By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – Abbey Schuhmann, a native of Gulfport, will step into the role of Coordinator of Youth Ministry for the Diocese of Jackson this June. Schuhmann is currently the director of youth ministry for Madison St. Francis Parish.
“I’m excited and open and I’m ready to take on the challenge and hopefully bring some new energy to our youth on the diocesan level,” said Schuhmann. Fran Lavelle, Director of Faith Formation, said her search committee was thrilled to find a candidate close to home after a nationwide search.
“There was a search committee that included a priest, a youth minister from a large parish, one from a small parish, a representative of Catholic schools, Hispanic ministry and myself,” said Lavelle. The group interviewed candidates from in and out of state. Some of this was happening during the recent listening sessions. The need for invigorating youth ministry was a common topic at the sessions so Lavelle said she felt very affirmed during her long and intensive search.
Schuhmann was raised in the Methodist Church and was very active in her youth group there. She attended Catholic middle and high school on the coast. While she attended Mississippi State University she began to attend events at the Catholic campus ministry program. “By my senior year I decided to go through the RCIA program. I just really felt called to the Catholic Church. I really felt like that’s where I belonged, that’s where I was being fed spiritually, that’s where I was being nourished and I was very comfortable in Catholic Church,” said Schuhmann.
When she graduated, she and her husband moved to Jackson and immediately got involved in youth ministry. “My husband and I were attending St. Richard and got involved as volunteers with the youth program there. We started helping with Sunday night activities, chaperoned some of the SEARCH retreats,” she said.
“Youth ministry has always been a part of my life- ever since I was a participant through high school, through campus ministry at State, at St. Richard. Then a full-time position became available at St. Francis. The opportunity came about at what I felt like was a good time in my life to jump in feet first and I have loved it ever since. It’s just a part of who I am and I can’t imagine doing anything else,” Schuhmann added.
She added a word of thanks to her pastor, Msgr. Michael Flannery and the entire staff at St. Francis. “I’m very blessed to have spent 9 years at St. Francis in the role as Youth Minister and more recently as High School Religious Education coordinator and I am grateful to all that I had the pleasure of working with,” she said. While Schuhmann won’t start her work full time until later this year, she and the team from the office of Faith Formation have already been setting goals and making plans.
“We’ve established short-term goals for the academic year as well as long-term goals that include the reestablishment of something like the youth convention. It might not look like the old youth convention, but it will be some kind of similar gathering,” explained Lavelle.
The calendar includes at least one diocesan-sponsored youth event a month except at Christmastime and in the busy months of April or May. The calendar includes service opportunities for the summer, retreats and trips to regional and national events such as Abbey Youth Fest and March for Life.
Schuhmann has been putting thought and prayer into her upcoming role. “I do have a vision for what I want it to look like. I want our youth to come together from all over our diocese to see the greater church. I want them to see they are no alone. We are such a minority in our state and I want them to know there is a greater group — they are not alone in their faith. There are a lot of teenagers who embrace the fact that they are Catholic. I want them to feel that unity and know they have support,” said Schuhmann.
“She understands where we have been and where we need to go and she has a vision for that and it includes really connecting our young people in a way that’s holy and fun. She’s got youthful energy, but she’s got some wisdom behind it so I really respect that in her,” said Lavelle.