Steubenville Toronto’s inaugural conference took place on July 4-6, 2014 at Mattamy Athletic Centre. Photo courtesy of OCY

Big dreams for SteubieTO

By 
  • July 31, 2015

TORONTO - The Steubenville Toronto conference gets its “second kick at the can,” said Fr. Frank Portelli, as it follows last year’s successful launch with another highly anticipated conference.

From Aug. 7 to 9, SteubieTO will be hosting about 1,500 youth at Roy Thomson Hall in downtown Toronto for a weekend in celebration of “the God who is limitless.” Portelli, director of Toronto’s Office of Catholic Youth (OCY), is looking at the second annual event as an opportunity to start thinking about the conference’s long-term sustainability.

“Where I’d like to go eventually is to have more than one weekend,” said Portelli. “Just by virtue of Catholic numbers in our school system, we should be humming all summer with something like this.”

Portelli says he hopes to grow enough interest in SteubieTO to eventually have the archdiocese active in ministry throughout the summer. The goal right now is to grow conference attendance next year to about 2,000 to 2,500 people. If interest grows to about 4,000, Portelli wants to look at having two weekend conferences in the summer.

This would follow in the footsteps of the originator of the Steubenville conference from the Ohio university that bears its name. Franciscan University of Steubenville created the annual conference in 1975 for Catholic priests. It has since grown to expand to other adult conferences and a fast-growing youth conference series, which is well-known across North America for its lineup of prominent Catholic speakers, dynamic talks and lively worship concerts.

Steubenville Ohio now hosts five consecutive weekend conferences every year.

“When I tell my staff that, they start pulling their hair out,” Portelli joked. “But the point would be that this would be sustainable. Part of the other thing would be for us to help expose different people in Toronto to this, help build up our speaker pool, musician pool and we can also recommend to our other events eventually.”

Steubenville Atlantic, Canada’s first Steubenville conference series, was a model Portelli referred to when looking at what long-term benefits the annual conferences could bring to Toronto’s youth ministry. Now celebrating nine years, Steubenville Atlantic has seen results in its community.

Steubenville Atlantic regional co-ordinator John Stevens said that the conference has played a big part in increasing vocations within the Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth. He has also seen youth who attended the conferences meet future spouses and eventually start families over the years.

“It’s an investment, as well,” said Stevens. “If it goes hand-in-hand with reaching out to families and parishes ministering to young people, it becomes a part of a network of things that are necessary to help a person grow in discipleship.”

When Portelli attended Steubenville Atlantic 2013, Stevens shared what they have learned in growing the conference.

“Toronto is a whole different beast, in terms of the Catholic community in Canada,” said Stevens. “When you move into major markets, such as Toronto or New York, which is starting their own conference this year, finding the right venue that is the right size is difficult.”

Because the event is coinciding with the Toronto Parapan Am Games, the conference was moved from the Mattamy Athletic Centre to Roy Thomson Hall.

However, Matthew Sanders, special projects manager at the Archdiocese of Toronto, said the change of venue is turning out to be providential.

“Mattamy was good in some ways because there’s lots of space, but it was freezing,” he said. “Because it was an ice rink the seating arrangement is rectangular. There’s no such thing as a bad seat in Roy Thomson Hall. It’s gonna make for a much better user experience.”

Sanders said this year’s conference aims to be bigger and more dynamic. However, Roy Thomson is not going to be SteubieTO’s permanent home. OCY is still looking for the right venue.

“We’re trying to look at places in the (Greater Toronto Area) that have the capacity to hold 2,500 people,” said Portelli. “The ideal place would be a campus that would have enough residences and green space. Those are few and far between.”

Registrations for the Steubenville Toronto conference remain open online at steubenvilletoronto.com.

The Catholic Register’s Youth Speak News team will be covering Steubenville TO conference. Follow our daily live coverage online at catholicregister.org/ysn. You can also follow us on Twitter, @youthspeaknews, and like our Facebook page, fb.com/YouthSpeakNews.

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I can't wait for this year's Steubenville conference! 3 more days!

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