Sister Faustina Ferko is a black and white blur herding and cajoling the 50 or so teens in her youth ministry group. The youths were preparing gifts for the homeless shelter patrons at St. James Parish in Arlington Heights on that Sunday evening.
An hour earlier, many of the same kids sang and played instruments in the teen ensemble during the 5 p.m. Sunday Mass, at which Ferko played her Taylor acoustic guitar, like she does most Sunday evenings.
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Shortly after Mass, Ferko was spotted with her cellphone in the basement of the church negotiating with the pizza delivery man, resulting in more pizza for the youth group.
Since the autumn of 2014, Ferko has been the director of youth ministry at St. James, where she is responsible for the confirmation program and "bringing to young people the love of God." She lives in Des Plaines along with her fellow Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth, whose mission is to serve families.
"Young people are bombarded by a lot of things, and here at St. James my mission is to walk with them through difficult times in their lives because teenage years can be very difficult," Ferko said. "So it's important for them to know that they're not alone, and they have somebody with them always."
Her energetic leadership was in full force last summer, when Ferko accompanied her youth group on their summer mission trip to Colorado Springs, Colorado. There they worked in burn areas and did some forest restoration, planting new trees and clearing out the burned ones.
Growing up in Erie, Pennsylvania, with two older brothers, Nicole Ferko -- Sister Faustina's given name -- attended Catholic school her whole life and eventually attended Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio. Last fall, her parents, Frank and Gladys Ferko, joined Ferko in Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families, organized by the Holy See's Pontifical Council for the Family, where Pope Francis celebrated Mass for thousands of the faithful.
But the turning point in her life leading up to her current calling came on March 5, 2000. While visiting Rome, Ferko, then 20, sneaked away from a tour group with a few others to visit the Vatican. They discovered that they had walked in on the beatification Mass of 41 saints. Among those 41 saints were 11 Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth who were killed by the Nazis during World War II in exchange for 120 villagers of Nowogrodek, Poland.
The sisters' sacrifice of their lives had a profound effect on Ferko. She remembers pointing to a group of 600 sisters waving red and white scarves and saying to a friend, "I want to be a Sister of the Holy Family of Nazareth just like them."
Sixteen years later, having realized her goal, Ferko believes that the most rewarding aspect of her job is creating moments where the youths encounter God's deep and unconditional love for them.