A member of St. Joseph the Worker parish enjoys the festivities at an American Steubenville conference. Photo courtesy of St. Joseph the Worker parish

Steubenville Toronto already sold out

By 
  • March 15, 2014

TORONTO - Toronto’s inaugural Steubenville conference has already sold out, months in advance.

This three-day conference hosted multiple times a year in various cities across Canada and the United States invites teens for praise, worship, sacraments, talks and an opportunity to become closer to God.

On Jan. 13, registration for the July 4-6 youth conference went on sale with 2,300 spots available. Within 24 hours, 1,700 spots had been booked. And six weeks later, registration was full.

Fr. Frank Portelli attributes the success in part to the strength of the Steubenville brand.

The “Steubenville name is like (what) you might consider Tim Horton’s or Starbucks... Steubenville conferences have built up their brand with youth ministries and they have a high energy, high impact weekend retreat (and) conference. So this is something that has grown organically and it has appeal to youth ministries that want this type of event,” said Portelli, director of the Office for Catholic Youth in the Archdiocese of Toronto.

The Toronto event came about after OCY learned that youth ministries in the archdiocese were attending the popular conferences south of the border. Steubenville was also looking to expand its market. And so the OCY partnered with Steubenville to bring the youth conference that started in Steubenville, Ohio, in 1976 to Toronto.

“The highlights (of conferences) are the teens themselves. They were excited for adoration; they were excited to go to confession... Seeing teenagers line up for confession or excited about the Eucharist is ultimately the game here,” said Portelli. “That kind of excitement hopefully will invigorate young people. They will go back to their parishes (and) they will say I want to get involved.”

Portelli hopes Steubenville Toronto will be an annual event, replacing the OCY’s summer retreat to Martyrs’ Shrine in Midland, Ont., that reached capacity at 500 registrants. Portelli says they do not plan to open up new spots for the upcoming Toronto conference due to space capacity at the Mattamy Athletic Centre, the former Maple Leaf Gardens in downtown Toronto where the conference will take place.

The cost of registration for Stuebenville Toronto is $275, including accommodation, food and programming, excluding travel costs. The largest group that registered is coming from St. Joseph the Worker parish in Vaughan, Ont.

“The majority of other parishes are bringing 20... and we’re bringing 200,” said Vlad Mamaradlo, Lay Youth Pastor at St. Joseph the Worker.

This will be the parish’s fourth year attending a Steubenville conference but the first time attending one in Canada.

“We see value in terms of seeing young people get excited for the faith, to practice their faith... and falling in love with Jesus,” said Mamaradlo. “We’ve decided to use different methods to get young people to come.”

From the pulpit to social media such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram, St. Joseph the Worker has been promoting Steubenville Toronto for months, but Mamaradlo says word of mouth is most effective.

He challenged the students who have attended Steubenville conferences before to encourage their friends to commit to attending the Toronto conference.

“Ten people getting 10 friends. That adds up fairly quickly, and that’s how we get to 200,” he said.

“There’s two groups that we need to convince. There’s the parents that would be willing to cough up the money to send their kids to a weekend like this and the young person that needs to be motivated and sold in wanting to attend an event like this.”

Additional costs, such as travel, for St. Joseph the Worker increased the price of attending the conference to $300 for each young person, so the parish subsidized the cost by half. The registrants pay $150 and the parish pays the rest.

“I hope it (the conference) ignites our young people here in Toronto. And I hope it gives them a different experience of faith than perhaps what they normally experience,” said Mamaradlo. “Going to a conference like this let’s them know they’re part of a broader community and that there are young people out there that are likeminded, that are passionate about Jesus Christ, that love Jesus Christ, that want to live up to His commandments, to His expectations and that living it out can be a fun thing.”

He added: “It doesn’t have to be a boring faith. It can be an exciting, dynamic, practical experience of faith.”

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