June 2018 saw over fifty young Catholics descend upon St. Gertrude the Great Church (SGG) in Cincinnati, Ohio for the 2nd Annual Young Adult Get-together (YAG) of this century. Organized by Miss Colleen Eldracher, the YAG is a revival of an event that took place a few decades ago to connect Catholic youths from different locations. The original YAG resulted in life-long friendships and numerous marriages among its participants, and its restored form is quickly following suit. In fact, several offspring from the aforementioned marriages have attended the recent two YAGs.
This year's YAG was comprised of 23 young ladies and 29 young men from across the United States and a few from other countries as well. The record for distance traveled goes to a young man all the way from Melbourne, Australia - the son of True Restoration’s very own Theresa - Alexander Arthur! Joining him, was a young lady from Canada and also a virtual YAGer joined us from Germany!
All enterprises should tend to the greater glory of God, and the YAG was no exception. Each day's activities began with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and a sermon suited for the attendee’s station in life. After the Friday evening Mass, we enjoyed a relaxing meal in the parish social-hall where we mixed and mingled with friends and newcomers alike. Saturday’s adventure was an excursion to a castle in southern Ohio. Yes, you read that right - a castle complete with dungeon! It was certainly a unique experience to find in Ohio, though it greatly failed in comparison with castles of old. Nonetheless, it was an enjoyable time and we partook our midday meal on the bank of a nearby river.
After lunch, we returned to the church for outdoor games such as frisbee and volleyball while we awaited our BBQ dinner. Being St. John’s Eve, the normal “parish” activities for this evening were mixed with those of the YAG. We shared our dinner with the clerics and congregation and enjoyed their company for after-dinner square-dancing! As the light of day gave way to night, so begun the final event of the day - the blessing of St. John’s fire. We gathered around the bonfire behind the social hall as Father McKenna bestowed the blessing and spoke of its mystical meaning, and then proceeded to pray the Rosary. The night grew on and so did the festivities of song and skit while enjoying the traditional campfire S’mores.
Sunday morning began with a magnificent Pontifical Solemn High Mass. Such an impressive ceremony was perhaps experienced by some YAGers for the first time in their lives and for others, it ranked as a rare event. In all cases, it was a truly special grace and favor to have been able to assist at such a beautiful Mass in such a beautiful church alongside so many members of the Mystical Body of Christ. Afterwards, we met for the final time as a group in the social hall. It was one of those bittersweet moments when you realize soon enough that your new-found friends will be departing for home, yet there was still one more activity in which to enjoy their friendship - bowling!
What merriment and fun we all experienced during this weekend! The friendships we made will last a lifetime - and already we hear faintly in the distance, wedding-bells chiming, as numerous relationships resulted from this year’s YAG.
In order to express more fully the “YAG experience” we present a written interview of four attendees sharing their thoughts and memories from this eventful and joyous weekend.
Alexander: Welcome Ladies and Gentlemen to The Catholic Correspondent on Member-Supported Restoration Radio. I am your host, Alexander Krawczyk, and I’m joined by my co-host, and fellow YAG-attendee, Justin Eldracher. We also have the pleasure to introduce our two guests, and YAG newbies, Miss Claire Gardner and Miss Victoria Kiernan.
Justin: Welcome to The Catholic Correspondent, Ladies!
Claire: Thank you. And thank you also so much for asking me to participate in this interview!
Victoria: Thanks for asking me too!
Alexander: Thanks for agreeing to take part in this with us, Claire and Victoria! I guess the first and most obvious questions is: how did you first hear about the YAG?
Claire: Well, I first heard about the YAG when I was at SGG with my family and saw the flyers up on the bulletin board. The first time I saw those I wasn't old enough to go, but this year I was able to make it!
Victoria: I heard about the YAG from my brother, Pierce, who also attended the YAG this year for the first time. After hearing about it, I looked on the website with all of the information about the event and knew I definitely wanted to come! I've also never been to St Gertrude’s before and was excited to be able to finally get the opportunity to visit!
Alexander: Thinking back, since this was my second year attending, I believe I had first heard about the YAG on the website TradCircle. It’s probably not hard to imagine how Justin first heard about it seeing as his sister organized the whole event. Though I’m curious what you thought when your sister first mentioned the idea to you.
Justin: Well, I’ve been expecting this YAG since the day the last one ended, so I wasn’t surprised at all when she asked me to activate the registration form. Last year, though, I was pretty excited about the idea when Colleen started working on it. There aren’t very many young people my age at my church, so I look forward to times like this when I can socialize with other Catholics around my age.
Alexander: Being relatively new to Florida, I don’t know that many people yet at my church, so I also greatly look forward to events like these to socialize. I mean, a gathering of fifty Catholics in our age group… how can you pass that up in these times? In fact, that actually brings me to my next question: What are the demographics like at your home-church and is there an active social life for young adults there?
Claire: I understand that feeling of not having young Catholics of the same age to talk to as well. I jumped at the opportunity to attend the YAG once I could. The “parish” at my home, truly is at my home. Right now, it is merely a mission held in my home. The living room to be exact! It is called “The Holy Face Mission.” The only young adults at the mission are my siblings and cousins. There aren't any other young adults that attend the Mass here.
