Gifts from the Spirit: How Confirmation builds up the local Church

by Joan Kurkowski-Gillen

North Texas Catholic

Laura Yokell Landry at Bible bootcamp
Laura Landry, coordinator of Middle Ministry at Good Shepherd Parish in Colleyville, speaks with a group of students about the lessons of being a leader during a Bible bootcamp. (NTC/Ben Torres)

The last thing Laura Yokell Landry wanted to do after earning a diploma from the University of Dallas in 2014 was fly to Alaska as a missionary.

“I was thinking about my student loans and how I was going to pay them off,” admitted the psychology major. “I wanted to go into the corporate world right after college.”

But God had other plans for the new graduate.

An experienced camp counselor who worked her way up to a senior staff position at The Pines Catholic Camp in East Texas, Landry was asked to organize a new Catholic camp in Wasilla, Alaska from the ground up. She helped the director hire staff, schedule fun, faith-based activities, and lobbied to keep the Eucharist in the campground’s chapel for Adoration opportunities.

“The Holy Spirit, guiding our next step, was the only way that camp was successful,” the 27-year-old said, noting St. Therese’s Camp continues to thrive as a popular recreation site. “God provided. He said, ‘Come trust me. I have this beautiful adventure for you.’”

Every time Landry hears those words, she knows the Holy Spirit is speaking to her. The seven gifts offered by the sacrament of Confirmation — wisdom, understanding, knowledge, fortitude, counsel, piety, and fear of the Lord — gave the cradle Catholic the strength to follow where God leads.

“I felt this warmth and knew my mission was just starting,” she said, remembering the Confirmation Mass celebrated by former Fort Worth Bishop Kevin Vann, inside St. Bartholomew Church. “The Holy Spirit always guided my decisions.”

Today, the young wife and mother mentors more than 200 fifth through eighth graders as the middle school youth minister at Good Shepherd Parish in Colleyville. Offered the position soon after returning from Alaska, Landry didn’t initially embrace the idea of guiding adolescents not much younger than she was. Thoughts of a business-oriented career still lingered.

“If God wanted me to take this position, I asked Him to make it abundantly clear and He did,” she explained, recalling how a young camper she mentored at The Pines enthusiastically welcomed Landry on her first day at Good Shepherd. “In that moment, there was a realization of yes, I am a youth minister, and I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.” 

Welcome His Inspiration
Last year, Pope Francis dedicated a series of talks to the rite of Confirmation and how it enables the Body of Christ to grow in unity and missionary zeal.

Speaking to pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square in 2018, he said the sacrament allows candidates to mature in faith and become a gift to others.

“It is precisely the Holy Spirit who de-centers us from our ‘I’ in order to open ourselves to the ‘we’ of the Christian community, as well as to society,” the pontiff told a general audience. “As Christians, we are not the center. We are an instrument to give to others.”

In closing, he urged Confirmation candidates not to “cage the Holy Spirit” but to welcome and use His inspiration.

“May the Holy Spirit grant each of us the apostolic courage of communicating the Gospel, with words and works, to all we meet on our path,” Pope Francis urged.

Ben Briones
Youth minister Ben Briones, 34, at his home parish of Immaculate Conception Church in Denton. (NTC/Ben Torres)

Be My Instrument
Referred to often in the Old and New Testaments, the Holy Spirit is symbolized with familiar imagery — wind, doves, and tongues of fire.

“I’d describe it as a warm feeling that overcomes you or a sudden realization — a shift,” said Ben Briones, sharing his experience. “When I felt God’s presence, there was a sense of peace, a calmness that overcomes out of nowhere. I think that’s another way you can feel the presence of the Holy Spirit.”

The youth minister at Immaculate Conception Parish in Denton remembered feeling excited and proud on his Confirmation day.

“I had an intellectual understanding of my faith, but I didn’t have a conversion in my heart until I was a young adult,” confessed Briones, who struggled with a broken heart and bitter feelings toward God after a college romance ended.

Friends helped by encouraging Briones to attend an ACTS retreat. He went, reluctantly.

Organized by a group of men from Immaculate Conception, the weekend included personal testimonies from retreat leaders. The University of North Texas music major empathized with their heartfelt stories.

“The community aspect of the retreat makes you realize you’re not alone in your hardships. God hasn’t left you,” the 35-year-old observed. “That was an eye-opener for me and I wanted to make certain God was in my life.”

An accomplished pianist, guitarist, and drummer, Briones planned to become a full-time music teacher after graduation. His rekindled faith, and a job opening in youth ministry, made him rethink that decision.

“I felt the Holy Spirit telling me that weekend, ‘be my instrument,’” the musician said, explaining the message’s dual meaning. “God gives us talents and gifts to share with others to bring them closer to Christ. Using my musical gifts in the Church was a way I could be God’s instrument.”

Director of the parish teen choir and youth ministry for 14 years, Briones watched former youth group members grow into faith-filled adults who now serve the next generation.

