UF Students Evangelize and Share the Joy of the Gospel with Parishes

by Tonia Borsellino

A team of five Catholic Gators from the University of Florida increased their commitment to service at St. Augustine Catholic Church in Gainesville during the parish’s first Helping Hands food-packaging event for Catholic Relief Services held on Saturday, April 11.

The team, known as the Parish Evangelization Team (PET), also hosted its third retreat on Saturday as well, which included the youth of the parish community.  Their first two retreats were held at St. John the Evangelist parish in Chiefland, Florida.


Members of the Parish Evangelization Team and St. Augustine Parish youth ministry. | Photo provided courtesy of Sandy DeTeresa

“PET aims to help college students use their enthusiasm and zeal to spread the joy of the Gospel to other parishes, while at the same time learning valuable skills for ministering in a parish setting,” said Ashley D’Emo, one of the Student Center’s campus ministers.

Beginning with the food-packaging service event, PET interacted with the young and old of the parish by measuring ingredients and filling boxes with over 10,000 meals. The packaged meals will help Catholic Relief Services’ efforts to reduce hunger in the West African country of Burkina Faso.

The student leaders later brought a group of high school students from Gainesville High School into their student center to begin the day’s activities. The theme of the retreat was about becoming a true and more authentic version of oneself through Christ.

During the retreat the group watched a video called, “What would you tell your 12 year-old self?” created by the Catholic Gators Video Ministry; listened to testimonies about how God impacted the lives of the student leaders; conducted small group discussion sessions; meditated on scripture passages through Ignation Prayer; and concluded the evening with praise and worship, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and confession.

Prior to the retreat, Coleen Booker, a parent volunteer for the high school youth group, did not know what to expect.

“I actually didn’t know PET existed until Father David (Ruchinski) told me about it and invited our groups to be a part of it.  I think it’s amazing. God never ceases to amaze me in His ability to give new ideas to His people to have them realize how they can be His vessel, and how they can share and outreach. I think for small communities, large communities, to see vibrancy in youth, it awakens something in you that may have been asleep and needs to be reawakened.”

Father David Ruchinski, director of the Catholic Student Center, created the team last spring with the intention of bringing hope to the Church by demonstrating the youth on fire for their faith while teaching the student leaders how to thrive in diverse parishes.

When asked if Booker thought a team like this was necessary in the Church today, she replied, “I think our youth have so much put on them by life, period…to know that His message is alive and vibrant and good is necessary.”

The team plans to continue these retreats in the fall. To learn more about the Parish Evangelization Team, contact Ashley D’Emo at ashley@catholicgators.org or call (352) 372-3533.

Tonia is currently a sophomore at the University of Florida and is working toward her major in telecommunications.