Victoria: I totally agree that it is a great opportunity socialize with lots of traditional Catholics around our age! It’s especially fun to meet people from all over the country (and outside of the U.S. too)! At St. Mary the Virgin chapel, there are some children and young adults; however, there’s no socializing after Mass. The chapel is small and there isn’t a basement or much of a yard for the congregation to socialize, so most people leave right after Mass.
Alexander: I think what you all have said is pretty much the typical experience at most Catholic “parishes” today; except for having Mass in one’s own house as in Claire’s case. Wow! What a tremendous blessing! Obviously, from what has been said, we all were expecting to socialize with others. What were some of your other expectations going into the YAG, perhaps not knowing anyone else? What did you think it would be like?
Claire: We only have Mass there two times a month. Sometimes once a month depending on how busy Father McGuire is that month. Anyway, I wasn't really sure what to expect. I had been to quite a few gatherings where you network with other people, but never anything where I was going by myself. I was nervous to talk to everyone since I had only met one person beforehand, who attended the YAG, but I knew we all had so much in common already there was no reason to be nervous.
Victoria: Like Claire, I was also a little nervous because I went into it only knowing my brother Pierce. I had also met Colleen (who coordinated the whole event) but that was a few years ago and we spoke only briefly then. I was a little nervous that people wouldn't be super social and that it would be difficult to really get to know people in the short few days but I was definitely looking forward to it, nevertheless. It was nice to know what the general schedule would be like prior to attending and it was fun to see the updates on the website with the number of people that would be attending.
Justin: I was a little nervous the first year, but I was in Cincinnati for a week beforehand helping to get things set up, so that made me more comfortable. This year I had no doubts that I would have a great time, and I was right!
Alexander: Yeah, going back to the first YAG - arriving early and helping to set things up really was a good icebreaker for myself; just to be in a small group to start instead of being thrown into a large group of strangers all at once. However, I did have the benefit of knowing a few attendees already from TradCircle or from my having previously attended St Gertrude’s.
Justin: How was your first experience of the YAG on Friday night? I thought it was a lot more welcoming than last year.
Claire: Well, I cannot compare to last year since that Friday was, in fact, my very first experience of the YAG. From what I could tell, that first day was very welcoming. I just walked right up to people and started talking, and then more would join and introduce themselves. Everyone was welcoming and so enthused to be at the YAG!
Victoria: Friday evening was great! It was nice that everyone had name tags because it would have been way too difficult to remember everyone's names! I really liked that Fr. Cekada gave a tour of the chapel and the grounds to all of the newcomers. Everyone at the YAG was very nice and lots of introductions were made on Friday. It was definitely easy to start talking to people, particularly because we knew that everyone there holds the same values.
Claire: I almost forgot about the tour! That was wonderful, being able to see every part of the building, inside and out!
Justin: Yes! I enjoyed that as well, being able to spend time with other like-minded people my age! I really enjoyed the tour my first year as well. I’d spent a bit of time at SGG before, but it was nice to hear more about the building and see the rest of it that you don’t see on a regular Sunday. Was there any particular part of the YAG that you ladies enjoyed the most? I can’t really pin anything down, it was all so much fun!
Claire: The whole YAG was amazing, and I loved every minute of it. My absolute favorite part was the night we square danced and sat around the bonfire. I had never square danced before that night so it was a real treat, and bonfires are always good for bonding and just talking to one another.
Alexander: The square dance was amazing this year; it far surpassed last year, especially the number of participants. I was genuinely sad when it ended, but the fun continued on with the bonfire, and it was wonderful that it was open to the whole congregation - being that it was the St. John’s Bonfire. I mean, how can you go wrong with S’mores? What was your favorite part Victoria?
Victoria: I think the whole day on Saturday was a blast! Going to Loveland Castle was so nice (so many great picture-moments there!) but I'd have to agree that square dancing was one of my favorite parts too! I was wondering how many people would actually join in but everyone seemed really into it. The Virginia Reel was especially fun; that's one of my favorites. And the bonfire was so nice - the weather was great for it! I love being around a bonfire, singing songs, and ending the evening with praying the Rosary. The whole day was just lovely!
Justin: Well I hate to be a killjoy, but I didn’t really care for the dancing very much; I’ve never liked it very much though. I really enjoyed seeing some of the friends I made last year, meeting some of the people I had become acquainted with online, and in general, spending time with good Catholic friends in a good Catholic environment. It’s a rare treat these days.
Well Claire and Victoria, thank you for taking the time to chat with Alexander and me about the 2018 YAG! It certainly sounds like you had a blast, is there anything that you would like to see different at the 2019 YAG? Assuming that you want to come back of course… 😀
Claire: I will definitely be back! I had a lot of fun during the 2018 YAG! I can't pin down anything in particular that I would like to see different. There was a lot to do, and so many people to meet that I really like the way it is now. When we had some down time on Saturday, people really liked all the lawn games. I think it would be helpful to add one or two more games to get more people involved in the fun on the lawn.
