The End Game

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The End Game

Oscar Rivera Jr. ’10 speaks on Steubenville Youth Conferences’ continued impact.

Autumn 2023 | Marianna Schmiesing

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A personal invitation brought Oscar Rivera Jr. ’10 to a Steubenville Youth Conference for the first time in 1995. At that conference, in a tent on a Franciscan University hilltop, Oscar experienced a conversion moment that made his relationship with God much more personal and led him to enroll as a student at Franciscan University.

After graduation, he didn’t expect he’d be returning to campus for a weekend nearly every summer with a busload of teenagers in tow—and then come back the following week as a conference speaker. But, for 11 years, Oscar served as a youth minister—and now is the director of Youth Ministry for the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts—and has spoken at over 30 Steubenville Youth Conferences.

He likes bringing his students to Steubenville Main Campus, whether from Virginia Beach or Massachusetts, to create some separation from their everyday lives and get them out of their comfort zone.

He says, “They’ve heard their parents talk about the faith, and they fulfill their Sunday obligation, but it’s not until they’re met with a couple of thousand other teens that it became a little bit more real. There can be ownership. The sacred liturgy, worship, and adoration are eye-opening for them.”

In many ways, current teenagers are similar to the teenager Oscar was as a first-time attendee.

“There’s always an exploration of identity during the teen years,” he says. But he notes that teens today have more noise and more distractions to contend with. “The questioning of ‘Who am I? becomes so much more confusing. No one actually gets to sit down and ask what God has asked of them.”

Oscar Rivera Jr. ’10

This year, Oscar hosted Steubenville Main Campus 3, July 7-9, and spoke at Steubenville Florida and Steubenville Lone Star, 3 of the 20 Steubenville Youth Conferences held around the country. Whether he is speaking or chaperoning, he sees a few constants in each conference weekend.

“Friday is a bit of everything,” he says. “Your mental preparedness, your spiritual preparedness. Are you physically ready after all that traveling? Saturday is a longevity game, and Sunday is where true spiritual grit is found. It’s very easy to go into autopilot or cruise control, but we have to realize that we’re there from beginning to end.”

Additionally, he makes a point of talking with and listening to the teenagers.

“Whether I’m a speaker or a chaperone, my job is to really be truly present to them throughout the conference. I’m talking to them, reading their physical language, reading their side conversations, reading the things they’re saying and not saying.

“They’re giving cues to what they need, whether or not the themes are really hitting them. I just listen and see if I can connect or reconnect something they may have missed or maybe just get them to problem solve.”

One of the biggest problems he sees in ministry is the temptation to use a “cookie cutter” approach. It’s imperative to “keep your finger on the pulse at all times—and be prepared to be docile to the Holy Spirit.”

For chaperones and youth ministers, he says reading and listening to your teenagers is important not just at your home parish or youth group but also at weekend retreats like the Steubenville Youth Conferences.


“If the end game is the salvation of souls… then it’s worth just about everything to have teens experience and listen to God’s voice.”


“Sometimes a speaker doesn’t come from the same socioeconomic background and has a different life experience, and your group is disconnected. How do you draw it together? How do you get them to see parallels to their life in what the speaker is saying? I wait for the bus ride home to allow them to really process out loud their experience, what stuck out, and what is relevant to them.”

That bus ride often informs how Oscar follows up with his group after a conference.

“Some years, I would have a group that would come back on fire, and so after, I’d get an adoration night with praise and worship and small group discussion. But some years, you have a group where it didn’t hit as hard as you would think. Then I’d say, ‘Let’s get back together and reconnect with your friends and the people you took a 12-hour bus ride with.’ And just build from there.”

Bringing a busload of teenagers to a youth conference is no small feat, but Oscar sees the value in it.

“If the end game for us as youth ministers, as group leaders, as adults, even as a speaker is to immediately see the fruit of all you’ve done, then this is not going to be very beneficial for you. However, if the end game is the salvation of souls, and knowing one day the union between my efforts and those souls will be an eternal union, then it’s worth just about everything to have teens experience and listen to God’s voice.”

Looking back at where God has led him, Oscar says he’s grateful to the two members of his family’s Catholic community who invited him to his first Steubenville Conference.

“I have a lot of silent, pent-up gratitude. Without those men, I wouldn’t have known Franciscan University.”


For the youth and adult 2024 Steubenville Conference Schedule, visit steubenvilleconferences.com.

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