a part of it. It has taught me that to be truly happy we must thirst for His limitless nature, which He has revealed to us so we can elevate Him, ourselves, and others to “belong” to something much greater than ourselves. 

  • Micah Eby, Class of 2019

My experience was amazing at Steubenville. The talks were very good and really got me thinking about my relationship with God. The Masses strengthened my relationship with Jesus and were very nice. Small groups allowed me to let everything go in my mind and get everything off my chest. I recommend this trip for any and everyone.

  • Ryan Gennoe, Class of 2022