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Two locals honored with national TEC awards

A priest and a layman from the Archdiocese of New Orleans are among the select group of Catholics honored this year by the national conference of Teens Encounter Christ (TEC).

TEC, an international Catholic movement dedicated to helping older adolescents and young adults deepen their experience of the Paschal Mystery, recently presented Father John Arnone, pastor of St. Bernard  Church in St. Bernard and Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Violet, and Chris LaRosa, a youth ministry volunteer for 20 years from St. Andrew the Apostle Parish, with 2011 “Spirit of TEC” awards.

The men are two of only 38 recipients nationwide who were recognized for their outstanding service to Catholic youth and young adults, their contribution to TEC, and their witness to the Paschal Mystery in their daily lives.

Family touted TEC

Father Arnone, 43, recalls hearing his sisters and parents – who at the time were youth ministers at St. Andrew the Apostle – rave about TEC when he was growing up.

“They tried for probably eight years to convince me to go on a TEC retreat, but I just wasn’t in that place; I wasn’t ready to make a retreat,” said Father Arnone, who finally relented, made a retreat with his brother and began discerning a vocation to the priesthood two years later.

Father Arnone has been involved in the local TEC community for 21 years, becoming its spiritual director in 2000 at the request of then-Auxiliary Bishop Gregory Aymond.

TEC, which operates under the CYO/Youth and Young Adult Ministry Office, offers quarterly retreats at the Magnificat Retreat Center in Robert, La., that begin on a Saturday morning and end on Monday evening. TEC’s core team of eight adults is assisted by 25 young people who serve on various committees.

Meeting kids where they are

“It’s such a good, well-rounded, theology-based program,” Father Arnone said. “And (the retreats are) done in a nonthreatening environment, which is important especially with the young who don’t want feel forced to do things. (The TEC leaders and retreatants) accept who you are and where you are in your faith.

“TEC is all about the Paschal Mystery and how to know yourself better and see how the Lord is acting in your life,” he said, noting that TEC retreat talks are given by teens and young adults themselves.

“We live and teach our faith by who we are. Even if you’re in junior high, the way you live shows your faith to the public through the choices we make, our actions,” Father Arnone said. “Whether you are in elementary school or a senior citizens home, when people come to know you in your life, they can hopefully see the reflection of Christ in you.”

A ‘community’ of faith

A petroleum chemist, LaRosa, 40, says he felt a pull to refocus his life on his faith and more actively serve others after more than 1,000 faithful attended the funeral of his mother, an organist and singer at LaRosa’s boyhood parish of St. Christopher in Metairie.

“Here I am at 14 or 15 thinking, ‘How can I possibly ever have that impact? What will I leave behind?’” he recalls.

LaRosa made his first TEC retreat the summer before his senior year at Archbishop Rummel High, and has gone from being a teenage participant to serving as the local TEC core group’s retreat ministry team liaison. He also shares his talents as a piano player at TEC weekends and is an adult volunteer with the CYO group at St. Andrew the Apostle in Algiers – his parish for the last 20 years – assisting as an instructor and retreat leader in the confirmation program and as a chaperon at youth events.

“(TEC) filled that void and gave me a chance to share that faithfulness with other people,” said LaRosa, who is also a “go-to” volunteer at the archdiocesan level whenever he is called upon by John Smestad Jr., director of the CYO/Youth and Young Adult Ministry Office and a fellow graduate of Loyola and TEC veteran.

“All of us are not just partners in ministry, we’re all friends,” said LaRosa of TEC’s group of adult mentors. “It really is a community; it’s not just a program.”

One of LaRosa’s proudest accomplishments is founding the New Orleans Relay for Life 12 years ago, a July fund-raiser benefiting the American Cancer Society that draws most of its participants from junior and senior CYO groups. LaRosa said he was eager to create an archdiocese-wide event that fostered “building community” to add a new option to the numerous regimented retreat days and competitive events already available to Catholic youth.

“Sure enough, 400 people showed up the first year, and it has been building and doing better each year,” LaRosa said. To date, Relay for Life has raised about $250,000, largely through $3 and $5 donations from teenagers.

 “It always amazes me how young people plug themselves in so much to what they believe in,” LaRosa said. “When they believe, they really, really believe, and they really show it and live it.”

TEC is active in more than 40 dioceses in the United States, Canada, the Bahamas, South and Central America and Europe. Since 1990 it has awarded the Spirit of TEC award to about 750 individuals.

To learn more, go to www.tecneworleans.com or call the CYO/Youth and Young Adult Ministry Office at 836-0551.

Beth Donze can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .