BY TERRY DICKSON
BILOXI – Bishop Roger Morin has hired Ray Lacy to serve as the new diocesan director of youth ministry, effective August 15. Lacy succeeds Bragg Moore, who is retiring after three decades in the position.
Lacy, 37, is a native of Gulfport and a graduate of St. John High School. He is married to Mandy and has three children: Mackenzie, 13, Peyton, 11 and Mia Clare, 6. They are members of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Long Beach, where Lacy has served on and off as youth minister since 2000.
Lacy became Catholic during his senior year at St. John, after having what he describes as “a conversion experience.”
“I wasn’t really practicing anything,” he said. “I attended Catholic churches, but I never participated in the sacraments. I was on the campus ministry team at St. John and, when I had my conversion experience during a retreat at Franciscan University in Steubenville, I came back and Jack Beattie, God rest his soul, said, ‘You should think about becoming Catholic.’ That’s when I met Msgr. Dominick Fullam, who signed me up for RCIA. There were three of us in the class at St. James Parish in Gulfport and I came into the Church in 1997.”
After that, he said, youth ministry began to play a greater role in his life. So, when St. Thomas pastor Father Louis Lohan asked him to run the parish’s youth ministry and Life Teen programs.
Lacy left his position at St. Thomas after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 to teach religion at St. John and then St. Patrick Catholic High School in Biloxi, while continuing to help with youth ministry.
The fruits of working with young people on a parish level, said Lacy, “come from seeing them experience Christ in a way that creates conversion in their life.
“They experience Christ in a way that changes their world view and their understanding of how they are supposed to live out this Christian virtue because, when they get it, it’s amazing,” he said. “When it clicks, when they recognize how much God loves them and how much a part of their life he is, and they acknowledge that and surrender to that, that’s it. I mean that really and truly is it. There’s so much to that but, simply put, it’s about them experiencing the love of Christ and realizing it.”
Lacy said he is excited and nervous to be following in Moore’s footsteps.
“I love where we’re at with youth ministry in our diocese,” said Lacy. “I think we’ve got a lot of good things going and I just kind of feel that we want to keep those things, whether they be the annual youth conference or SEARCH, going in the right direction.”
Lacy said he owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to Moore.
“When I came into youth ministry, Bragg was one of those people that I would often call on for guidance and input,” he said.
“It was always with just a joyful response of ‘I’m here to help you in every way that I possibly can.’ That friendship became even stronger through the years in doing ministry together, whether it was March for Life or conference, and working more personally with him. I consider him a great friend. I consider him someone who was very, very impactful in me continuing to stay in youth ministry through his encouragement and conversations that we’ve had through the years. I think that one of the things that Bragg is so good about is sitting back and listening and giving that input and encouragement where it’s needed to really keep people plugged in, to keep people engaged in the long-term goal of what youth ministry is. It isn’t about just having fun experiences. It’s about understanding how we are called to impact the younger generation so that they too can come back and do the same thing.”
Lacy said he is “super excited” about working with Brenda Sargent, a long-time fixture in the Office of Youth Ministry.
“Brenda has been great to collaborate with through the years and I look forward to continuing the good things we already have going on,” he said.
“I am excited to see where this adventure leads us,” she said. “Knowing he has so many qualities and ways that Bragg has, we will start out on the beginning of a great work relationship.”
Lacy reiterated that his goal coming into his new position is to keep the good things going.
“As time allows, we will create new approaches and make adjustments where we feel adjustments need to be made,” he said.
“That would be a collective decision, not just something coming from me. There are going to be things that change because I’m not Bragg and that’s just the nature of humanity in and of itself. With Brenda and her influence and all she brings to the table in wisdom of how we’ve done it in the past, there’s going to be great collaboration there that I think will allow us to continue the great things that are going on and, at the same time, allow us to create new ideas.”
Lacy believes every male and female should seriously consider his or her vocation, whether it is to priesthood, religious life, married life, etc., but especially to priesthood and religious life. He said the same thinking applies to young people and their role in the Church.
“There’s the easy road and there’s the opportunity to go deep,” he said.
“The truth is that every person has something to offer. It may not be that your gift is getting up and giving great talks. Your gift may be being quiet and listening. I hope that, as Bragg does so well, I’ll be able to look at someone and say, ‘Don’t believe you don’t have anything to offer because you do.’ Get involved. See where you fit. If it doesn’t work this way, it may work a different way. It may be that his isn’t what you need to be doing at all, but you’ve got to give it a shot.”
Lacy added that he’s very passionate about young people discerning their vocation.
“I’m excited to be able to work with Father Adam Urbaniak and Father Dominic Pham on vocations and reaching into the hearts of our young men and women and just encouraging them to pray about it. There’s no pressure. One of the things I loved when I was discerning was that there was someone available to help me along in the process.”
Lacy also believes that every adult has a major role to play in the spiritual development of young people.
“Age doesn’t matter. Heart matters,” he said. “As you love young people and you give them time and you listen, they respond. That’s what they long for, is to have value. Any person can offer that opportunity to our young people.”