WOONSOCKET — Every year, teams of young adults from around the country hit the road with suitcases, sleeping bags and a desire to inspire youth with their own love of the Catholic faith. Teams from NET (National Evangelization Team) Ministries lead retreats six days a week, and when not on retreat, they share their faith whenever and wherever possible.
According to NET Ministries, 175 young Catholics aged 18-28 leave behind their jobs, school, family and friends to devote nine months to service. They are divided into 16 teams and travel across the U.S. for nine months to share the Gospel with young people and their families. Since 1981, NET teams have led over 32,000 retreats and ministered to more than 2 million young Catholics.
Before joining NET, Michigan was the farthest that 18 year-old Christina Rondeau had traveled. Rondeau, a parishioner of St. Agatha Church in Woonsocket, has been involved with youth ministry ever since she attended her first Steubenville East Youth Conference. Now, she is ready to go the extra mile on her faith journey with NET. She will be this year’s only participant from Rhode Island.
Unsure about what college would be the best fit for her at the time, Rondeau explained that she was praying a lot about the next phase in her life. Her mother mentioned the possibility of NET and with a combination prayer and curiosity, Rondeau gave it a shot.
“I just kind of went for it,” said Rondeau. “The Lord’s timing is always perfect. When my mom mentioned NET, I thought why not. I applied and two weeks later we drove out to Steubenville, OH and it was basically a two day job interview. It was a really great experience.”
Rondeau explained that the NET recruiters discussed the mission, logistics and lifestyle of NET, and prayed about who they thought would be the best fit.
“I was at work when I got the call — I was shaking and so excited when I got it. It was fantastic.”
With experience assisting with the diocesan Search retreats, leading small group talks with local Catholic youth and helping out at the CYO center, Rondeau was well prepared for the NET workload.
In an average nine-month season, each NET team will travel 20,000 miles, serve 7 to 8 dioceses, facilitate close to 150 retreats, stay in 125 host homes. NET is more known for the traveling retreat teams, but there are also Discipleship Teams which have the opportunity to stay with host families for a few weeks at a time, as opposed to moving to a new host home every day as traveling teams do. A Home Team is also based out of Saint Paul, MN and travels around the tri-state areas putting on retreats for the youth.
“NET is really a full time job,” she said. “You get one day off, a day of rest, and one day a month you have a no obligation day where you can just have some down time and recharge. We only get our phones for 20 minutes a day, which can be our daily call home. I’m looking forward to that part — I definitely know the anxiety of feeling like you have to check your phone. I think it will help us unplug so we really focus on the work we are doing.”
Rondeau admits that while she is away, she is sure to miss many aspects of Rhode Island.
“I think I’m going to miss the Dunkin Donuts’ iced tea,” she said laughing. “I’ll really miss my friends and my family, the CYO Center and my church because that is where I spend a lot of my time. Both of my parents are really supportive. My dad is really excited. I can totally have seen him doing this when he was in college.”
On August 6, Rondeau left for a month of training, including musician training in which will prepare her to share her talents in piano and guitar with her team. She will then continue to serve for 9 months. Although she is unsure if she will be placed on a retreat team, discipleship or home team, she is excited for the opportunity to be an example to others and to form strong bonds with her team. She shared that many team members develop lifelong habits of prayer, frequent reception of the sacraments and ongoing service in the church. Most describe serving with NET as the best and hardest year of their life.
“I’m very excited,” she said. “I’ve been told from other people who have done NET that they really become like your family, like your brothers and sisters. A lot of really strong connections that will last a lifetime.”