Joyce Gillooly: face of youth ministry for 20 years
As the tributes for Joyce Gillooly poured in over the past few weeks, a number of themes emerged. She has always been there for others. She always listened. And she has been a staunch advocate for young people.
As one director of religious education put it, "You're the best kept secret in the diocese."
Gillooly, who has been the face of youth ministry in the diocese for more than two decades, has retired as director of the Department for Youth and Young Adult Ministry.
"The youth ministry world of the Diocese of Pittsburgh has lost a legend," said Joann Giuffre, who got to know Gillooly as a teen and worked under her as a youth minister. "She has been a staple in youth ministry as an adviser, confidant, nurse, mother to all and so much more."
Gillooly was literally everywhere. At eight World Youth Day celebrations, National Catholic Youth Conventions, Diocesan Youth Council events, as an instructor for catechesis and youth minister programs, at award ceremonies and at everyday activities that make youth ministry such an important component in the church.
She will take memories with her. She pointed to the Solomon's Wish process that is used to build youth ministry programs in parishes. Aimed at volunteers, it was developed in the early 1990s by a committee that included her, Cardinal (then-Father) Daniel DiNardo and the late Felician Sister Louise Olsofka.
She also oversaw the development of a middle school youth ministry for students in grades six to eight.
"They're at a place where probably ninth- and 10th-graders used to be," she said. "The world is moving very fast, and they are part of that."
Gillooly also pointed to the annual LoveWalk for the Poor, the inspiration of Sister Louise, that has grown from some 50 participants in 1991 to some 1,000 today.
Campus ministry programs at colleges and universities have also flourished, and the scouting program recognizes hundreds each year.
Another highlight has been the Hosanna celebration at Duquesne University. First held in 2000, it has been celebrated four times since.
When Gillooly took over the department, youth ministry programs largely were run by volunteers. Today, there is an average of 35-40 full-time and 40-45 part-time youth ministers running programs. But, she noted, there are still many dedicated volunteers.
"I have been very blessed to have a lot of really good people I've worked with over the years," she said.
Another major positive experience for Gillooly has been the teleposts (one minute faith witness) by members of the DYC.
"They talked about their faith so sincerely and humbly," she said. "You can tell they are an example of the young people who are truly committed to being Catholic."
She appreciated the opportunity to work under and with clergy such as Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Bishop David Zubik, Cardinal DiNardo, Bishop Paul Bradley and Archabbot Douglas Nowicki.
Gillooly also has been a fixture on the national youth ministry scene. She served on the board of the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry for six years and continues to serve on its finance management committee.
In 2008, the NFCYM honored her as the top diocesan director.
In screening youth ministers, Gillooly noted their faith has to be strong, they have to have the energy needed to work with young people, they have to be able to initiate activities and they always have to be an advocate for young people.
It is a description that fit her to a tee.
"What impresses me most about Joyce is her perpetual youthfulness," said Christopher Chapman, associate director of the DYYAM.
He said the mutual enjoyment of Gillooly and the young people made the chronological age difference irrelevant.
"She is the living history of so much of what has transpired in youth ministry over the past two decades," he added. "Not only did she direct, she participated. She gave real witness to the idea that to minister is to be present."
Gillooly said the key to working with teens is to accept them as who they are and who they are becoming, and to realize that all have gone through that stage, but at different times. And you must be genuine.
"Your faith has to be rock-solid," she said. "The kids have to know that you walk the walk and talk the talk -- the whole bit."
She pointed to several examples of how kids who went through the youth ministry program have gone on to work in service to the church.
"I've been really fortunate to watch that," she said in noting that youth ministry is at heart a relational ministry.
Gary Roney, associate director of the DYYAM noted her skill in fostering relationships.
"Joyce is, in fact, extremely kind and compassionate," he said. "She always makes time to listen and respond gently and with care."
Susan O'Neill, an administrative assistant at the DYYAM, said Gillooly's concern for young people is witnessed by her work with the St. Timothy Award, which recognizes them for their outstanding contributions to the church.
"Her dedication to the young people is evident in everything she does, but especially at the (award) ceremony where she is embraced by the kids who have won the award past and present," O'Neill said.
Gillooly had served as a parish DRE, youth minister, a teacher at the former St. Paul Cathedral High School and as a public school teacher when she received a call from then-Father Nowicki, who was secretary for education. He told her of plans to combine the office for youth ministry and the office for teenage catechesis.
She was interviewed to be the director of the Office for Adolescent Formation and Youth Ministry. While she was excited about the possibilities of the new position, she confessed that she never imagined that it would last 23 years.
"It just never stopped," she said. "There was always something new on the horizon, always something different coming down the road."
As the years passed, the increased focus on young adult ministry led to the office being reorganized into the Department for Youth and Young Adult Ministry.
Gillooly's first day on the job -- Sept. 7, 1989 -- also was the first day for Father Kris Stubna, the outgoing secretary for education in the diocese who will become rector of St. Paul Cathedral in Pittsburgh's Oakland neighborhood.
"Joyce has always had a passion and love for young people, and has been an extraordinary advocate for their full involvement in the life of the church," he said. "She has accomplished so much in our outreach to youth and young adults over the course of her ministry. She is a woman of such strong faith and great love for the church, and her leadership will be truly missed."
Gillooly will not be going into her retirement cold turkey. Two days after she announced her retirement she received a call from Robert McCarty, executive director of the NFCYM, who invited her to serve on the core committee for the National Catholic Collegiate Conference to be held in November 2013. She will fly to Indianapolis July 18 to begin preparations.
Gillooly is a member of St. Maurice in Forest Hills. She and her husband, Tom, have three children and four grandchildren. She said that she will take her retirement "as it comes." She wants to learn more technology, visit extended family, possibly paint again and maybe write a book. And there will be more time to spend with her grandchildren.
As her final days wound down, Gillooly was touched by the outpouring of support from well-wishers. It was just another example of how her work was much more than a job.
"You use the gifts God gave you," she said. "That's what you're supposed to do."
Giuffre, youth minister at St. Maurice and St. John the Baptist in Unity, said that she owes much to Gillooly. She gave her the opportunity for her to attend her first World Youth Day and she mentored her youth ministry career.
Her message for Gillooly mirrored those of many others.
"Thank you Joyce for all of your encouragement, support and prayers to help me lead the Catholic teens of Pittsburgh to a deeper relationship with Christ," she said. "We all hope to see you at events, and we will still be calling you for guidance."
Pat Waskowiak worked with Gillooly at the DYYAM for almost 20 years.
"I will miss her in the office, I can't imagine her not being her everyday," Waskowiak said. "It will be different."