Reflecting on the past 34 years in Catholic Youth Ministry, 'Duce' gave it her heart and soul as devoted director


PROVIDENCE — Louise Dussault — widely known as “Duce” — has spent the last 34 years serving the Diocese of Providence as the Director of Catholic Youth Ministry. In these past three decades, she has dedicated herself to responding to the needs of young people and helping to create a space so that their unique gifts could be shared with the larger community. But it is her own unique gifts that have made a lasting impact on those she has encountered in her many years in the diocese.
In an interview, Duce told Rhode Island Catholic that this ministry has been her home. A home she has lovingly maintained and cared for with the help of clergy, staff, volunteers, and of course — Catholic youth. But by the end of this year, Duce will hand over her keys and retire from this role.
“I’ve been privileged and honored to be the person who was entrusted with the keys to this house. I gave it my heart and soul as much as I could. But you also come to a point in your life where you realize that it’s time. I think it’s time for somebody new.”
Duce was the first person in the Diocese of Providence to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree in youth ministry, attending the only youth ministry program at the time at the College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, Minnesota. After graduating, she spent nine “rewarding” years in parish youth ministry at St. Joan of Arc in Cumberland. Duce also helped to create youth ministry degree programs for both associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs at Providence College, which still exist to this day.
In 1988, she became associate director of Youth Ministry, rising to director in 1989, the first lay person to serve in the role. She served on numerous boards and committees, developed new programs, and held leadership roles with New England Directors of Youth Ministry and National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry — which recognized her with a national award in 2012.
She has faithfully managed a wide variety of ministries to Catholic youth in Rhode Island, including youth centers, the Catholic Athletic League, summer camps, Catholic scouting and more.
What prompted Duce to pursue a career in Diocesan Youth Ministry, she said, was a simple desire to give back.
“I had some really positive experiences as a young person, experiences that made a difference in my life in who I was, and who I became. In many ways my reason for wanting to be involved in youth ministry was because I really believed in the professionalism of the field, and I believed in the importance of equipping people — lay people in particular — to hand on the faith to young people and invite them to share their faith. It’s not just about providing programs for young people; it’s about ministering with young people. But it’s also watching young people themselves minister and advocating on their behalf.”
It’s been the people: the dedicated volunteers and her colleagues on both the local and national level who have inspired her most in her years of Diocesan Youth Ministry.
Pat Kane has worked with Duce for the entire 34 years that she has served as a diocesan director. Kane has been on her staff as director of Pawtuxet Valley CYO, director of the Rejoice In Hope Youth Center and also as Duce’s associate director. Countless young people have been impacted by Duce’s love for God as seen in her ministry, Kane explained, adding that many have become involved in ministry in a variety of ways because of her example and influence.
“It is impossible to speak to the many ways she has made a difference as the diocesan director through the relationships she has built and in the many lives, both young and old she has touched. I have learned much from her personally, about being a professional in the field of Youth Ministry and most especially, of how to live a life of ministry as an authentic person, whose foundation is their relationship with Christ, reflected in who we are and in the ways we live out our ministry.”
Michelle Ficocelli was 17 years old when she first met Duce, when she was part of the youth leadership team at the Providence County CYO Center, now the Rejoice in Hope Youth Center.
Ficocelli now serves as director of Mother of Hope Camp in Chepachet.
“For 30 years, I have worked with Duce,” said Ficocelli. “My roles might have changed, from youth to adult, but her role did not. She was steadfast in her commitment to youth ministry. She has never stopped being a fierce advocate for youth — knowing what a vital role they have in the life of the church, now and in the future.
She added that Duce has always been a beacon of unwavering faith and a true example of a servant of God.
“Duce takes her job seriously but has never treated it like a job. She lived her ministry, putting her faith into action, year after year. She is one of the key reasons I am still involved in youth ministry. Though no one can replace Duce, she will continue to live on in all those she has impacted through the years. If that’s not a legacy, then I don’t know what is.”
In reflecting, Duce explained that one of the greatest challenges that she has witnessed in her role has been diminishing resources and added that youth ministry must be held as a priority for parishes.
“The future of the Church is built on passing on the faith to other generations,” said Duce. “Young people are as much the Church today as people my age are still the church today. The youth are not the future of the church, they’re not on hold. They have gifts to be shared right now, whether they’re 13, 17, 25 or 95. We’re all called to share our faith.”
The thought of retiring has been emotional for Duce. She shared that the hardest part will be leaving the dedicated individuals that she has worked alongside.
“What I would tell my successor is that the work has never been about ‘my,’ it’s been about ‘our.’ I think that anybody in leadership should use the word ‘my’ very sparingly. It’s not my ministry. It’s our ministry. I never did it alone. We’ve been a team. I think that my prayer for the person coming in is to realize the talent and the skill of the people. The journey is better with a team. And the team made all the difference to me.”
As for her plans in retirement, Duce can promise you that she will not be resting.
“I certainly am not retiring to sit in front of the TV,” she laughed, adding that she has discovered a love of pickleball and will take time to travel to visit family. “The Lord has always led me to where I needed to be, and I believe he has used me in the past to make a difference. I really believe that there’s something else in store.”
Grateful to Bishop Thomas J. Tobin and to the many bishops she has served in her ministry for their commitment to Catholic Youth Ministry, Duce hopes that when people look back at what she and her team accomplished in these past 34 years, they’ll say, “wow, they did some great things.”
“I just hope that at the end, that somebody can say ‘she was a good and faithful steward.’”


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