Mother of the Americas youth group promotes vocations

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Mother of the Americas youth group promotes vocations

Members of the St. Aloysius Youth Group at Our Lady of the Americas Parish, 2226 S. Whipple St., serve at Mass on March 3, 2024. The group serves the noon Mass each Sunday along with special occasions during the year. Members, all young men, must be open to God’s will for them and to discerning a vocation to priesthood. They meet regularly throughout the year with priests and seminarians for spiritual and social gatherings and take part in events through the Office for Vocations. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Seminarian and transitional deacon Cristian Garcia talks with Michael Gomez Hernandez before Mass in the chapel. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Harley Lema puts on his vestments before Mass begins. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Dante Hernandez lights the candles in the sanctuary before Mass. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Jair Gomez lights the incense in the sacristy that he will carry during the opening procession. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic
Maryknoll Deacon Charles goes over last minute details with Boris Alacantar and Jair Gomez before Mass begins. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Joseph Martinez speaks over the phone to another member making his way to the church. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Father Tom Boharic, pastor, leads the group in a prayer before they serve at Mass. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Jair Gomez carries the incenser as he approaches the sanctuary during the opening procession. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Axel Gonzalez joins Boharic as they bow toward the altar during Mass. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
The Sanctus bells next to the altar. One of the young men rang the bells during the consecration to draw attention to the precise moment when transubstantiation – the conversion of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ – takes place. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Damian Villafranca waits for other servers before heading into the sanctuary. They enter the sanctuary through the sacristy and an unused side chapel. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
The young men assist Agony with the incense before the Gospel reading. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
The servers kneel by the tabernacle as Communion draws to a close. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Agony assists Boharic during Mass. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
The young men kneel along with Father Tom Boharic and Maryknoll Deacon Charles Agony after the Eucharist is returned to the tabernacle. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
The young men tend to their stations after the final procession, placing items they used during Mass in their designated places. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
The members who served Mass on March 3 pose for a group photo following Mass. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

Mother of the Americas Parish in Little Village has a unique youth group dedicated to promoting vocations to the priesthood.

St. Aloysius Youth Group, named after the patron of youth, draws young men ages 13 to 18 from across the archdiocese. Up to 30 teens participate from the North, West and South Sides of Chicago as well as the South suburbs. The only requirements to join are a desire to learn more about their faith and being open to whatever God is calling them to do in life, including the priesthood.

One of the group’s regular activities is serving noon Mass on Sundays. Members take the responsibility very seriously.

“We like to have things a little more professional, more structured,” said Joseph Martinez, 16, who is the group’s leader. “We want people to have peace when they look at the altar.”

The boys come early to Mass to vest in light blue cassocks and capes — the color is a nod to Mary, to whom they are dedicated — and white surplices. They wear black clothing and dress shoes underneath.

Once vested, the boys go into an unused side chapel to socialize and prepare for Mass. They set up the altar, and then, throughout Mass, they are in and out of the sacristy lighting incense, bringing out candles and the processional cross and more. During Communion, they assist extraordinary ministers.

Following Mass, group members usually go to the parish social center to play basketball and eat, Martinez said. Many of the boys also participate in archdiocesan vocation events for teens.

There is no set schedule for the group, except for the 12th of each month, when they have a Mass for Our Lady of Guadalupe. They also take part in events like bonfires, meals at the parish or visiting other parishes to see their cultures and architecture.

“A lot of who we recruit are friends of friends, and we get them in and they change their life and really love it,” Martinez said. “As long as you’re willing to let God into your life to discern what is it that you are called to in your life with God’s help, anybody is invited.”

Members do not all come to Mass each week, but they turn out for social events and special Masses like the feast of St. Juan Diego on Dec. 9.

While the group is led by priests and seminarians, Father Tom Boharic, pastor of Mother of the Americas, said that the young men have really taken ownership.

