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RANDOLPH — Young Catholic leaders, along with lay adults and clergy involved with youth programs, were celebrated Nov. 19 by the Office of Youth Ministry at its annual awards banquet at Lombardo’s in Randolph.
"Our office hosts this night to honor those who have worked so hard to make a difference with the youth of the archdiocese," said Father Thomas A. Dunne, SDB, the director of the youth ministry office.
The 420 attendees and their efforts over the last year are a great example of the good things going on in our families and parishes, he said. “The people here tonight offer a snapshot of the hope and energy from all different age groups and dynamics in the archdiocese.”
There is a remarkable the level of humility among the different award winners, said Stephen W. Colella, the coordinator of training and leadership for the office.
Colella was the emcee for the evening with coordinator for outreach and events Kathleen M. Stebbins.
The banquet’s keynote address was delivered by Peter E. Williams of Sacred Heart Parish in Quincy, who received the Special Commendation Award citing his 40 years of service to Catholic youth athletics.
Williams, who is the arch-diocesan athletic director, said he got his start in 1964 at St. Kevin’s Parish in Dorchester. He was 18 years old, when Father Joe Kierce asked him to be the athletic coordinator for the district then called the Suffolk County Deanery.
Father Kierce continues to be an inspiration to Williams and one of the reasons he has stayed involved for four decades, he said.
"To all of us, he was like a second dad. He gave me my first experience being a leader. I felt a responsibility to stay on--because of everything he did for me," Williams said.
The best youth basketball player Williams remembers seeing was Timmy O’Shea of St. Ann’s Parish in Wayland, he said.
"He played for BC and is now a college coach somewhere, but when he was 11, 12 years old, you could see he had it all," he said.
He was asked to take his current post in 1977 by Father Bob McNeill, he said.
The Catholic Youth Organization basketball program has changed for the better, especially in the last seven to eight years, he said. “What we have seen is an influx of more mature coaches, which has made the program easier to manage.
"Faith is still the hallmark of the CYO program. That is probably why we don't have the problems, like violence, that other programs have," he said.
"The faith component makes us different than the town recreational leagues," he said.
Williams said receiving his award was a most humbling experience and he was glad to share it with so many people who have supported youth athletics in the archdiocese.
"Over the last 40 years, the Lord has blessed me with great friends, who have blessed this program," Williams said.
Catholics need to reflect on the values and traditions of the youth athletic program and reflect on the many good things the Church has done for young people, he said.
After thanking his children, Sean, Stephen and Melissa for having to share their dad with the CYO, Williams quoted his favorite Psalm, “How can I repay the Lord?”
Typical of the youth leaders recognized was Victoria G. Cimino, 17, of Sacred Heart Parish in Lexington. Cimino received the Eagle of the Cross Award for her work building a youth ministry in her parish and her involvement in arch-diocesan-wide youth programs, Stebbins said.
"By her amazing exuberance, positive attitude, and profession of belief in God's goodness, she was able to attract others," she said. "She is a vibrant, fun-loving and faith-filled teen."
Cimino said she was nominated by her parish’s youth minister, Maureen McKeon. She found out she had won from her mother, who was driving her home from school. “‘Well, Maureen called, you won that award.’” she said.
One of the strengths of the youth programs are the friendships that develop among the youth leaders, she said.
Her friend, Christopher J. Gosselin, 18, who was recognized with the Archbishop’s Award, said he agreed.
The two met three years ago at the Catholic Leadership Institute, a training program of the youth ministry, he said. “At CLI there is the bond among kids who want to do something more for the Church.”
In his formal remarks, Father Dunne said the archdiocese has had to absorb three major blows in the last three years: an economic downturn, the clergy abuse scandal and reconfiguration. To survive, Catholics need to shift their focus from local concerns to larger issues.
"We have to be faithful to the whole Church, not our individual silos," he said.
Echoing the themes of Archbishop Seán P. O’Malley’s recent letter on the challenges facing the archdiocese, Father Dunne reached out to attendees, who he said were a positive sign of the Church’s future. “We need can no longer focus on what is immediately in front of us.”
"We need to experience outside of the parish and experience the universal parish," he said.