More than 2,000 young people prayed, sang, played and listened to inspirational talks at the inaugural Steubenville Toronto conference held at the Mattamy Centre July 4-6. Photo by Bill Wittman.

Steubenville rocks Toronto

  • July 9, 2014

TORONTO - Hundreds of students lining up for reconciliation, kids playing Frisbee with the Sisters of Life, bishops sitting with teens rocking out to worship-and-praise music and thousands of young people on their knees adoring the Eucharist — scenes from Toronto’s first Steubenville youth conference. 

From July 4-6 at the Mattamy Centre (formerly Maple Leaf Gardens) 1,968 young attendees and 250 volunteers prayed, sang, played and listened to inspirational talks at the inaugural Steubenville Toronto conference, nicknamed SteubieTO. 

Predominately high-school students, most came from the Toronto area but Ottawa’s Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, along with newly appointed Bishop Christian Riesbeck, brought two busloads of teens to the conference. Prendergast has been accompanying young people to Steubenville conferences since the late 1990s and helped bring a Steubenville event to Halifax. 

“I am aware of how exciting Steubenville can be for the young people, how encouraging it can be and if they’re joyful, I want to be joyful with them,” he said. 

“Some of our young people, when they are at school or with their friends, they go to church, it’s not cool and they come here and discover all kinds of young people are enthusiastic about Jesus and about God and the Church. It encourages their faith, strengthens them, puts them on the right track.” 

In addition to a lineup of inspirational speakers, Cardinal Thomas Collins and other priests and bishops were on site to celebrate Mass, hear confessions and lead eucharistic adoration throughout the weekend. 

Kaylee Moynihan, 18, from Orangeville, Ont., credits the sacrament of reconciliation with opening her heart to God after her father left her family. After attending other Steubenville conferences in the past, this year she joined Steubenville’s LEAD program, a week-long retreat for young Catholic leaders that culminates at the conference. Through LEAD, she was chosen to share her testimony on stage with the entire audience. 

“Even to this day, whenever I struggle with opening my heart to God… I can always just go to the sacraments and I can find Him there and He’ll help me learn step by step how to do it again,” she said. “And I just want to challenge all of you guys to do the same. No matter how broken-hearted you are, no matter how hard it is for you to figure out how to open your heart, I invite you all to run to the sacraments and find peace in God.” 

By the end of the conference weekend, teens are left with a spiritual high, but it’s not enough, said Fr. Frank Portelli, director of the Office of Catholic Youth in Toronto. It was his suggestion that a Steubenville conference be brought to Toronto. 

“Every time you’re on a retreat, you have a mountain-top experience. Just like the transfiguration, you see Jesus in a different way and much more clearly,” he said. “They’e on a high here and they’re close to God, and then the real work takes place when you go down the mountain, when you go back to real life, and it’s not the same. You don’t see Jesus as clearly any more. 

“When the high is over . . . now integrate this experience into your faith and go back to your parishes and, as Pope Francis says, go and make a mess, go and push the community, go and push the pastor, go and push the Church to integrate the new you.” 

Steubenville youth conferences began in 1976 with 1,000 young people at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio. Today 20 conferences are held in the United States and Canada, with many of them selling out. Technically, the Toronto event was sold out but some churches and other organizations that bought tickets in blocks failed to pass on all their allotment. 

The youth ministry from St. Joseph the Worker parish didn’t have that problem. The parish had 236 young people at the event, the largest group to attend. Even when they attend conferences south of the border, the group is typically the largest there. 

“We have built a strong base of about 100 youth who come to church on a regular basis, are involved in various parish programs, and who make a consistent effort to genuinely live out their faith,” said lay pastoral associate Vladimir G. Mamaradlo. “We challenged them to bring a friend each and, before we knew it, we were over our 200 participant goal.” 

St. Joseph the Worker uses Steubenville conferences as an evangelization tool and has many veteran attendees. Many told The Catholic Register that Steubenville Toronto could be improved if security let students move through the aisles more readily, especially during the high moments of the worship band like they do at U.S. conferences. Periodically during the conference, teens danced at the foot of the stage, often led by attendees from St. Joseph’s. 

Portelli plans to organize Steubenville Toronto again next year with hopes of staying out of the red by attracting more corporate sponsors, private donors and advertisers. A challenge for next year, said Portelli, is finding a suitable venue because the Pan Am Games and the Parapan Am Games have booked many ideal locations. 

For highlights of Steubenville Toronto, visit

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