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OLL Youth Center Marks 25th Anniversary


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Danny O'Callaghan

Teenagers want to talk to lots of people. God isn’t usually one of them.

But for 25 years, Our Lady of the Lake has worked to make sure that the young people of its parish have a place where they can have that conversation, and many others. Conversations with younger people–and older. Conversations with their peers–and with young people from far different economic circumstances. Conversations with people they might see every Sunday–and with people they only encounter on a mission trip hundreds of miles from home.

This Sunday, at the noon mass, Verona’s Catholic church will mark the 25th anniversary of the Danny O’Callaghan Youth Center, a place that has become home to the parish’s Youth Group. “We try to be a safe place for people to come to,” says Barbara Camp,OLL’s youth minister, “a place for living out the Gospel message, not just saying it.”

And yet, even now at OLL, it stings that the center was created because a young man at OLL tried to live out the Bible’s call to be a Good Samaritan, and died for it. That was back in October 1984 when Danny O’Callaghan, a 19-year-old with plans to enter the Marine Corps, tried to break up a fight at a Verona eatery. O’Callaghan was struck with a golf club, a blow that proved fatal three days later.  OLL opened the center named for him in May 1987.

Ever since, it has been a starting point for an exploration of faith and of giving back to the parish, and the world.

Over the years, OLL youth have used the center to organize food drives for a Catholic church in Newark and to babysit parish children so their parents could get a break during Christmas. They have taken the fellowship begun there on mission trips to Kentucky and New Orleans, where they have helped rebuild homes damaged by Hurricane Katrina. (The Youth Group will go back to New Orleans for more outreach at the end of July to work close to the devastated Ninth Ward.) There have been team-building exercises and actual teams, like the Good Samaritans squads you can see in the slideshow, and inter-parish broomball squads.

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Most of all, it is a place for helping kids to develop their spirituality, something that doesn’t always square well with being in high school. “If you have a relationship with God, you know that he is with you,” says Camp. “It may not be a gravy path, but you know that God is with you.”

It is not always easy to keep up with the kids and to keep up with the times. But Camp, who laughingly describes herself as the “oldest living youth minister”, says the OLL Youth Group has always had the full support of OLL’s priests. “The Danny O’Callaghan Youth Center is important for the parish and the town,” she adds. “It serves a real purpose for helping kids develop their spirituality.”

The Sunday, June 10 mass will be for high school seniors at all area schools. Afterwards, there will be a reception in the Youth Center with a presentation honoring the family of Danny O’Callaghan and a broomball game. The mass begins at noon.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story said that the fight that took Danny O’Callaghan’s life took place at a pizzeria. It was at a White Castle that used to occupy that location.

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Virginia Citrano
Virginia Citranohttps://myveronanj.com
Virginia Citrano grew up in Verona. She moved away to write and edit for The Wall Street Journal’s European edition, Institutional Investor, Crain’s New York Business and Forbes.com. Since returning to Verona, she has volunteered for school, civic and religious groups, served nine years on the Verona Environmental Commission and is now part of Sustainable Verona. She co-founded MyVeronaNJ in 2009. You can reach Virginia at [email protected]


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