The Steubenville Youth Conferences — thousands upon thousands have attended them, and thousands upon thousands have been changed by them.
Ever since the Rev. Michael Scanlan, TOR, started the conferences in 1976, they have been a great tool for evangelization, igniting the faith of many teenagers as they discover a real encounter with Christ.
Of course, none of this would be possible without the hard work and dedication of those who spend their summers laboring behind the scenes. It seems that the conference staff has everything running so smoothly and efficiently, just like a well-oiled machine, that it’s easy for them to slip under the radar. Without their efforts, however, it’s starling to imagine what kind of chaos would ensue.
“We’re not pros,” said Dave Fatula, coordinator of events for the conferences. “We’re not like Disneyland, but we do want to be like the pros someday.”
Fatula, who is going on his 28th year of working the conferences, explained that he and his staff strive to “take away all logistical worries so that the conferences can be as restful and accommodating as possible.”
Unconditional love, humility and ongoing conversion — these are the three pillars stressed and practiced by Fatula as well as the rest of the staff. Fatula said that each of these virtues helps them become more Christ-like so that they can give the attendees the ultimate experience.
According to Fatula, the ultimate experience is “to feel the love of Christ through the student workers.”
Senior Bella Asci, who served as the co-lead of the logistics department for two years, further explained this idea, saying that the staff is always expected “to be Christ to everyone so that through our service, any guest we come into contact with can grow closer to the Lord.”
This is certainly no easy task, though, as Fatula made sure to emphasize. “The students really do a lot,” he said, “but they would never take any credit for it because they give all the glory to God.”
Liz Tkacik, a junior, worked the conferences last summer and recalled how they gave her a new perspective on being a behind the scenes worker. She said, “There’s a beauty in the humility of not being one of the people who is directly speaking to the youth or being the ones always in their faces.”
Tkacik said that she was one of the seemingly less important people running around, facilitating the catechesis of the speakers. This helped her to learn “a lot about service, whether you get recognized for it or not.”
Asci also touched on this notion of service saying, “Always seeking to serve others is one of the best ways to stay humble and to remember that the work I’m doing is ultimately for the Lord.”
With their focus always being on Christ and others, the staff is constantly trying to be better. Fatula said that in order to grow in competency and to become more like the pros, they are always on the lookout for OFT’s, or opportunities for improvement.
The leads of each department often meet up to see how they can change and develop for the better. Constructive criticism necessarily comes with that, but Fatula said that they are challenged not to take it personally. “It’s all a part of their ongoing conversion,” Fatula said.
The youth at the conferences are not the only ones who are greatly impacted. Fatula said that he has been changed by witnessing the blessings that God has for everyone who comes.
“Through the years I’ve watched the lame walk, the dumb speak and the blind see,” he said, “but those are small potatoes in comparison to the big conversions. The miracle of miracles happens when hearts are changed, resentments are gone and forgiveness is granted. It happens when the teens are finally able to accept the peace and love of Christ in their hearts.”
Asci explained that her life was changed in many ways through working the conferences. She said that serving the teens, going to Mass and participating in adoration brought about a deeper conversion, surrender and love for God and others in her heart.
Without the devoted and Christ-like staff of the Steubenville conferences, it’s certain that the conferences could not produce the same effect. But ultimately, as St. Teresa of Calcutta once said, they are the pencils in the hands of God. And with these pencils, God is drawing a marvelously beautiful masterpiece known as the Steubenville Youth Conferences.