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A day in the life of // Katharine O'Brien, youth co-ordinator

This week's 'day in the life' comes from Katharine O'Brien, a catechetical and youth co-ordinator at a Catholic Church in Wanstead. She shares some of the experiences she's had in her varied role.

My name is Katharine and I am 27 years old. I currently work as catechetical and Youth co-ordinator at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Wanstead. I’ve been in post since October 2013 and have enjoyed the successes and challenges so far. Before coming to Wanstead, I spent a year at Walsingham House, the Brentwood Diocese youth retreat team. In addition to my responsibilities at Wanstead, I regularly support CAFOD in schools and recently started volunteering with Get Connected/Youth Net as a helpline volunteer. When I am not working or volunteering, I am an avid reader, and enjoy watching musicals and plays at the theatre, as well as being an Auntie to my nephew and niece, Oscar and Joni.

There is definitely no typical day in my job! If I am working during a weekday, I am usually at my desk between 9am and 9:30am. I check my emails, respond to texts and voicemails on the youth mobile and get ready for the day ahead. I may also work afternoons, evenings and weekends which can mean exceptionally long 12 hour days. Sundays are of course very busy, but I don’t get much chance to sit at my desk then!

Next, I head to the Presbytery to see what is happening that day, whether there is any post, whether I need to produce any programmes or reports that week, or have any meetings with the Parish Priest or other parishioners.

A large majority of my time is spent writing and developing programmes. The catechetical part of my job role means I am responsible for the confirmation programmes within the Parish from application and enrolment through to after the Confirmation Mass itself. I also joint lead the First Holy Communion preparation and sometimes prepare young people and adults on a one to one basis to receive the sacraments. Confirmation groups also attend a residential retreat at Walsingham House. This is often the highlight of the programme, as young people are able to experience faith in a different way, realising it is not just limited to within the Church community itself. For me, it’s like going home for the weekend!

My focus on Confirmation and First Holy Communion means that May and June are invariably my busiest months, closely followed by the lead up to National Youth Sunday in November each year. This is celebrated on the Feast of Christ the King, and is an opportunity for the Catholic Church in the UK to give thanks for young people. Although we hold youth Masses on a monthly, bi-monthly or quarterly basis, this is truly the highlight of the calendar. I may also be giving a speech or supporting a young person to promote the work of the Youth Service within our Parish community.

Witnessing the confirmation or First Communion of children and young people I have worked with and share in their celebrations along with the rest of the Parish community is a real honour and can often be an emotional experience. Last Easter, I was standing behind Charlotte, an adult I had prepared as she was baptised. Working with her to explain the basics of the Catholic faith up until the day itself was incredible, sharing and discussing her experiences as faith became even more significant. To watch her marry her husband, Mark, six months later in Brentwood Cathedral was even more powerful as a result, as we had navigated this journey of faith together.

When I am not co-ordinating programmes or youth masses, I am setting up for our fortnightly youth club, arranging holiday events or visiting schools. The youth club was re-launched in September 2015, and I spend a lot of time training and supporting volunteers, arranging workshop and drop in sessions and promoting the club to young people. It is one of my favourite parts of my job, seeing young people take time out from their busy weeks, catching up over a game of air hockey or table tennis and seeing them enjoy being together with their peers who may now be attending different secondary schools. The launch event was particularly memorable, as 54 young people turned up for a DJ workshop and to celebrate being together again, dancing in the playground and trying out their MC skills on the microphone. Watching a normally nervous young person have their moment in the limelight was incredible and reminded me why I became a youth worker.

I visit Our Lady of Lourdes primary school on a weekly basis, opening the chapel, supporting our Year 5 chapel prefects and running a CAFOD club with the RE co-ordinator, whilst also be present at school events and providing pastoral support where necessary. I also support local secondary schools, visiting young people within the school environment, leading retreats, assemblies and PSHE sessions. It sounds cliché, but is definitely true that no two days are the same.

Like any job, it of course has its frustrations. We still live in a society where young people can be looked down upon. Trying to juggle this with everyday pressures and trying to present a realistic and welcoming picture of Church can sometimes feel isolating, as there are very few Parish youth workers within our diocese for ideas sharing and peer support. However, Wanstead has a fantastically supportive community and I am able to interact with and meet many different people who share our values and are complimentary of what we as a community offer our young people. I want to counteract the negative messages from society, to show young people through word and example that they are valued, to allow them to experience Church for themselves. If I can be there for a young person in their time of need, or offer acceptance and encouragement, then that in itself is motivation to keep moving forward and sharing the Gospel with the community here.

If I wasn’t a youth worker, I would be…

a human rights advocate.

Katharine O'Brien works as a catechetical and youth co-ordinator at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Wanstead.

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