Testimony: Youth ministry brought Landry to Jesus and gave him a place to belong

30 May 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. This week, we begin with Mike Landry’s own story.

After arriving at Holy Family Catholic Church in St. Albert, in the fall of 1994, Fr. George LaGrange noticed a lack of young people in our pews and decided to do something about it. His decision to hire a youth minister for our parish would be one that would change the direction of my life.

Those who grow up going to Church are sometimes referred to as “cradle Catholics.” That’s how my faith story begins. I was baptized a Catholic, grew up in a Catholic home, and went to a Catholic school. I prayed when I was in trouble or when someone I loved was sick, but God was no different to me than a divine Santa Claus, perched high in the clouds keeping a naughty-nice-list that would hopefully have me on the nice side when someday I would die. I was still half-heartedly attending Mass in my teenage years when my parish welcomed a new pastor and, a few months later, a youth minister.

Tracy Connelly introduced herself to the parish one Sunday in early 1995. Her arrival in our community was at a crucial moment in my life. Uncertainties in my family coupled with the awkwardness of adolescence had me searching for a place where I belonged.

Mike with Tracy Connelly, circa 1996.

I had tried out for school sports and music programs but wasn’t very good at either. If I played at all, I wound up playing a lot of secondary or background parts in the band or on the team. When Tracy proposed to launch youth ministry at our parish, I remember thinking to myself “they have to let me take part…it’s the Church!”

This youth ministry certainly became that place to belong. Tracy and many of the other adults involved took me under their wing, mentoring and encouraging me as I grew older. Some of youth I met there became dear friends. I am grateful to call many of them friends today. In that community I encountered a taste of the love and care I was struggling to find at home.

For me, there was no “aha” moment which turned me to my faith—God’s booming voice calling out from the clouds or something like that—that’s just not how my story goes. The next three-and-a-half years would be a journey for me through retreats, youth nights, summer camps, and quiet times of prayer in my room where I went from knowing about God, to coming to know Him as a person.

I came to know Him as a companion, a friend—someone who valued me, loved me, and watched out for me—even in the most difficult things I would go through. One evening during a leadership workshop, Tracy challenged us to make prayer a part of our daily routine. She asked us to commit to spend at least a couple of minutes every day in prayer.

I’d never really done this, and at first found it incredibly difficult. But the longer I stuck with it—spending a few minutes in conversation with God—the clearer it became that Jesus was more than just another character in a story. He was my Lord, my Saviour, and my dearest friend.

He was the one I could count on to be there no matter what else happened. Ultimately, these experiences led me to ask the daring question that has guided my life ever since: “God, what do you want me to do with my life?”

The answers to that question brought me to Bible School and two theology degrees (including a BTh from Newman Theological College) and more than 26 years serving in some form of youth ministry. My adult life has been dedicated to ministry because I simply want to be able to offer young people the same opportunity I had when I was fifteen: the chance to discover a family of faith, that Jesus is a real person, and that His call truly does offer us “life to the full” (John 10:10).

While I know God is still leading me on this journey, I can look back on the great times and the hard times as being worth it. All of it has helped to shape me into the person I am today. And I certainly believe Fr. George’s decision to invest in youth ministry made a difference; I wouldn’t be who I am today without that opportunity and those experiences.

 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.

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