Early History of CYFM From the Twelfth Anniversary Journal
The idea which gave birth to the DDA Program came from a group of third year high school students at, what was then Saint Mary's Seminary, the Capuchin Preparatory Seminary in Garrison, New York. The occasion was a religion class during the winter of 1973. The students requested an encounter style retreat.
The third year religion teacher had experienced a Cursillo weekend encounter in the fall of 1972, and had been so impressed with the positive approach to religion and with the Cursillo teaching method, that he had adapted these for use in class. As spiritual assistant to the high school's Franciscan Third Order, the teacher had also made use of his Cursillo experience to bring a new approach and a resulting new life to that group as well. The students were aware of where the new approach had come from and were desirous of that kind of retreat experience for themselves. Their request for an encounter style retreat was the result.
The teacher was agreeable, but there were several obstacles. For a variety of reasons, such a retreat could neither be given during school time nor at the seminary itself. First problem - find a time and a place. Easter recess seemed a good time. A friend of the teacher had two back to back houses on an island in Wareham, near Buzzard's Bay, in the state of Massachusetts. She was willing to permit the use of these two summer residences for the retreat.
It now became necessary to form a suitable team to give the retreat and to formulate an appropriate agenda for the retreat. Second problem - find a team and put together a solid and well thought out retreat experience. The teacher had, in his apostolic work outside the seminary, come into close contact with young people from a number of retreat movements. He approached them with the idea of being the team for a retreat which they would all work at putting together. This was not to be a new movement in the Church, but simply a one shot encounter retreat experience for a group of 12 high school seminarians from 10th, 11th, and 12th grades. The idea and the challenge were eagerly accepted by all the young people who were asked The first team was quickly formed. The encounter retreat backgrounds of the team members included Cursillo, Antioch, Teens Encounter Christ, and Christian Awakening At the first team meeting the teacher explained the direction in which he wanted the content presentations to go, and each team member shared what had been most impressive on his or her personal encounter experience. (Oh yes, the first DDA team was made up of boys and girls because the first candidates had experienced precious little of a feminine approach to religion in the all boys seminary.) Adapting the most moving segments of each team member's encounter experience and building on the teacher's content thrust, the first DDA Encounter Retreat was put together.
The third problem centered around transportation and food. The team provided transportation, the food was donated, and some young people from the youth group in Bellmore, New York volunteered to do the cooking.
The stage was now set for the encounter retreat. The retreat began on the Tuesday evening following Easter in 1973. It concluded on Friday afternoon of that week. It was on that day that the name "DDA" first came into existence.
The question was asked, "What name shall we give this experience?" Two answers were forthcoming from the group. Since the song "Day by Day" was very popular at the time and was used extensively on the retreat, some thought that the experience should be called "Day by Day".
Since the para-liturgical service called "Agape" had been one of if not the most moving of events during the retreat, some thought that the experience should be called "Agape". Compromise prevailed and the name agreed to was, finally, "Day by Day Agape", which means day by day growth in the love relationship between God and His people. Word about the first retreat spread beyond the seminary community to friends of the young seminarians who had been the first candidates and to friends of the first team members. The result was the scheduling of a second retreat in Peekskill, New York, in August of 1973. The same team, with a few exceptions, gave the second retreat. Some modifications were made to improve on what had been done in April. Since this retreat was held closer to the homes of those involved, their families and friends were invited to take part in the closing ceremonies and Mass.
The candidates on the first retreat lived together at the seminary and were easily able to get together for prayer, sharing, and a deepening of what they had learned on the retreat. This was done on a regular basis at the seminary. Most of those who were candidates on the second retreat did not attend the seminary and so other arrangements would have to be made for them. This gave birth to the heart of what was to become the DDA Program, the local group reunion.
Those who had made the first two retreats as team and candidates were from two basic areas. About half were from the area of Nassau and Queens counties. The other half were from Westchester and Putnam counties. In September of 1973 we began monthly group reunions in the homes of DDA families both on Long Island and in the Westchester, Putnam area.
The success of the first two retreats and what was happening with the involved families following them aroused much more interest in the possibility of developing an ongoing program not just for boys, who had been the candidates on the first two retreats, but for the entire mid teen Catholic population both boys and girls.
The first adult central board of the DDA Program was formed in the fall of 1973. After much planning and organization the new board was able to begin running DDA Encounter Retreats on a regular basis. The first of these retreats, DDA 3, was run for girls at Newburgh, New York in June of 1974. Evaluation following this particular retreat revealed that the reason for having both boys and girls on the retreat teams was no longer valid. In fact, having both boys and girls on the teams was seen as a distraction which tended to limit the effectiveness of the retreat experience for the candidates. Beginning with DDA Encounter Retreat 4, in October of 1974, all boys' retreats had all boys on the team, and all girls' retreats had all girls on the team with the exception of the two priest spiritual directors.
As DDA was taking its first baby steps, other things were happening. The seminary where the DDA Program had been conceived was scheduled to close its doors for ever in June of 1974. Saint Mary's Capuchin Preparatory Seminary was to be no more. Out of consideration for the students of Saint Mary's, the Capuchin Friars were determined to establish an ongoing contact program both for the seminarians who were moving out into other high schools and for new young men who might show some interest in priesthood and religious life in the Capuchin Order. This program was to be called "The Alternate Program". The reason for this name was that the new program was to be an alternate to having a preparatory seminary.
