As we are in November, we recognize the many saints and souls that having impacted youth ministry. St. John Bosco and Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati come to mind on the saintly side. Locally, Mark Pacione is remembered among the many souls who have encouraged and blessed our field.
On a lighter side, Steve Case, many years back, made the case with his brilliant Short History of St. Caffeine, the Father of Modern Youth Ministry:
Youth ministry has always been around. Some believe Jesus himself was a youth minister working with a group of teen disciples. Paul worked with a young man named Timothy. As long as there’ve been churches, there’ve been people who’ve been assigned to work with the young people.
Modern youth ministry as we know it began back in the late 1400s (modern youth ministry being defined as meeting with teens on Wednesdays and Sundays and showing up for early 15th century soccer games). The earliest known records indicate that a man called Matthias was the first to implement many of the practices we now call youth ministry.
Born in 1412 in Constantinople, Matthias discovered at an early age the joys of coffee. His father owned a fishing business, and the two would often spend long nights together out on the boat. Matthias would consume generous amounts of coffee and tell stories to keep his father and the other fishermen awake. (This began the long-held practice of youth talks for people who aren’t really listening and always seem on the verge of falling asleep.)
It was in his 18th year that Matthias had his heavenly vision. God told Matthias to go and preach the gospel but to preach it really fast. Armed with a change of socks, a septem/ undecim travel mug and a large bag of coffee beans, Matthias set out and was soon able to preach sermons in four minutes flat. Noticing that his sermons tended to attract a younger crowd, he began to work teen slang into his sermons—ceterum concitare, puer( Latin for “what up, dude”).
In seminary Matthias was excused from many of the normal studies after his teachers learned of his desire to work with youth. Knowing that Matthias wasn’t destined for “real” ministry, his teachers assigned him to “individual studies” (i.e. working to keeping “those kids” out of the sacramental wine).
Matthias began many of what we now consider to be common youth ministry practices—such as taking teens to other towns without permission parchments, use of unapproved language while driving the fifteen-passenger horse and cart, and spilling coffee on the Fassbinder memorial dirt floor.
It was during a winter retreat in 1434 that Matthias left the coffee too close to the fire and burned his tongue. Matthias attempted to cool the drink down with fresh cream and snow. Since Matthias was unable to speak clearly because of his burned tongue, his students could only call the drink what they thought they’d heard their leader call it. “ Frapp-a- Cino”—which at the time was Latin for “Wow, this coffee is hot.” Upon sharing this drink with the youth, his group was able to accomplish ten times as much work on the summer mission project and thus was considered to have performed his first miracle.
A second miracle that was reported but never documented stated that Matthias once took some dough, tomatoes, and goat cheese and fed more than 100 teenagers. This miracle wasn’t considered during the canonization process, not because his faith was questioned, but because of the sheer amount that teenagers eat, the miracle was deemed improbable.
The people of the towns were so grateful for Matthias’ chemically induced enthusiasm and brevity that they kept him supplied with enough coffee beans and fresh cream to warrant him staying in each town for about 18 months. This attracted the attention of Pope Starbuck the Fourth who dispatched a group of cardinals to “calm the boy down.” The cardinals met in committee and offered to help Matthias plan out his five-year goals and maintain his office hours, but the young priest refused.
Long respected by young people who eventually became older people, Matthias was eventually canonized Saint Caffeine after his death in 1512, after which he was promptly ignored. He was buried in 1514 when his corpse finally stopped vibrating.
Thanks, Steve! Have there been any other miracles we can attribute to Saint Caffeine?