Over 900 youth attend first Ascend

Bishop Kemme visited with the youth Saturday afternoon, Nov. 9, during the Ascend Conference. (Photo courtesy of WAM)

David Purcell had a name in mind for last weekend’s youth conference – even before he was hired a few months ago as the program coordinator for Youth, Young Adult, and College Ministry for the Diocese of Wichita.

“When I first started I was asked what I would name it,” he said. His reply: “Ascend.”

The former Fellowship of Catholic University Students missionary said the diocese has hosted rallies for middle-school aged youth, but the 2019 Ascend Catholic Middle School Conference, held at Kapaun Mt. Carmel Catholic High School in Wichita, was the first diocesan conference for that age group.

“The entire conference is geared towards conversion and for an encounter with God,” he said. The idea had been discussed for years, but by a fortunate coincidence the conference connects well with Bishop Carl A. Kemme’s lowering of the age of Confirmation in the diocese, Purcell said.

Three of the 950 middle school youth who attended the Ascend Conference last weekend are clearly enjoying the experience. About 1,300 attended, including adults. (Photo courtesy of WAM)

“I remember hearing while I was in FOCUS that if you don’t reach a kid by the age 12 to 14, their odds of them remaining in the faith greatly diminish,” he said. The conference was designed to be something tangible for middle-schoolers, he said, until they get into high school where there are more ministries with more volunteers.

Catholic musician Dante Schmitz opened the conference. Talks were delivered in the morning and afternoon by Chris Padgett, a Catholic speaker, musician, and author, and Noelle Garcia, a Catholic recording artist and speaker. Adoration was conducted mid-afternoon before Bishop Carl A. Kemme’s visit. Lunch, games, and Freddy’s Frozen Custard were also part of the event.

About 950 youth from 66 groups participated in the conference, including two busloads from Southeast Kansas. In total, about 1,300 attended. Purcell said the day was fantastic.

“Being the first year, yea, we have things to improve on, but watching the kids’ reactions was incredible.” He said he received email and comments about how they reached youth who might be described as on the fringe. “Overall, it was wonderful and I look forward to it next year,” he said.

Wichita Adore Ministries assisted in the day’s events. Purcell said a video of the conference is planned for those unable to attend. Details about its availability will be announced.