By Mike Viola
Jesus invited Nicole Younge to the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows. Sort of.
One day Nicole was spending time alone at the Shrine church examining her faith journey. She had spent many years as part of the Catholic community in East St. Louis, but was beginning to feel like something was missing. She was considering finding a new Church home.
As she sat in the Shrine church, a young man came up to her and they began a conversation. Nicole mentioned that she was at a crossroads with her faith. The young man mentioned how much he enjoyed being part of the Shrine family and invited her to attend a Holy Week performance to be held at the Shrine in a few days.
Nicole accepted the invitation to attend the performance. When the play started, she discovered that the young man who had invited her was the actor who played Jesus.
“So, you can say that Jesus invited me to the Shrine, and I have been grateful to him ever since,” said Nicole.
That chance encounter with Jesus at the Shrine took place in 2007. Since then, Nicole has been an active member of the Shrine community, serving as a lector and also becoming a leader in the Oblate Associates program based at the Shrine.
“There is a really strong Catholic presence here at the Shrine,” said Nicole. “Once I started coming here I couldn’t stop.”
Nicole grew up in East St. Louis, a few miles away from the Shrine. She worked for the local diocese and was responsible for a variety of R.C.I.A. and sacramental preparation programs at the diocesan churches in East St. Louis.
Nicole also graduated from the Black Catholic Studies Program at Xavier University in New Orleans. One of her teachers was Sister Thea Bowman, the legendary educator and activist who worked to break down racial and cultural barriers within the Catholic Church. Sister Thea, who passed away in 1990, is on the pathway to being declared a saint in the Church.
When Catholic churches began to be consolidated in East St. Louis, Nicole felt her faith journey might be taking her in a new direction. She was still attending church but felt like Mass was little more than sitting in a pew instead of actively taking part in the celebration of one’s faith.
So, she began to look around at other places to worship, resulting in that chance encounter with “Jesus” at the Shrine. Now 15 years later, she can be found at the Shrine every Sunday filled with a joyful spirit and grateful heart.
In recent years Nicole has become particularly involved with the Oblate Associates at the Shrine. The group meets regularly to examine their faith through the charism of the Oblates. Representing the Oblate Associates, Nicole recently attended the Oblates’ convocation for the United States Province, a time when the Oblates chart a course for the future of the ministries in the province.
For Nicole, her faith is at the center of her life. And the Shrine is at the center of her prayer life. It is a match made in Heaven, thanks to an unexpected visit from Jesus.