The teacher who had been involved with organizing the first DDA retreat was appointed as head of a committee to design the new alternate program. Many of the concepts and ideas from the DDA Program were put into the Alternate Program and a great deal more was added. Thus began the engagement between the DDA Program and what was later to become Capuchin Youth Ministries.
For two years, 1974 to 1976, the DDA Program and the Alternate Program went their separate ways. Now that the prep seminary was closed, the former teacher was sent to Massachusetts to work for the Capuchin vocation office in that area. He continued to write materials for the fledgling DDA Program, participate in some of the meetings of the DDA adult leadership, and even was able to serve as spiritual director on one more DDA Encounter Retreat.
Meanwhile, two other Capuchin priests were placed in charge of the Alternate Program. This program proved to be a greater success than anyone had previously imagined that it would be.
In the summer of 1976 the priest architect of the DDA Program was moved back into close contact with his lay collaborators in the Archdiocese of New York. He was appointed head of the Capuchin Vocation Office and sent to reside at Mary Immaculate Friary in Garrison, New York. It is on the grounds of this friary that the buildings of the old prep-seminary stand. In fact, the newer building of the prep-seminary was used by the Capuchin Vocation Office for the Alternate Program.
As head of the Vocation Office, our DDA priest also became director of the Alternate Program. The wedding of DDA and Capuchin Youth Ministries was close at hand.
During the next two years, 1976 to 1978, the Alternate Program tripled in size and grew in what it had to offer. The DDA Encounter Retreat became a part of the Alternate Program. Once each year a DDA Encounter Retreat was run by a DDA team, exclusively for members of the Alternate Program. What the two programs had in common was the family monthly group reunion-spiritual and fellowship renewal on the local level. This made the DDA Encounter Retreat a viable and productive option for the Alternate Program.
In an attempt to get more peer relationship into the presentations run by the Alternate Program, a leadership training experience was developed for the boys. Originally a three day experience offered in the summer months, this leadership event was geared both to strengthening the personal faith commitment of the teens and to preparing them to be able to present the Christian message to other teens on the various weekend retreats run by the Alternate Program during the year.
The Leadership School, as it was called, was remarkably effective and successful as well. The Leadership School is a major contribution of the Alternate Program to DDA, and is a major and vital part of the DDA Program to this day.
September 1, 1978, was the wedding day of DDA and Capuchin Youth Ministries. With the promptings of some Capuchin Friars, who thought that a special apostolate for youth should be developed, and the assistance of the DDA lay collaborators, a proposal to convert Saint Mary's Hall, on the grounds of Mary Immaculate Friary, into a youth center and establish a new apostolate called Capuchin Youth Ministries was presented to the Provincial Superior of the Capuchin order. The proposal was adopted, the DDA priest was appointed director, and Capuchin Youth Ministries was born. The Alternate Program was absorbed by Capuchin Youth Ministries and called a Christian Awareness Program. The DDA Program became established as the core program of Capuchin Youth Ministries.
Since 1978 both DDA and Capuchin Youth Ministries have experienced steady growth. New programs and services have been developed and now, between DDA and Capuchin Youth Ministries, over ten thousand young people and adults are touched each year in the Archdiocese of New York alone. Confirmation retreats, high school retreats, various events for youth groups, Parish Missions, and the specific events of the DDA Program itself attract ever growing numbers each year.
None of this would have been possible without the tireless efforts of several lay people who gave so generously of their time and resources. The DDA Program would have suffered an early death in 1974, and the idea for establishing Capuchin Youth Ministries in 1978 would never have occurred without the committed involvement of lay adults and teens who thought it was all worthwhile. If the lay people did not want this program, all of the clerical support on earth could not have made it a success. The existence of the DDA Program and Capuchin Youth Ministries today is a monument, to the dedication and vision of the Catholic laity, and to what can be accomplished when they work together with their clergy as Church.
As DDA and Capuchin Youth Ministries continued to grow, the contacts with large groups opened the door to more and more individual ministry to youth and adults as well. The hospitality of the Youth Center in Garrison is taken advantage of by ever growing numbers of young people and the counseling services (marriage, family, and individual) are greatly in demand.
Presently there are three full time Capuchin priest youth ministers and two permanent deacons on the Capuchin Youth Ministries staff. The staff also includes the services of an indispensable secretary who also happens to be one of the DDA lay collaborators whose influence can be seen throughout the DDA Program Manual. There are also young people who work at the Youth Center as maintenance workers. Much of the success of Capuchin Youth Ministries and the DDA Program is due to the hosts of talented and dedicated volunteer workers young and old, male and female.
Capuchin Youth Ministries now serves about one fourth of the parishes in the Archdiocese of New York with some form of ministry each year. Many of the Catholic High Schools north and west of New York City are also served by Capuchin Youth Ministries each year. Capuchin Youth Ministries also provides a variety of services in the dioceses of Brooklyn, Rockville Centre, and Bridgeport. It also touches parts of New Jersey and the New England States with parish missions and occasional youth retreats. However, Saint Francis quoted Saint Paul and we will quote them both in saying "Up to now we've done nothing". We've only just begun.
From the 12th Anniversary Journal Capuchin Youth Ministries
May 11, 1985