NET Ministries director Mark Berchem said he would have laughed if he had been told 25 years ago that a local off shoot ministry would blossom into an international youth outreach. “I was really just looking for a way to make what we were doing at Catholic Youth Center a little more efficient and more effective,” said Berchem, 52, a member of St. Michael in West St. Paul.
Before it closed in 1989, the St. Paul Catholic Youth Center offered retreats to metro-area youth. As other dioceses asked to host retreats, Berchem, then a staff member of the CYC, decided to send a team of his college-aged retreat volunteers to do all the retreats requested in the local dioceses during January breaks from classes.
Nick Hall, 47, Jim Hastings, 48, and Anne Bielejeski, 44, were CYC retreat volunteers in the early 1980s who served on some of the first January teams. The teams called themselves Blitz for the retreats’ quick in-and-out style. The name changed to the National Evangelization Teams early in the organization’s formation.
Blitz led about 28 retreats during the first month-long mission, Hastings said. The outreach was successful, and the Winona, Sioux Falls S.D., and Fargo, N.D., dioceses invited the team back for the following January.
Today, NET teams put on retreats in 69 dioceses in the United States alone. [snip] Catholic Spirit