Also, thank you for having me and chatting with Victoria and myself!
Victoria: I'm planning to come back too (provided that I'm not stressing out too much about taking my nursing boards around then!). I think it would be fun to maybe play some ice-breaker games or card games on Friday night, that would be a fun way to get to know everyone. And it would be fun to try a new place to visit on Saturday and change it every year - maybe the Cincinnati Zoo. Thanks so much for chatting with us. Looking forward to see you all next year!
Alexander: Some wonderful suggestions! I would definitely like to see the lawn games again next year and a trip to the zoo would be very fun! Well, I certainly hope that you won’t be stressing too much Victoria and be able to enjoy the next YAG. I hope we have done this wonderful event justice by our descriptions and commentary, and that we’ve inspired some of our readers to join us next year and spread the word about this truly unique event. We hope to see you there. Thank you so much again to our guests for taking the time to chat with us and we look forward to seeing you at the 2019 YAG as well!
Tour of Saint Gertrude the Great Church: Overview
One of the highlights of the annual YAG has been the tour of SGG given by Fr. Cekada. During the tour, Father explains the history of the church and one sees quite quickly the hand of Providence at work - from having a “parishioner” who labors as a contractor, to the ground where the parking lot lies being the exact pitch needed for drainage, thus saving the “parish” from further expenses.
Viewing the church from the outside, one beholds the beautiful grotto dedicated to Our Lady, the life-size Crucifixion scene, and the residence of the clergy. However, one may notice that the church itself, doesn’t look too elaborate from the outside. That’s because the current building is technically only a temporary location on the property. The actual church building, itself, still remains to be built at some future date. Though one would never know this by the beauty of church on the inside.
Among the cherished artwork are several rather historic statues; these can be seen when viewing the main altar. After the “nuclear bomb” of Vatican II, churches set about whitewashing walls and destroying statues. One of these church’s efforts was singled out and praised by Annibale Bugnini - one of the masterminds of the Modernist mutilation of the Sacred Liturgy and the VII-related devastation - as being the ideal for others to follow. He published an article in a prominent magazine stating this very fact while showing before-and-after pictures with and without statues. Those statues are the very ones that adorn the main altar of St Gertrude’s - proudly, one of the most anti-Bugnini parishes in the world. Here we again see the hand of Providence, because it was only well after their purchase, that their history was discovered!
Another piece of art of historical value, is a beautiful painting of St. Catherine of Siena in the side chapel. It was given by none other than Emperor Napoleon III to a French bishop in the United States. Historical or not, SGG is filled with works of art that give glory to God and uplift the soul to heavenly thoughts. One could spend hours in the church meditating on all the various scenes presented to the faithful.
Just outside the main doors to the church, within the same building, lies a hallway leading to the classrooms for Saint Gertrude’s School. Each room bearing the name of a saint, a glance inside, and one can easily see what a strong Catholic formation must be formed within. The students will be a great credit to God and the school, and as they grow into adulthood will undoubtedly help bring about the Restoration we all hope to someday see.
Behind the main altar is the sacristy room. Growing up attending a mission chapel, the sacristy at SGG is a sight to behold. Beautiful vestments are stored away for the various feasts, and there is ample room for numerous clerics to vest - whether it be for their own private Masses at the same time, or a Solemn Pontifical High Mass. Also nearby, is the storage space for all that is required for the different feasts and liturgical seasons throughout the year. SGG always has a picture ready for saints’ feastdays to be displayed in the sanctuary. But where does one store several hundred pictures? They adorn the hallway leading to the social hall! Truly a sight to behold. A veritable “Hall of Fame.”
Going further back, we find the offices of the clergy and the final stop on our tour - Fr. Cekada’s office. Undoubtedly, Father is known for his numerous articles, books, and of course videos unmasking error and promoting the truth of Catholicism. The accomplishment of these things requires great research and numerous references to pre-VII authors - because that’s what Catholics do; we don’t make things up, but turn to those experts from ages past and what the Church has always taught - and Fr. Cekada is no exception. His office contains a wide variety of texts ranging from Latin to English to French. He related the story that shortly after Vatican II, these books were basically being thrown away and could be acquired for a few dollars. Nowadays, they can cost several hundred dollars! This could mean that now the interest in true Catholicism is strong. May it increase on and on until the whole world proclaims Christ as its King!
SGG is an oasis in the desert of filth and Modernism of the world we live in. I wholeheartedly encourage our readers to visit this wonderful church and make a sort of retreat; especially our readers from tiny mission chapels. I know it can only do you good and help you in your spiritual life. Truly, having attended St. Gertrude’s as my home “parish” in the past, I would recommend Holy Week as the best time. Live the Passion, by being part of all the Catholic liturgy has to offer during this holiest of times! Experience the mystical symbolism of Tenebrae, the great sorrow of the Crucifixion, and the glorious celebration of the Resurrection. One cannot help but be edified and uplifted by a visit to SGG in West Chester, Ohio! For the Restoration, I am Alexander Krawczyk, may God bless you!