CRANSTON — Michael and Gina Conti became engaged to be married in the late 1990s, when they became adult leaders in the teen group at Holy Apostles Parish.
They married in 2000, the dawn of the new millennium, and would go on to have two children. All the while they continued to serve as adult supervisors in the parish’s teen ministry program.
A quarter of a century later, the Contis’ two children are in college and the couple continue to be active in working with the young people of their parish.
“My wife Gina and I have been blessed to be adult advisors and active in teen ministry at Holy Apostles for the past 25 years,” Michael Conti said.
He said that his two college-age children, Michael, and Isabella, have also participated in all aspects of the program, including leadership roles and missionaries to Blessed Assurance, Jamaica.
“The teen program strengthens our own personal faith in God, builds up our parish community and offers so many opportunities for our young people to find their place in the Church. These 25 years have been filled with so many blessings and opportunities to know and love God by serving each other and the Church,” Conti said.
The Contis were among more than 500 parishioners, past and present, who have been involved in and connected to the program over the years to participate in a Mass to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the parish’s teen ministry.
Msgr. Richard Sheahan, pastor emeritus of Holy Apostles, celebrated the early evening anniversary Mass, which was followed by an outdoor reception. It was Msgr. Sheahan who established the program in 2008, and whose vision and perseverance are credited with shaping the parish’s active teen ministry into the program it remains today.
Father Willian Ledoux, the current pastor, served as the homilist.
He described the program as a “bright light” in the life of the parish, as well as in the community and across the state in a world that needs such youth engagement more than ever. He noted that 25 years ago, Holy Apostles Parish was witnessing a growth in the number of new parishioners that had families. As a result, then-Father Sheahan began to consult with the families of the parish and it was decided to form the Life Teen Ministry at Holy Apostles.
“This new ministry would include a safe and fun place for youth to find a solid Catholic community, get answers to their questions, and, most importantly, to experience Jesus in a profound and personal way,” Father Ledoux said.
“This ministry has provided Holy Apostles with a very strong youth program that has truly enriched the parish and made a difference in the lives of so many young people. I pray that the joy and enthusiasm of the past 25 years will be a guiding light for many more generations to come.”
Msgr. Paul Theroux, pastor emeritus, concelebrated the special Mass along with former Associate Pastor Father Robert Forcier.
The Teen Choir, directed by Mark Colozzi, provided the music.
Dennis Sousa, the newly appointed diocesan director for Family, Youth and Young Adult Evangelization, also participated in the celebration.
Michael Santilli, who has directed the teen program for the past 25 years, served as the coordinator for the event. He said that young people are one of the greatest blessings of the parish, diocese and Church overall.
“This celebration is an important milestone for the parish since the teen ministry has been a beacon of hope not only for the parish, but so many of those outside of Holy Apostles who have been served by our teens over the years,” Santilli said.
Participation in weekly liturgical celebrations, Teen Mass, educational gatherings, annual summer retreats for parish teens is a focus of teen ministry, as are service-related projects to the poor and marginalized, community service and even international missionary service at Blessed Assurance orphanage in Montego Bay, Jamaica, in association with Mustard Seed Communities.
“The program has touched the lives of hundreds of families and and served so many in need over these past 25 years,” Santilli noted. “It was truly a beautiful anniversary celebration filled with so much joy as we gathered to give thanks for all that has been over the past 25 years and look forward to the future filled with hope. The teen program has been a monumental testimony of faith by so many teens and families as we strive to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.”
Sarah Collins, now in her mid-20s, went through the teen program and now serves as a teen ministry leader.
“After being involved with the life teen program for nearly 14 years, attending our amazing 25th anniversary celebration has been nothing short of a blessing. Starting as a teen and now becoming an adult advisor, I feel fortunate to be able to lead young adults the way I was once led,” Collins said.
Anthony Simeone, whose family are among the founding members of the parish, also went through the teen program, remains active in youth ministry, now as an adult leader.
He said that the large turnout for the 25th Anniversary celebration Mass at Holy Apostles was a perfect example of the effect Teen Ministry has had on the parish. Seeing so many familiar faces from over the years offered a chance for everyone to reminisce and celebrate what they all had the pleasure of being a part of over the last 25 years.
“Growing up, I was a eucharistic minister and two-time missionary, both as a teen and as an adult. Being a part of this has brought my life to new heights, has strengthened my relationship with God and my duties as a Catholic,” Simeone said.
“It is so important for teens to get involved with ministry as it will forever change your life by creating relationships with fellow parishioners, influencing the youth and creating a pathway for young teens to follow in serving our ministry.”