It began with Martinez and a few other teens showing an interest in the priesthood and became a formal group when a seminarian assigned to the parish took it on as a project. Since then, it has been passed on to two other seminarians.

All of the participants were already altar servers and were passionate about serving Mass very well, Boharic said.

“They themselves have taken a lot of initiative to raise the standard of altar servers to kind of be like a model for the other ones,” Boharic said. “So we gave them a Mass just for them to kind of lead. They really liked having that role in the parish.”

Boharic was inspired to start the group by Father Robert Krueger, pastor of Blessed Miguel Pro Parish in Berwyn, who has had vocation groups at his parishes.

The teens are exposed to the life of a priest beyond Mass, which is important, Boharic said.

“We emphasize vocations in general, but what’s actually more important than that is having youth know God, know Jesus,” Boharic said. “If there can be a way for them to be together and encourage each other on, that’s great. I know this is going to help them no matter where God calls them to go.”

The group has made its mark in the parish.

“In general, the parishioners are impressed by them. I get comments all the time, ‘Those altar servers are amazing.’ Or, ‘Those altar servers look really sharp at Mass,’” he said.

The group has also made its mark on its members, Martinez said.

“A bunch of these kids started off not knowing about what the Catholic life is. Of course, they knew they were Catholic, but what is it being a Catholic?” Martinez said. “I’ve seen a lot of people change and how it has impacted their life. And even their families, getting their families to come to church. It’s been a very wonderful experience.”

Axel Gonzalez, 16, agreed. He was invited by Martinez, who is a classmate at Chicago Bulls College Prep, to come to the youth group.

“Before I was a Catholic, yeah, but I didn’t have the true meaning of Catholic,” Gonzalez said. “But after I joined this group, it really did help me gain the complexion of being Catholic. It helped me expand my horizon and opportunities, for example, the priesthood.”

Gonzalez said he would recommend this group to other teen boys.

“It’s a really fun experience because you get to meet new people and then you get to grow together in the faith,” he said.

Damian Villafranca, 15, heard about the group from Martinez during a Totus Tuus week at Mother of the Americas.

“It’s gotten me a lot closer to God and it’s made me realize that I need to focus more on how I’m living my life for Christ and move away from all of the bad that I’ve been doing and connect with others,” Villafranca said.

One of his favorite events is when the group prays together in the parish chapel.

“We’re there physically present with the Eucharist, and it’s really nice being there praying,” Villafranca said. 

Boharic stressed that young people should not be underestimated.

“Sometimes we think that youth aren’t interested in or can’t understand things of God. Sometimes we treat them like little kids or something like that,” he said. “But then, when you actually hold them up to a high standard and you actually engage them, I’ve just been so impressed with different things these youth have said about being able to describe what is happening in prayer, about God.”  

Father Tim Monahan, vocations director for the archdiocese, said parish-based groups like St. Aloysius Youth Group complement archdiocesan discernment programs because they cast a wider net and focus on helping teen boys grow in their relationship with God and promote brotherhood.

Monahan pointed out that any program for teens abides by the Virtus and Protecting God’s Children protocols and training.

Some pastors might look at starting a group like this as just one more thing they have to do, he said.

“But what I’ve seen for myself is it’s extremely life-giving,” Monahan said.

A parish can start a small program and grow it by doing simple things to bring young men together such as playing board games or sharing meals or time for adoration.

“[Mother of the Americas] is where it is today because it just started with a few guys who wanted to hang out,” he said. “If you have a priest presence and you have a couple teenagers, you can start with a strong nucleus and grow from there regardless of the parish.”

It is important that the young men not feel that they are being pressured to become priests, Monahan said. Rather, they must be encouraged to explore their relationship with Jesus and whatever he is asking them to do.

“That’s an essential element to all our discernment programs, the freedom to just try it out,” he said. “I always add that caveat, that nobody is forced to do this. Just try it out.”

To learn more about the group, visit



  • vocations
  • youth groups

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