- Associated Press - Monday, May 19, 2014

APPLETON, Wis. (AP) - If a young soul wanders, Mother Mary Catherine has dedicated her to life to shepherding it back on the path to heaven.

She is trying to save souls as the founder and mother superior of a newly formed community of Roman Catholic religious women within the Diocese of Green Bay. They’re called the Missionaries of the Word and their focus is to bring the Gospel to teens and young adults, which can be a volatile age for faith.

“I always consider it like rebounding them back into the court,” Mother Mary Catherine told Post-Crescent Media (http://post.cr/1st18aP). “We see it as such a teetering time of you can either go one way or the other. If you have the truth, you really can make a whole different choice. And those choices and those values, I remember from my education days, are what build your character and that’s what shapes the whole direction of your life.”

Green Bay Diocese Bishop David Ricken, who established the Missionaries of the Word on May 1 during a Mass at St. Pius X church in Appleton, said igniting the faith in young adults can make them strong believers for life. The small community of sisters, now marked by their blue habits, are trying to do just that by working in the spirit of New Evangelization, a movement within the Catholic Church to reintroduce the faith to those who no longer practice.

“We have a couple of generations of Catholics who haven’t been really engaged in their faith. Part of that is all the pressure from the culture, but part of it as well is that we haven’t done a very good job of really making disciples, you know real followers of Jesus, of our Catholic people,” Ricken said. “We can see that so many people that fall away from the church eventually wind up falling away from God. Some of them go to other churches, but often times they just quit and they get farther and farther away from God. So a person’s soul can wind up in trouble with all kinds of problems if they’ve excluded God or neglected God.”

Ricken said people are created as finite beings that are all going to die, but a part of each person - the soul - lives forever and has an eternal destiny. Those who knowingly and willingly reject God are destined for hell, Ricken said, while those who accept God will find their way into purgatory - a state of purification - and heaven. Christians and Catholics are supposed to be continuously working at getting to heaven

The sisters help invite Jesus into the hearts and minds of people through their examples of joy, happiness and living in community, Ricken said.

Mother Mary Catherine, 51, and the two novices, Sister Maria Lucia Stella Maris, 23, and Sister Marie Bernadette of the Sacred Heart, 22, are living together at St. Joseph Formation Center at Kangaroo Lake in Door County. The sisters work with Catholic Youth Expeditions, an outdoor ministry for teen and young adults, which also is based at the formation center. Another young woman, Erin Schuessler, has joined the Missionaries of the Word as a postulant, the period of discernment prior to the novitiate.

The women have been working with Catholic Youth Expeditions and its founder and director, the Rev. Quinn Mann, for several years

The premise of the outdoor ministry is to teach young people how to pray and create a deeper, more meaningful relationship with Jesus while enjoying the outdoors and community. It comes at a time when the teens and 20-somethings are searching for answers.

“I think with a lot of youth and young adults there’s a lot of anxiety, a lot of stress and a lot of worry,” Mann said. “And this anxiety of what am I going to do, where am I going to go, who am I going to meet and that’s really just a derivative of fear. Jesus said ‘be not afraid.’ I think it’s helping take away the fear of the unknown and actually accepting that.”

It was Mann’s ministry and Catholic Youth Expeditions that inspired Mother Mary Catherine, then Margaret Peggy Duemling, to talk to the bishop about starting the community. Her asthma forced her to leave the Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa’s religious congregation. After several years of working at a Catholic school in Menomonee Falls, she was still figuring out where God was calling her to serve. Under the guidance of her spiritual director, she was pondering something completely new that would make women of these times feel alive. Then-Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan told her to meet with Ricken and Mann.

“I came up and met Father Quinn and after we talked for about an hour-and-a-half, it was just like the strongest kind of something came in my heart that this is the way, walk in it. Go,” Mother Mary Catherine said.

Ricken told her to pray and discern whether it was the direction God was leading her, a process that lasted until 2012. At that time, she and a few other women began living in community and discerning together, splitting time between St. Pius X in Appleton and the formation center.

The private community existed until May 1, when Mother Mary Catherine took her new religious name and professed her final religious vows of chastity, obedience and poverty during the Mass at St. Pius X. Sister Lucia and Sister Bernadette also entered the community’s novitiate, a two-year period of discernment and prayer that is meant to test them.

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