By Jerry Duggan
Over her 50 years as a member of St. Matthew the Apostle Catholic Church, Pam Mason has given her time, talent and treasure to the parish community. She finds her current role, directing the parish’s youth and young adult ministries, to be the most rewarding.
“I grew up in this parish and this neighborhood; this community is still my home,” Mason said. “Having been around for so long, it gives me great joy to give back to the youth who are growing up right where I did so many years ago.”
St. Matthew the Apostle, a Jesuit parish since 1959, has long served as an anchor in the Ville neighborhood of north St. Louis, a predominately African-American neighborhood. Its neighborhood feel is what draws so many to it.
“Seeing the steeple towering over the neighborhood, this place is a beacon of hope for me and for many within and outside of the Ville neighborhood,” she said. “We know that we can find God here.”
For her time-consuming, yet entirely volunteer role, Mason breaks the parish youth up into three groups based on age: those of kindergarten age and below, 1st-6th grade and 7th grade and above. She tailors her content accordingly.
“With my youngest group, we do basic things like arts and crafts and learning about who God is and where to find him,” she said. “For my oldest group, we get into things like confirmation prep and how to stay connected to God through Scripture.”
These ministries are vital to any Catholic Church, but perhaps especially so at St. Matthew’s because many of the parish youth do not attend a Catholic school.
“Young people need to get their faith formation from somewhere, and if they are not getting it through school, then that is where we can step in,” she said.
She also engages the parish youth in the broader community, occasionally partnering with nearby parishes to engage in community service work and activities.
“There is a parish community, but there is also a broader Ville community,” she explained. “Each one needs the other.”
After learning about Ignatian Spirituality around 2000, Mason has since sought to apply its principles in her everyday life and passes them on to the youth she accompanies.
“The concepts that Ignatian Spirituality seeks to instill don’t have to be abstract. Finding God in all things, being a contemplative in action, and the like can be boiled down such that they are teachable to even the youngest audiences.”
As an example, she teaches her younger groups to think before they act, and to act in a manner that God would want them to.
“Being a contemplative in action, on a most basic level, involves thinking before you act – taking that time to discern the impact of your actions,” she said. “Kids often just ‘do’ – they don’t think before they act or consider the ramifications of their behavior. Encouraging them to take that extra time can be very helpful in guiding them toward better choices.”
Mason has help from other members of the parish community but takes on most of the organizing herself. This is a lot on her plate, but she considers it an honor.
“Having gone to school here, I know what a special place this is to grow up. I would never want to be anywhere else but here.”