Their quiet example of stewardship and service to others has now earned the seniors recognition through the Eagle of the Cross Award from the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown.
According to a press release from the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry, the award is given to teens in the six counties of the diocese “who model Christian discipleship and exemplify the qualities of moral integrity, prayer, good works and Christian leadership in their school and parish communities.”
The 29 recipients, chosen either for their outstanding involvement in their parish and larger community or in a diocesan Catholic school, will receive their awards from the Most Rev. David J. Bonnar, Bishop of the Diocese of Youngstown, during a ceremony from 6:30-8:30 pm May 2 at St. Columba Cathedral in Youngstown. The event will include evening pray with Bishop Bonnar presiding and light refreshments to follow in St. Columba Hall.
Sam, Grace and Nick are the recipients for Columbiana County. Other counties in the diocese include Ashtabula, Mahoning, Portage, Stark and Trumbull. Catholic high schools represented include Canton Central Catholic and St. Thomas Aquinas in Stark, Cardinal Mooney and Ursuline in Mahoning, John F. Kennedy in Trumbull and St. John in Ashtabula.
The award was created by the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry and introduced to the diocese in 1999.
All three local recipients said they were surprised about the award, but also humbled and honored to be recognized for what they’ve been doing, for living their faith.
“I help out where I can,” Sam said.
The 17-year-old Salem High School senior was nominated by three parishioners, Donna Dermotta, Fritz Schlueter and Frank Zamarelli. An altar server ever since he can remember, he attended St. Paul School from preschool through third grade, then Salem schools.
His school activities include band, Key Club, National Honor Society, Buckeye Boys State, football, wrestling and previously track. He’s in the upcoming school play “Bye Bye Birdie” this weekend as Mr. Johnson and also as the stage manager and previously acted in “Charlotte’s Web” at school and “Anne” on the Salem Community Theater stage.
Sam said being involved in the plays is fun, he gets to meet new people and learn about “going beyond your comfort level.” He said an actor can say a character’s lines and do what they do or they can “create a character.”
As an altar server at church, he remembers growing up and seeing how the older servers carried themselves and served as role models to the younger ones. Now it’s his turn.
“I’ve been put in that position of being role model and example,” he said.
He’s on call if the church needs an extra server, has done a wedding, helped mentor two young people serve at their first Mass and recently served a Mass with Bishop Bonnar at St. Paul. He’s helped out at other churches, too, formerly sang in the youth choir and even played his trumpet for a Christmas Eve Mass at St. Patrick in Leetonia. He helped out during a recent retirement dinner for former pastor, Rev. Robert Edwards.
As an Eagle Scout with St. Paul Troop 6, he installed a wheelchair swing at Waterworth Memorial Park.
“My parents have emphasized the importance of church, of going to Mass on Sunday and being involved in your church and community,” Sam said.
He has two younger sisters, Annika and Chaya, and plans to attend Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Mich. in the fall to study welding engineering technology. After college, he may opt for officer training school in Rhode Island.
“I am really proud of the young man Sam has become. He has a strong Catholic faith as well as a calling to serve others and his community. These qualities will be important as he prepares to start the next phase of his life,” his dad Eric said.
Sam’s mom Holly added, “I am so proud of Sam and everything he has accomplished. Sam is a bright light in any room and he has a kind and humble spirit. His reverence towards God and his resolute Catholic faith from a young age has always amazed me.”
Nick and Grace, both 18, grew up at St. John the Evangelist together and both are seniors at Carrollton High School and heavily involved as leaders in the church youth group. Both previously were altar servers and now serve as readers during Mass. Their youth group advisor, Diane Brown, nominated them for the Eagle of the Cross award.
In 2019 and again in 2021, Nick and Grace both attended the National Catholic Youth Conference, which was held in Indianapolis, Ind.
“That was super cool,” Grace said.
She also explained that the experience helped her understand more about her faith, which has a more significant meaning to her now. As a server, she followed in the footsteps of her older brother Luke. Her younger siblings, Paul, and Haley, also serve. The faith is strong in all of them.
In school, Grace’s activities include 4-H, FFA (Future Farmers of America), National Honor Society, basketball and volleyball. The church youth group is very active and had plans to hold an Easter egg hunt this past weekend for the younger kids in the parish. She said it means a lot to her that someone noticed the hard work she was putting in at church.
For Grace, to serve means being “able to share my faith with the youth and young people in the community and serving as an example for them.”
Her advice to others? “Don’t be ashamed about your faith, it’s something to be proud of,” she said.
Grace wants to be a teacher and plans to major in middle grade education at Ashland University.
Grace’s parents, Matt and Renee, had this message for their daughter, “We’ve watched in awe and admiration as you’ve grown into the person you are today, and we’re watching with great anticipation to see what you become. With your talent and determination, you can do anything. We are thankful for the leadership that has guided you in your journey to receive this award. We are so proud of you!!”
Nick previously participated in football and track at school and is a member of FFA and serves as president of his 4-H club, raising hogs for the fair. He’s in the early release program at school so he can work on the family farm, getting ready for what he called “real life.”
He said attending the National Catholic Youth Conference twice was “awesome.” All the kids were there for the same reason, which he said was “kinda cool. You’re not alone in your faith. Everybody’s there to help everybody.”
Nick left with a deeper meaning and said the idea of the conference is “to help connect with your faith and get to learn about faith.”
As the youngest of nine, with two brothers and six sisters, he had lots of examples to emulate growing up. His brother Adam and sister Emily both received the Eagle of the Cross Award, but Nick said he never really thought about it. He watched them going to youth group and he’s been very involved in youth group. With his family, he said “you pretty much see faith everywhere you look.”
“Makes me feel like I’m living the right way. That means a lot to me,” he said regarding the award.
He said people shouldn’t get discouraged with all the bad stuff on the news, he said the bad isn’t everything.
“Keep driving. Have your faith strong,” he said.
His future is the farm, where he plans to continue working with the family.
“We are so proud of the young man Nick is turning out to be. He is very proud of his faith and follows his beliefs wholeheartedly. This award is such a wonderful accomplishment for him,” his mom and dad,” his parents, Tonya and Earl, said.
All three students offered thanks to those who nominated them.