October 18, 2013

Faith, fellowship are staples of annual New Albany Deanery youth Mass

Joan and Pete Schickel, who have hosted the New Albany Deanery’s fall youth Mass at their family farm since 1983, enjoy dinner. (Photo by Leslie Lynch)

Joan and Pete Schickel, who have hosted the New Albany Deanery’s fall youth Mass at their family farm since 1983, enjoy dinner. (Photo by Leslie Lynch)

By Leslie Lynch (Special to The Criterion)

LANESVILLE—Thirty miniature hot air balloons brightened the overcast night sky in rural southern Indiana on Sept. 29—one for each year that Pete and Joan Schickel have hosted the New Albany Deanery’s fall youth Mass at their family farm.

This year’s Mass was celebrated by Franciscan Father Robert St. Martin, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Lanesville, with the assistance of Deacon Rick Cooper, also of St. Mary Parish. Rain ended just as Mass began, allowing umbrellas and rain gear to be stowed.

Youths and their families from nine parishes came together for the celebration of the Mass. A youth choir from St. Mary Parish in Navilleton led an estimated 300 participants in song. Prior to Mass, nine-year-old Emma Campbell, a member of St. Mary Parish in Lanesville, led people in “The Pledge of Allegiance.”

The fall youth Mass tradition started in 1983 when Father Joseph Sheets proposed the idea. The Schickels, known for their strong faith and their commitment to youths as well as the larger community, embraced the plan.

They saw it as an opportunity for youths to gather and meet other faith-filled teenagers from the larger Catholic community, which dovetailed with the deanery’s vision of quarterly youth Masses. Initially, the focus was limited to teens and youth ministers, then grew to include siblings, families and friends.

Spurred by their faith, and in keeping with their commitment to community, the Schickels open their farm year after year as a labor of love.

“We are stewards of this land, and we are glad to share it in this annual event,” Pete said. “This binds the deanery together, especially the youths. And they enjoy being in a rural area.”

Joan agreed: “The young people just love God’s creation. It’s elating to us to be able to do this.”

She added, “We are morally obligated to use our gifts, our talents, in the service of others.”

This attitude of service is as much a family tradition as the Mass at the Schickel farm. The couple’s son, Robert, and their grandson, Matt Schickel, took over the hayride duties this year, driving a John Deere tractor, and grandsons Michael and Patrick Hardy, both of Louisville, Ky., directed the parking.

The inaugural deanery Mass at the Schickel Farm drew about 50 participants. Essentially unchanged through the years, the evening begins with Mass. Chili, hot dogs and desserts follow, along with hayrides, basketball and fellowship.

What has changed is the level of involvement by the youths. Robert Schickel, a lifelong catechist, remembers the early years when the event was planned and executed by adults.

“Now, I see the youth being more involved. They are learning how to serve,” he said. “They are taking more responsibility now—helping with setting up chairs and tear down afterward, staying to make sure all the trash is picked up.”

He echoed his parents’ sentiments in talking about the meaning the annual liturgy at the family farm holds in his heart.

“No matter where we celebrate Mass—in a church, on a military field, in a barn—it shows us that God is with us, healing our divisions,” he said. “We can honor God in all areas of our lives.”

Leah Cissell, coordinator of programming for the New Albany Deanery, noted that of the quarterly youth Mass opportunities supported and promoted by the deanery, the liturgy at the Schickel farm is the only one to retain its location and character over the years.

“This is the epitome of the Catholic community here in southern Indiana. It’s young people, it’s families, it’s people who came when they were in high school and are bringing their kids,” she said. “It’s an opportunity, first, to share our faith, and then for great fellowship. You might not see people for the whole rest of the year, but you’ll see them out here at the Schickel farm.”

Leigh Ann Campbell echoed these sentiments.

“I’ve been coming for 21 years, about half as a youth, and now as a youth minister,” said Campbell, the youth minister at St. Mary Parish in Lanesville. “When I was a teenager, it was all about coming together with my friends. Now that I have a family, it’s a chance to share faith, community, prayer, and fun as a family.”

The anniversary of the deanery youth Mass at the Schickel farm ended with the launch of the miniature hot air balloons, and a spectacular fireworks display.

First-time attendee Emily Purdy, 15, said, “It was a lot of fun. It’s a regular Mass except that it was outside. It brought everyone together—everybody felt so close—especially the kids. I really enjoyed it, and I hope they keep doing it for a very long time.”

(Leslie Lynch is a member of St. Mary Parish in Lanesville.)

Local site Links: