Catechizing and evangelizing the young Church into lifelong disciples of Christ

December 13, 2022

Teens hold hands in prayer during the 2022 Archdiocesan Youth Conference, one of several major events coordinated by the Office of Adolescent Catechesis and Evangelization. (Herald file photo by Sean O’Driscoll)

HOUSTON — An integral part of the Catholic Church’s vocation and mission in history has been to form young people into lifelong disciples of Christ.

The first ministry of the Archdiocese oriented toward middle school and high school-aged Catholic youth was the Catholic Youth Organization, established in 1937. In 1963, its name changed to the Office of Youth Ministry (OYM), and finally, in 2012, the Office of Adolescent Catechesis and Evangelization (OACE).

According to the director of OACE, Tim Colbert, its current name better reflects the office’s renewed commitment to effectively form adolescents into lifelong disciples in the Catholic tradition in addition to providing social, fellowship and recreational opportunities. The ministry provides a comprehensive approach to youth ministry through leadership, formation and resources to approximately 3,400 adolescents, parish youth leadership and parents annually. Colbert said several of the ministry’s programs and services have been modeled by parishes and diocesan offices all over the U.S. because of their proven success.

This includes one of OACE’s events that celebrated its 67th year this past July, the Archdiocesan Youth Conference (AYC). The summer conference has grown from several hundred high-school youth with formal dances and diocesan CYO elections to now having an average of 2,400 to 2,800 participants with a concentration on formation, worship, discipleship and fellowship. The only break in tradition was the summer of 2020 when social distancing measures required the event to go online.

Despite obstacles, Colbert said AYC continues to be the largest gathering of young people sponsored, planned and implemented by OACE, and is one of the best opportunities to evangelize the young Church today. James Carrasco, currently the director of youth ministry at St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Lake Jackson, agrees. While attending AYC in high school, he personally witnessed the tremendous impact the conference can have on converting young minds and hearts to Christ.

During the event, Carrasco said he felt the call from the Holy Spirit to become a youth minister. He believes that because of this experience, his faith began to grow by leaps and bounds. Shortly after graduating from college, he accepted the call and became a youth minister, and was able to take his first group of teens to AYC. He credits the mentorship and encouragement of OACE staff for equipping him for this important full-time career in youth ministry. “OACE has helped me continue my formation in youth ministry through Professional Growth Days, the Sanctus Renovo Retreat, and Youth Ministry Connect gatherings,” Carrasco said. “I am most grateful for the ministry’s ongoing accompaniment with me through all the blessings and the challenges that are part of this beautiful vocation. Thanks to the powerful youth conference I experienced as a teenager and the steadfast professional support of OACE, I have now coordinated and witnessed the Confirmation of more than 1,300 young people — what an incredible blessing!”

OACE is one of 64 ministries supported by the Diocesan Services Fund (DSF). Colbert said the financial support of the Faithful through DSF makes it possible for OACE to continue its ministry.

“The cost of providing AYC, for example, will soon be beyond the reach of many parishes,” said Colbert. “We are in urgent need of funds like DSF to underwrite the conference in order to continue to provide this life-changing experience for adolescents.”

Carrasco agrees that DSF support improves the quality of youth ministry programs available from OACE across the Archdiocese.

“I support DSF because the funding makes it possible for OACE to continue bringing in absolute top-notch youth ministry professionals from all over the country to help with our formation and spiritual growth,” said Carrasco. “This financial support also makes it possible for OACE to provide world-class youth conference experiences like AYC for our young people at a cost that is within the reach of every parish.”

Colbert said DSF also supports the training and important work of the Archdiocesan Youth Council, which was first commissioned in July 1994 by the late Archbishop Emeritus Joseph A. Fiorenza. Twenty-eight years later, the commission still consists of high-school representatives from parishes and Catholic schools in the Galveston-Houston area that meet together to ensure that the voices of the young Church continue to be heard and respected by Archdiocesan leadership.

This includes an annual gathering with Daniel Cardinal DiNardo. Colbert said several other dioceses across the nation have modeled their own councils in response to the Archdiocesan Youth Council’s success.

“Another key responsibility of OACE is to ensure that parish staff and volunteers have the knowledge and skills to assist the young Church in becoming lifelong disciples within a safe environment,” said Colbert. “DSF funding allows us to have the technology and equipment to provide training and resources that are available 24/7 in a virtual setting.”

If more DSF monies were available, Colbert said OACE would implement several new initiatives that would better serve the growing and ever-changing needs of youth across the Archdiocese.

One example is expanding OACE’s reach to the Spanish-speaking community, which includes the development of retreats for Spanish-speaking youth, including a one-day retreat for Quinceañera. In addition, other direct outreach programs and the creation of a fully bilingual website and other resources would be possible.

“Bishop Italo (Dell’Oro) has requested that we develop retreats for Spanish-speaking youth,” said Colbert. “In many instances, the Spanish-speaking programs are run by volunteers who are not trained in effective retreat ministry. Also, because many of these parishes do not have the resources to afford a retreat center and retreat leaders, this is the most immediate need.”

Colbert said the office also would like to complete the development of an online, multi-tiered formation resource for youth ministers designed to provide access to immediate knowledge and skills in a plethora of interest areas without committing to a multi-year certification program.

He said OACE also is in the process of creating task forces to assess the current needs of adolescents in middle-school, as well as Catholic Youth of African Descent, to develop programs and services that better address their needs and provide expanded outreach to these groups.

To learn more about OACE and its programs and services, visit To donate to DSF and support OACE and 63 other ministries, go to DSF supports these ministries, whether direct service or education, which require this critical funding to remain in operation. Out of each gift given to DSF, 100% of every dollar goes directly to supporting these ministries.