The 2022-2023 season of St. Leo Parish’s “Young at Heart” ministry began on Tuesday, Sept. 13 with a chicken dinner kick-off. Pictured are the reunited members of “Young at Heart” who are happy to be together now that COVID restrictions are lessening. COURTESY OF KAREN BALZAR
‘Young at Heart’
St. Leo’s dedicated ministry to older adults thrives as a spiritual, social opportunity
BY YOUNG AT HEART ORGANIZERS, SPECIAL TO THE WESTERN KENTUCKY CATHOLIC
More than 10 years ago, Andy and Karen Balzer, parishioners at St. Leo Parish in Murray, Ky., were very involved with hospitality ministry at Saturday and Sunday Masses. Through their ministry, the Balzers did more than open the door for those entering the church; they made a special effort to get to know all who entered and would have conversations with them – young and old, families and individuals. However, they paid extra attention to older adults, as many of them had moved to Murray upon retiring. The families of many of the older parishioners do not live in Murray. After a couple years, it became evident to Andy and Karen that there was a need for spiritual and social interaction for this population.
Andy and Karen Balzer met with Fr. Jason McClure, pastor at the time, and Emily Danchisin, pastoral associate at the time, to discuss the possibility of organizing a group to provide anyone who is “young at heart,” an “empty nester,” or just in need of fellowship to join the monthly festivities and a potluck meal at the parish center. Fr. Jason and Emily agreed with the Balzers that there was a need to serve this population of the parish. Hence, Andy and Karen reached out to the parish community and organized “Young at Heart.”
The initial gathering was scheduled on a Saturday at noon as a potluck with St. Leo providing the main course and beverages. It was requested of longtime parishioners to bring photographs of the early days of St. Leo to share with everyone in attendance. Andy and Karen also asked everyone what would they enjoy or be interested in. Taking suggestions to heart, each month the Balzers structured potluck meals around a theme. In October, Oktoberfest is celebrated with brats and sauerkraut. Of course, December is a Christmas celebration with a “Dirty Santa” gift exchange and March features St. Patrick’s Day with corned beef and cabbage. Those who attend are asked to bring a side dish and/or dessert. The parish, with the financial assistance of the Knights of Columbus, provides the meat (or main dish) and beverages for the meal.
In the past, guest speakers from Baptist Health Home Care and nursing students from Murray State University shared important and “entertaining” information on physical therapy, home health services, and breast cancer awareness. Newman House students and MSU music students have provided musical entertainment. Everyone’s favorite session is “Ask the Priest” in which our pastor entertains questions pertaining to the parish or the Catholic Church. Another favorite are Trivial Pursuit competitions.
The majority of the “Young at Heart” attendees are retired. The group now meets once per month, following a weekday noon Mass, September through May. Prior to the pandemic, attendance had reached almost 40 each month. When “Young at Heart” could finally resume in November 2021, everyone’s faces lit up with huge smiles and tears upon entering the parish center. Slowly but surely, the group is picking up steam as folks are feeling more comfortable as COVID restrictions are being lifted. The 2022-2023 season began on Tuesday, Sept. 13 with a chicken dinner kick-off. Fr. Josh McCarty entertained the group with a photo presentation depicting his trip to the Holy Land in June 2022. “Young At Heart” has become like a family by sharing stories, jokes, memories, prayers, and compassion, while sharing a meal. They have become the matriarchs and patriarchs of St. Leo Parish.
Should other parishes in the Diocese of Owensboro be interested in forming this ministry, please contact Andy and Karen Balzer at email@example.com or (270) 767-0579.
Originally printed in the October 2022 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.