“It’s great to see the seeds that were planted fully bloom to become these amazing volunteers,” he said. “It’s rewarding.”

Everything Changed
When Wanda Styrsky married her husband, Jerry, in 1979, the Southern Baptist knew nothing about the Catholic Church. After four or five weeks of private instruction the following year, she received her first Communion and Confirmation at the 7 a.m. Sunday Mass at St. Andrew Parish. Raising children in the same religion was a consideration for the mixed-faith couple.

Wanda StyrskyWanda Styrsky
Wanda Stursky (left) leads a Rosary at St. Patrick Cathedral. (NTC/Jayme Donahue)

“I converted for all the wrong reasons, but when I came into the Church, I brought my husband back into the Church,” explained the mother of four grown daughters.

Formation came in gradual steps. Having her children in Catholic schools and belonging to a family-based Catholic charismatic renewal group deepened her understanding of the faith. But the St. Patrick parishioner credits her first real conversion experience to courses taken at the University of Dallas’ Biblical School.

“It was about delving into Scripture and finding out how the story unfolds,” Styrsky said. “And I wanted to know where I fit in the story.”

The former nurse and Catholic school teacher described her new-found spirituality and love for Catholicism as “a slow kindling fire” that ignited a few years later, when her husband was seriously injured in an ATV rollover accident. On the way to the trauma center, the anxious wife reached into her purse to pull out a rosary.

“For the next eight months, it rarely left my hand,” she revealed. “When other family incidents occurred, [my grip on the] rosary got tighter.”

Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Styrsky felt called to pray the Rosary publicly. The sites for her devotion varied — a hospital lobby, restaurants, Costco, a library. Eventually, she began leading the 11:30 a.m. daily Rosary at St. Patrick Cathedral and people began giving her prayer intentions, books, or cards.

“Sometimes they just want to sit and talk. What I came to understand is this: God chooses us. That’s the working of the Holy Spirit,” Styrsky shared thoughtfully. “When I started doing this I changed — everything changed.”

Another twist in her faith journey occurred after reading Dorothy Day’s autobiography, a book suggested by her spiritual director. A convert and activist who co-founded the Catholic Worker Movement, Day established special homes for the needy until her death in 1980.

Earlier this year, Styrsky joined the would-be saint’s Cause for Canonization when she was asked to transcribe some of Day’s recently unsealed letters and journals. The Texan is one of 100 people entrusted with the task.

“To be declared of heroic virtue, everything she wrote has to be read to make sure there is nothing heretical,” said Styrsky, who swore an oath in front of Father Richard Welch, judicial vicar for the Archdiocese of New York, to complete the assignment diligently and discreetly.

Placing her hand on the Book of Gospels, she felt blessed.

“When I did that, I could feel the Holy Spirit working,” she added contemplatively. “You have those moments when you know you’re exactly where God wants you to be.”

A Decision Strengthened by the Holy Spirit

Seminarian Sam Maul visits with students at Holy Trinity Catholic School in Grapevine.
Seminarian Sam Maul visits with students at Holy Trinity Catholic School in Grapevine. (NTC/Jayme Donahue)

Graces received from the Holy Spirit started the process of preparing Sam Maul’s heart for discernment to the priesthood.

“Confirmation is the first thing I remember being excited about,” recalled the 26-year-old who just finished his eighth year of seminary studies. “There was no more waiting to live out my faith.”

He received the sacrament inside St. Michael Church from former Fort Worth Bishop Kevin Vann, along with 75 other teens. “I remember thinking, if you’re here, and you’re excited to move forward in your Catholic faith, what is it that you have to give?”

His answer was life changing.

“Everything about me is what I had to give to God — my intellect, will, desires,” Maul said. “That was the work of the Holy Spirit preparing me for priesthood.”

Encouraged to consider a religious vocation by Holy Cross Father Dan Parrish at a University of Notre Dame summer youth camp, he contacted the diocesan vocation office while still in high school and began attending monthly discernment meetings hosted by Father Kyle Walterscheid. The L.D. Bell High School graduate entered the seminary right after his senior year.

Through Baptism, we become part of the body of Christ. The sacrament of Confirmation strengthens us for that life through the gifts of knowledge, fortitude, understanding, and other virtues given through the divine grace of the Holy Spirit.

“At any moment during my formation or discernment when I felt I had a firm understanding, piety, or sound judgment, I attribute this to the Holy Spirit,” Maul acknowledged. “Any decision I’ve made is strengthened and formed by the Holy Spirit.”

The seminarian advises other young people to consider serving the will of God by asking the question: What did God create me to be?

“In discerning our vocation, the Holy Spirit takes an active role,” he continued. “He is constantly with us and allowing us to grow just as He’s constantly with the Church, allowing the Church to grow.”

Take the time for prayer in planning a future, Maul advised.

“That’s the most beautiful place you can start to discern a vocation.”

Laura Landry

The last thing Laura Yokell Landry wanted to do after earning a diploma from the University of Dallas in 2014 was fly to Alaska as a missionary.