By Dan Russo
WATERLOO — High school sophomore Jack Nolting of Waterloo will be one of the approximately 1,200 teens going to the 2019 National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC) from the Archdiocese of Dubuque.
It’ll be his first time at the event which draws over 20,000 youth and adult chaperones to Indianapolis for three days of prayer, fellowship and fun. When he gets there Nov. 21, one of the faces he’ll be looking for in the sea of people is his aunt, Sister Zélie Marie Louis. The Sister of Life, before she entered religious life, used to be known as Lizzy Schmitt.
The 2010 Columbus Catholic High School graduate also went to NCYC as a teenager, and she will be coming back, traveling with one of the keynote speakers at the conference — Sister Bethany Madonna, SV, also a member of the Sisters of Life. When Nolting and Sister Zélie meet up, they will have a unique chance to strengthen their bond and their faith through a shared experience.
“Having an extremely religious aunt has helped me a lot through my journey of finding God,” said Nolting in an email interview with The Witness. “She makes sure that I’m always praying before I go to bed or before I eat a meal, little things like that make a big difference in one’s faith.”
Sister Zélie is now living with her congregation in New York City. She took her religious name because it includes the names of the parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. “The Little Flower” is a doctor of the church who died in her 20s after penning her autobiography, “Story of a Soul.” The saint has had a profound influence on Sister Zélie.
While some of the Sisters of Life visited Perth and Sydney, Australia, in May 2019, Sister Zélie was among those interviewed by The Record, the weekly online publication and bi-monthly print magazine of the Catholic Archdiocese of Perth. The sisters were asked why they believe in God.
“For me it’s been so often experiencing that I am not made for this world,” answered Sister Zélie. “My heart was always restless, always seeking friendships, trying to find a relationship that could carry all the weight of my love; I’ve only found rest and meaning in the Lord. Coming to realize that I’m made for Heaven, not made for this world, because this world can be very dark, really full of suffering, it’s easy to wonder why we’re so discontent with this world sometimes. I’ve found that I’m made for the Kingdom of Heaven, and that all my desires are fulfilled in God.”
Annie Zeets, associate director of youth ministry for the Waterloo parishes, was able to recall the passion Sister Zélie had for her faith in high school and the positive impact NCYC had on her.
“My oldest son was a friend of hers,” remembered Zeets.
Zeets will be with Nolting and about 160 other teens from the four Waterloo parishes who will fill four charter buses heading to the conference. The Waterloo parishes’ group is the biggest individual group going to NCYC from the archdiocese. Conference participants will hear from a variety of speakers on the main stage and in smaller break out sessions, listen to live music, engage in acts of service and be able to receive the sacraments, including being part of a massive closing Mass. There will also be many other activities. The theme this year is “Blessed, Broken, Given.”
“I’m going to NCYC this year because I want to grow stronger in faith,” said Nolting. “I think NCYC is a very good opportunity for people who want to be closer to God. I’m looking forward to seeing the bands play. I think music is one of the best ways to spread a message. That’s why I listen to a lot of Christian music.”
Zeets has been to many NCYCs and is again excited to play a role in this year’s.
“My favorite part is when we walk in and seeing the kids who have not gone before,” said Zeets. “They’re always very shocked at how awesome it is.”
Cover Photo: Jack Nolting, a high school student from Waterloo, walks with his aunt, Sister Zélie Marie Louis, who is a Sister of Life. Nolting is going to the 2019 National Catholic Youth Conference for the first time and will get to see his aunt there, who also went to the event when she was in high school. (Contributed photo)