Love Begins Here’s ‘biggest summer yet’ Print
Around the Diocese
Written by Kevin Wondrash, Catholic Herald Staff   
Thursday, May. 26, 2016 -- 12:00 AM
love begins here
Love Begins Here missionaries help to sort items at the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store in Monroe during a week spent in the area in a previous year (Catholic Herald photo/Kevin Wondrash)

MADISON -- It’s almost time for another summer of hundreds of teens doing small things with great love.

This summer marks the eighth of its kind for Love Begins Here (LBH) -- an apostolate of the Diocese of Madison Office of Evangelization and Catechesis.

It provides youth with an opportunity to encounter Jesus Christ in a life-changing way through weeklong, local mission trips where they live in community and continue God’s work on earth.

This year at LBH

On June 12, the first group of a total of 600 LBH teens over the course of the summer will make their way to parish number one – Our Lady of the Assumption Parish in Beloit.

It could be a milestone week for LBH, as the program is nearing its 50,000 hours of service to the communities in the diocese.

Leading the teens will be a Core Team of 12, the largest ever for the program -- some of whom were LBH teen missionaries themselves in years past.

LBH Mission Director Lindsay Becher calls it “a delight to see that number grow and to watch what they can give back to the missionaries.”

Becher added there is “something nostalgic about having them with us . . . It’s fun to hear the stories that they remember from the earlier days” when the program was smaller and just beginning.

More than 50 parishes -- either as part of groups or individuals -- have missionary teens on one of the eight LBH mission weeks.

“It would be awesome someday if every parish had a missionary,” Becher said. “This mission is good for all teens to experience the joy of serving their neighbors and learning that serving their neighbors is an important part of being a disciple and following Jesus Christ.”

New parishes, new excitement

Three new parishes are welcoming LBH to their communities this year: St Cecilia in Wisconsin Dells, St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Portage, and All Saints in Berlin.

The week in Berlin in early July will mark another LBH milestone -- a week in Green Lake County, marking LBH work now done in all 11 counties of the diocese.

“I’m always really surprised by how excited [the parishes] are to have us,” said LBH “second in command” Sara Zeman.

“It’s good to be reminded of the presence that the Love Begins Here missionaries have in a community when we’re staying there and how inspiring it is for the community to see these teens coming to learn more about Jesus and learning to love him more and serve him more wholeheartedly.”

Zeman herself was a former missionary turned Core Team member over the past several years.

“People forget how much we get and how much we receive leading the mission trips,” Zeman added. “I am so inspired by the people I meet and I’m really looking forward to that -- just being reinvigorated by the teens I come across and learning more about them and becoming friends.”

Another statistic of note is a fifth stop in Montello, through St. John the Baptist Parish -- the most ever for any community.

“We’ve established some really great connections with the community there,” said Becher.

Helping the communities

The service work done by the missionaries -- divided into groups of middle schoolers, high schoolers, and an in-between ninth grade group -- varies by day and community.

In years past, some groups helped the elderly with house work, did landscaping and painting at homes and church sites, or sorted items at thrift stores.

A rewarding part of the work for the teens and leaders is the connections they make with the people they help and the communities as a whole.

“[The teens’] time at Love Begins Here really teaches them about what kind of joy can be found in living the Christian life,” said Becher. “We try to live it in a really beautiful and simple and complete way.”

“Each individual person [we meet] is so different and it reveals a different side of Jesus’ heart,” said Zeman. “It’s super inspiring to be able to have the courage of meeting everybody.”

To build connections with the communities before LBH arrives, host parishes are now developing Work Prep Teams.

These teams help make contacts for the missionaries and help them more deeply serve the communities.

“We couldn’t be more grateful for the hard work of those parish teams on our behalf,” said Becher.

A growing, spreading mission

After eight years, word has been spreading about LBH.

Later in the summer, the Archdiocese of Omaha will be starting its own LBH program, with help from their friends in the Diocese of Madison.

“We’re just happy to be able to extend experience and help others be affected and other communities be positively affected,” said Becher.

Next year, the Diocese of Green Bay will also be starting its own Love Begins Here program.

Ready to get started

Many teens and leaders in the Diocese of Madison can’t wait to get started.

Out of the 600 teens, more than 100 of them are coming back for their fourth year or more in the program.

“I’m just really excited for the teens to encounter that beauty, goodness, and truth found in our faith and found in Christ,” said Zeman. “To really understand the depths of reality of encountering him in the sacraments and having the combination of service and loving others play into that as well -- I’m excited for it all.”

For more information on Love Begins Here, go to