Testimony: Peter van Kampen on choosing Catholicism and raising Catholic leaders through youth ministry

13 June 2024

Appears in: Archdiocesan News

Jesus beckons to all of us with the simple words “Come, follow me.” “For the Sake of the Call” is a 3-part series, written by Mike Landry, which shares the testimonies of people from the Archdiocese of Edmonton who have heard and answered this call to follow Jesus Christ and place him at the center of their lives. Our final series installment is the faith testimony of Peter van Kampen.

If you’ve spent time at a Catholic youth retreat, rally, conference, or camp over the last 20 years, you’ve likely come across Peter van Kampen.

“I love teenagers, and I love playing, and I love the faith,” Peter says. “I also think teenagers are at a place where they are wrestling with doubts and they’re taking their identity, and that’s the place where people choose the trajectory for the rest of their lives. So, I think it’s the easiest pace to make converts and I think it’s the most important place.”

Peter works as a youth minister for Red Deer Catholic Schools, serving two parishes and three schools in Rocky Mountain House and Sylvan Lake. He is also the author of three books: The Battle for Moriah, Live Simply So That Others Might Simply Live, and The Fullness of Time. He does all this while also being a husband to his wife Catherine and father to five wonderful children in Rocky Mountain House.

 Peter’s faith story begins in Calgary more than 45 years ago, where he grew up as the second oldest of 10 kids. Peter recalls growing up in a faith-filled Catholic family who prayed together, attended Mass, sent their kids to Catholic school, and who were actively involved in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal.

These childhood moments were supplemented by other experiences of faith. Around the time he was in Grade 4, Peter would often get up earlier than his siblings and walk to daily Mass. In high school, he also began attending Protestant youth groups. This led him to question whether Catholicism was true or if just Christianity in general was true.

“I eventually came to the conclusion that if Christianity was true, it had to be the Catholic brand … that it didn’t make sense to accept the authority of scripture without accepting the authority of the Church that gave us Scripture.”

The youth pastors at these other churches would challenge Peter on apologetics, and he would go home and open his Bible and Catechism and find the answers to these questions. Peter says: “That really was a big part of my faith journey, I really liked apologetics, asking the hard questions and feeling confident of the answers.”

His intellectual journey led him to youth groups, volunteer work at Our Lady of Victory Camp, the John Paul II Bible School and two years of seminary formation with the Companions of the Cross religious community. He eventually earned a degree in philosophy and theology from the Dominican College in Ottawa. All of these experiences not only grounded him and shaped him as a man, but they also helped fill his toolbox for the youth ministry that has occupied the bulk of his adult life.

Peter has applied this toolbox of experiences, knowledge, creativity, and an arsenal of Nerf blasters to bringing the faith to life for young people wherever he finds himself. His youth ministry resume is vast, having spent four years as a youth minister in Ottawa, where he was also asked to serve as the master of ceremonies for Days in the Diocese as part of the 2002 World Youth Day.

Since returning to Alberta, Peter has served as program director for Our Lady of Victory Camp, dean of boys at Clearwater Academy preparatory school, youth minister at St. Cecilia’s Parish in Calgary, and youth minister at Sacred Heart Parish in Wetaskiwin, before beginning his current position with Red Deer Catholic Schools in 2011.

Looking back on all these experiences, Peter says that the best part of youth ministry is watching real fruit develop “when you see someone who, based on their upbringing and their family, wouldn’t (otherwise) go to Church, but they become leaders in the Church because they got involved in youth ministry.

“I’ve seen people go on team at Our Lady of Victory Camp, go on Pure Witness, Face 2 Face, NET ministries, become youth ministers themselves, or join the seminary,” Peter says.

“Kids from families who don’t even go to church go off to these things, and then meet and marry someone and they raise more kids in the Church. And you look at that and you say those kids wouldn’t even be Catholic if they hadn’t come to youth group when they were in high school.”

Mike Landry is chaplain for Evergreen Catholic Schools, serving 10 schools west of Edmonton. Mike and his wife Jennifer live in Stony Plain with their five children.

To hear more stories about the Catholic faith coming alive in the Archdiocese of Edmonton, subscribe to our weekly newsletter, The Window.