CHASE HAWKINS was a high schooler himself when he first felt the connection a great youth group can provide.
“Growing up in Cincinnati, I don’t remember a lot of parishes having youth groups, so I thought it was pretty cool when our church started one,” Hawkins says. “That feeling never left me.”
In fact, that feeling was so strong that on his summer vacations in college from Marquette University, Hawkins worked at Life Teen Camp Covecrest in the mountains of Georgia. It was here that his calling to be a youth minister was solidified.
“It was an experience like no other,” Hawkins says of his time working with high schoolers off the grid in Georgia. “Every day I would see teens have real life encounters with God for the first time in their lives. Every single day. It was incredible. I knew this was something I wanted to facilitate for others.”
So, after graduating from the University of Notre Dame last May with a master’s degree in divinity, Hawkins was offered the vacant spot as the COR Youth Group Minister at the Church of St. Mary in Lake Forest.
“I met St. Mary’s associate pastor Fr. Radley (Alcantara) when I was working at Life Teen,” Hawkins says. “I reached out to him at the beginning of my job search and met him for coffee in Lake Forest. A number of people stopped to chat with us while we were talking, and I got a sense for how welcoming this community was.”
Hawkins got to work right away this summer, partnering with other youth organizations like the ones at CROYA and Christ Church to meet the area teens and get a sense for what they are open to.
“My main objective for this first year has been simply to get to know the teens better,” he says. “My next step will be to come up with ways for how our youth can grow together as a community.”
Consistency is the primary strategy for the new youth minister, meeting nearly every Sunday evening at 6 p.m. in St. Mary’s Parish Center for an hour or two.
“My main principle to keep is consistency,” Hawkins says. “I know how busy the kids are, but my hope is that over time, COR (which means ‘heart’ in Latin) will become a priority for them.
“I want to be able to provide a space where teens can bring themselves as they are to experience a positive community—free from the pressures of high school life, whether those are academic, social, sports, applying for colleges—all those stresses that are there all of the time,” he says. “I want COR to be a place where they can set those aside for an hour or so on Sundays. I also want high schoolers to feel empowered to practice their faith and ask questions about it and realize that it’s not just something they learned in grade school or religious ed class or something only their grandmas have. God is already reaching out to them, inviting them to encounter His love and experience His mercy and joy in every moment of their lives. I want to help them see this.”
Early in 2023, Hawkins will be unveiling a number of opportunities for teens to get involved, including discussions about the role of faith with mental wellness, how they can be part of Camp Hope (the local summer camp for young adults with physical and cognitive differences where area teens volunteer), as well as an overnight retreat.
“There seems to be genuine excitement about youth ministry that I’m feeling from our teens and their parents,” Hawkins adds. “God definitely works in ways I never could. COR is really about me creating a safe space where we can connect and allow this to happen.”
To learn more about the COR youth group, visit churchofstmary.org/corhigh-school-youth and follow COR on Instagram @cor.youthministry.