Diocesan Missionary Team earns high praise from parishes, schools in its first year

If this were a play, members of the Diocesan Missionary Team would be returning to the stage for an encore performance.

“They were absolutely unbelievable,” said Marianne Tully, principal of Our Lady of the Rosary School in Greenville. “I did not want the time with them to end.”

Tully said she hosted the six members of the team — Ryan Altenbach, Brianna “Bri” Pavlish, Grant Wyatt, Alexandra “Alex” Goulet, Mary Beth Vernau and Samuel Pierce — at her house the night before the school’s retreat and had high praise for the people and the mission.

All in their early 20s, the group is barely out of the teenage years themselves and had a completely natural, comfortable relationship with the kids, who saw them as peers and mentors instead of stodgy old adults, Tully said.

The Diocesan Missionary Team is the brainchild of the office of Youth Ministry and was approved last year by Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone. In its inaugural season, they have given 50 retreats at schools and parishes, reaching out to almost 3,500 youth, said Jerry White, director.

The mission, he explained, is “to evangelize young people; to help them encounter Christ and accompany them on that walk.”

All of the inaugural members had previously served with Life Teen and took on the challenge of blazing a path for the new diocesan program. Ryan and Alex, team leaders, said there were definitely bumps along the trail, but the overall experience was amazing.

“It’s been a blessing to serve on this team,” Alex said. From the very first retreat at St. Mary Church in Greenville, when they were feeling so nervous, she said they have been embraced by everyone and made to feel welcome and wanted.

“The kids wanted to do everything and absorb the message of the retreats,” she said, adding that it was such an uplifting experience to know the parishes and teens were hungry for a deeper connection with Christ.

One of the highlights for Ryan was seeing some of the teens he met on parish retreats at bigger events, such as the Diocesan Youth Conference, which he said was amazing.

“They are some of the most passionate teens in the diocese; just really connected to their faith,” he added.

The missionary team’s last retreat is June 2 and they leave June 12 for their next adventure in God’s service. The new team starts training in August and will give their first retreat in September.

White said they currently have four confirmed members and will choose another two or three to round it out.

Tully said she would definitely want the missionary team to return to the school and parish, adding that regardless of who the members are, they are committed to evangelizing the message and turning youth into future leaders.

As the program develops, White said he hopes to create family retreats for the parishes and to expand the scope of the team. One thing they’re considering is creating a second group to be based in the Upstate, or having the members move their home base around the diocese to impact as many parishes as possible.

Photo provided: Bri Pavlish and Alex Goulet, members of the Diocesan Missionary Team, lead prayers at an E-team (evangelization team) retreat held at White Oak Conference Center on Dec. 3.