CYO/Youth and Young Adult director follows God’s lead
For Megan Noll, Catholic youth ministry is about being a servant leader who nurtures a yearning for God. She began nurturing her own skills as a 16-year-old by forming a youth ministry with friends – Catholic and non-Catholic – at her parish, St. Genevieve, in Centerville, Minnesota.
“Catholic means universal, so I was practicing that from the beginning,” Noll said. “I always had an interest in young people being part of the faith.”
Noll said she has a simple guide – following God’s lead through “the doors that are open to me and walking through them.”
The latest open door for Noll is as director of the CYO/ Youth and Young Adult Ministry of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. She brings experience working with youth and families in small and large Catholic communities in Minnesota and Wisconsin. She said she’s kept a focus on God as she sets goals for youth ministry and has filled many hearts with his love along the way.
“If God’s at the heart of it, encountering Christ is the center (for youth),” she said. “That will happen through prayer experiences and people. If we’re not loving people well, we’re going to be less successful.”
What she’s seen so far in the Archdiocese of New Orleans has been reassuring to the 35-year-old. Teens, young adults and mentors are being reached.
“I think this office is engaged with people and working with people,” she said, referring to well-executed events.
Noll received her first taste of local youth ministry when visiting Camp Abbey in July. She said it was raining, but the girl campers were gathered under a pavilion and did a cheer for her.
“They were loud, but it was beautiful,” she said. “There is excitement of being around young people.”
Youth ministry since 2002
In college, Noll got involved as a peer ministry leader; it was something that strengthened her faith and that of other young adults. She graduated with degrees in biology with a chemistry minor and in music from Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, and joined NET Ministries peer-to-peer youth ministry in Australia for a year, working with high school Catholics.
When she returned home to Minnesota, she worked with the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis as a family planning facilitator and outreach coordinator for three years through 2008, focusing on junior high Catholics in seventh through ninth grade. As a 23-year-old, she noticed a brokenness in the youth who came from troubled families that she couldn’t fix.
“After a year in youth ministry, I felt I wasn’t equipped in theology, so I went back to school,” she said, concentrating her graduate work in theology in marriage and family at the John Paul II Institute in Melbourne, Australia, earning a post-graduate diploma in 2006.
In the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, she improved programming for youth, their parents, couples and families and created bilingual materials for the Hispanic community. A summer Extreme Faith Camp also was extremely popular.
“It’s still growing, and I hope it continues to grow,” she said. “Ultimately, it’s Jesus. They are encountering him. It’s a common thing to hear the kids say they feel loved there.”
Her aspirations: Plant seeds
Noll said successful youth ministry builds faith seeds already planted in youth and adults.
“The only reason kids are there was because someone in their life cared about them,” she said. “Youth min- istry is a both/and. You’re focusing on the young people but will naturally affect other people in the process.”
She’s found success by analyzing what’s working and why; cultivating spiritual mentors like the ones who helped her discern what God’s plan was for her; and organizing fun activities in an atmosphere where young people feel safe enough to share their faith.
In her position as director of Marriage, Family and Youth for the Diocese of Superior in Wisconsin, Noll authored a three-year evangelization initiative, developed a high school leadership program (similar to Teen Cross and Catholic Leadership Institute in New Orleans) and the God Campaign.
She also managed to increase participation in a Totus Tuus program, a mother/ daughter and father/son family program, and established an Early Catholic Family Life program of faith sharing among parents with young ￼￼￼￼￼children. A monthly gathering for youth ministers, called Harvest, brought in speakers for various topics.
“I wanted to be a support to (the mentors),” she said.
During her six years in Wisconsin, Noll also earned a master of arts in theology from Melbourne College of Divinity in Australia.
She had a five-year plan in mind when she established a junior high program in Superior, knowing its growth would lead to increased participation in the senior program. And, it did.
“It was fun to watch them praying and going to Mass as a family,” she said, adding how young people have drive and motivation and get their friends to participate and pray together.
N.O. here she comes
New Orleans came calling in February 2015 after a friend mentioned the opening for CYO director.
“I felt like Samuel and thought, ‘Here I am, Lord,’” she said. “I am someone who wants to go where God is calling me. I felt God was calling me here. ... The doors were open wide.”
Noll has spent the last few weeks meeting people and listening. She senses something good going on in the archdiocese that she wants to explore and expand. Collaboration will be key to multiplying the fruit that’s already here.
“The more people we have sharing the Good News, the better,” Noll said.
She considers herself a bit of a “risk taker” and is willing to take a few intellectually calculated risks, knowing the great return obtained when you invest in young people. The secret is to keep Jesus at the heart of it.
“There’s a desire to reach young people, and we need to up our game,” she said. “We need to go out and find them – the good shepherd looking for his lost sheep.”