Cecilia La Croix, 20, a junior at Valparaiso University studying math and computer science, attended Catholic schools for all 12 years of her education from elementary school through high school.

Lenten Season is her reminder of "the woven ways of her faith," said La Croix, who is from Ann Arbor, Mich., and one of the 200 students who attend St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Student Center at Valparaiso University.

"Reaching young members of the church is one of the most important parts of our community and Lent is a time for lessons and leading by example," said La Croix, who is also on a path of peer minster studies.

Leading the way for the young members of the Catholic Church at St. Teresa of Avila is the Rev. Kevin McCarthy, who has been assigned to the student center for 18 years, after spending time at parishes in Northwest Indiana like St. Bridget's in Hobart, St. Thomas More in Munster and Nativity of our Savior in Portage.

"I always knew that working with the young adult members of our church was a calling for me," McCarthy said.

"And today, attracting and retaining these young Catholics is more important in every way."

One of the keys to success for McCarthy is his willingness to customize the Catholic experience for his young congregation, including offering a 9 p.m. late Sunday night church service each week, with a full dinner served to students following the worship.

"The willingness is always there, but it must be cultivated," he said.

"If you notice how many young people attend our Ash Wednesday service, which is technically not a holy day of obligation, it's clear there is a strong connection to faith that exists."

When Valparaiso University's spring break begins this week, McCarthy's students from St. Avila will continue an annual tradition to trek to New Orleans to help rebuild and offer ministry needs to those still recovering from the devastation following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Another favorite annual Lenten tradition, dreamed up by McCarthy to inspire his young followers, is called The Saint Challenge.

"Students who accept The Saint Challenge select any saint of their choice and research the history and life of this noted man or woman and then strive to live a Lenten life that follows the saint's example," he said.

Jessica Lyza, 21, a senior at Valparaiso University and a chemistry and math major who is from Schererville, said her Lenten sacrifice is something more than just the usual giving up chocolate and soda. She is working hard to change her mental state.

"Hearing how Father Kevin speaks and relates to us inspires a positive change, and for Lent, I'm working hard to put others first," she said.

Valparaiso University sophomore Niki Day, 19, from Fort Wayne is an example of a young face of Lutheran faith who is also an example of the dedication of new generations for Lenten observance for positive change.

"From as young as I can remember, during Lent I'd always attended special Wednesday services with my family," said Day, who also attended Lutheran schools since the age of 4.

"I lead by example. But also, I still like to demonstrate sacrifice this time of year by giving something up during Lent. Right now, I'm not drinking any soda and I've given up one of my social media habits, an app called Yik Yak that took up a lot of my time and energy that could be used in other directions."

The Rev. Benjamin Ross, who celebrates his 29th birthday on March 13, is also an example of a new generation of Catholic faithful who is leading by example for young members of the Catholic Church.

After two years at St. Thomas More in Munster, this newly ordained young priest has been at St. Michael's in Schererville for the past seven months.

"I haven't done any youth retreats yet, but I'm sure I will," Ross said.

"Inspiring interest and importance of faith isn't just a Lenten challenge but something we all must work at throughout the year. The key is connecting to youth."

Ross said by coaching athletic teams at the schools associated with both St. Thomas More and St. Michael's, such as basketball, volleyball and cross country, he has found he has a stronger interest bond with students.

"If you communicate and show you care with young adults, they will respond in the same way and further their connection to the church and their faith," he said.

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