The Official Newspaper of the Diocese of Little Rock

15 Catholic young adults who inspire us, 2017

Read about any one of these active young adult Catholics and be inspired. The millennial generation, born between 1982 and 2000, is usually less involved in parish life and might not even believe in God, but Arkansas Catholic has found countless examples of young adults who are connected to Christ and their faith.

For these profiles, we focused on Catholics 18 to 30 years old (born 1987 to 1999). We sought out recommendations and interviewed 15 young adults who are doing exceptional work in their schools, parishes and ministries full time, part time or even as volunteers. They are single, married, parents and college students.


Profiles in this section were written by Malea Hargett, Aprille Hanson, Maryanne Meyerriecks, Dwain Hebda and Alesia Schaefer. 


Juliane Pierini: Rewards and challenges

Published: September 1, 2017   

Juliane Pierini describes being “gently led” to campus ministry. Now, in her second year as a campus minister at St. Thomas Aquinas University Parish at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, Pierini, 25, hopes to bring college students closer to Christ in much the same way. After graduating from UCA in December 2014, Pierini accepted a 12-month position in 2015 with Boys Hope, Girls Hope International in Pittsburgh as an academic success coordinator with the Girls Hope More... 

Steven Shook: Our piano man

Published: September 1, 2017   

On any given weekend, Steven Shook does not just attend a Mass at one church. For three Masses on Sunday and one on Saturday, he’s playing the organ or piano as the music director for Immaculate Heart of Mary in North Little Rock (Marche). If needed, he also plays at St. Joseph Church in Conway or Our Lady of the Holy Souls Church in Little Rock. He has in the past even sung with the More... 

José Perez-Flores: Walking with Christ

Published: September 1, 2017   

José Perez-Flores was born Catholic, but there was a time when faith was the furthest thing from his life. “I used to hang out with the wrong crowd, and I hardly ever attended Mass,” he said. “I’d be over hanging with my friends.” Perez-Flores, 28, said one acquaintance was persistent in trying to show him a better path for his life. “My friend Gabriel Munoz, he always invited me to church. I would always be like, ‘Naaaahhh, I More... 

Sam Denefe and Kay Kay DeRossette: The evangelizers

Published: September 1, 2017   

Almost 2,000 years ago, Jesus called his 12 disciples to go out and evangelize. Today, Samantha Denefe, 28, and Kay Kay DeRossette, 25, are following that same command. Denefe has been the director of evangelization and faith formation at Our Lady of the Holy Souls Church in Little Rock for two years. The married mother of 3-year-old Faith Ann and a boy on the way, knows all the troubling stats — for every person joining the More... 

Clare Doss: Igniting a fire

Published: September 1, 2017   

One of Clare Doss’ greatest joys in life is seeing young hearts on fire for Christ. The recent graduate of Arkansas State University in Jonesboro served as president of the Blessed John Newman University Parish for the 2016-2017 school year. Doss, 22, helped plan events with others in the ministry. “I think for me, it really just challenged me, seeing other people wanting to grow,” in their faith, she said. “I wanted to grow and help More... 

Chris Rose: Boys become men

Published: September 1, 2017   

Chris Rose didn’t enter college with the idea of becoming a teacher. But while attending Rhodes College in Memphis, a chance encounter with his former principal (and current boss) Steve Straessle planted a seed. “In high school I aspired to be a doctor, but those dreams quickly fell when I got to college. Biology wasn’t my strong suit,” he said. “I remember talking to Mr. Straessle at Riverfest. He told me they always needed math teachers More... 

Matthew Snider: A young Knight

Published: September 1, 2017   

You could say being a Knight is in his blood, with both a grandfather and uncle who have served in the fraternal organization, the Knights of Columbus. So when Matthew Snider came to the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville six years ago, he didn’t let being a student stop him from joining and becoming the grand knight of the campus organization his senior year. From his sophomore year on, Snider made it a goal to involve More... 

Kyle and Hannah Zinno: Young disciples

Published: August 31, 2017   

For Kyle and Hannah Zinno, life is about discerning God’s plan. After both contemplated religious life, the two realized they were called to marriage. Kyle, who spent three years with the Salesians of Don Bosco, said the time of discernment “formed me to be a disciple,” with his wife adding it taught him how to be “a very clean man,” learning how to scrub a toilet and such. “Seminary really helped me develop a habit of More... 

Yesenia Sanchez Pina: Counting her blessings

Published: August 31, 2017   

When she was 15 years old Yesenia Sanchez Pina had a calling to become a lector. “After my confirmation, I had that feeling I wanted to read at Mass, but I never had the guts to start reading. I never had the courage to actually sign up,” she said. By the time she entered campus ministry at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, the De Queen native knew she couldn’t sit on the sidelines any longer. “I More... 

Laredo Loyd: Presidential promise

Published: August 31, 2017   

Becoming president of the United States is a pipe dream for most. But keep this article, because Laredo Loyd plans to be in the Oval Office one day. For now, he’s running for Student Government Association president at his college. “The position of presidency, with politics in general, you can get carried away in the mess of things, what everyone else is doing … it’s honestly just a race to the bottom as people lower expectations,” More... 

Erika Nava: Running with spirit

Published: August 31, 2017   

Erika Nava will not slow down. Whether she’s running for a cause or gathering young adults for Catholic fellowship, her work all goes back to faith. Raised in Russellville, Nava, 24, came to the United States from Guerrero, Mexico, at the end of 2000. She felt like “a little ghost, it was tough,” sitting in an English-speaking classroom, not yet knowing the language. Nava is in her junior year at Arkansas Tech University in Russellville, studying More... 

Mayra Esquivel: Paying it forward

Published: August 31, 2017   

Mayra Esquivel is equally passionate about two vocations. As a newlywed, she recently entered the vocation of marriage with Irvin Camacho in November 2016. But her other vocation has helped shape the person she is today. Esquivel, 26, knows firsthand the challenges and difficulties that undocumented immigrants face. Driven and ambitious even as a teen, Esquivel had always wanted to attend college and pursue her dreams. But it wasn’t until she graduated from high school in 2009 More... 

Ryan McGrail: Unity with faith

Published: August 29, 2017   

For Ryan McGrail taking a “gap” year has made all the difference in his life. His gap occurred between his high school graduation at Naperville North in Illinois in 2014 and attending DePaul University in Chicago. During that year off, McGrail spent his time in a small town in Tuscany, Italy, involved in the Focolare movement. Founded on the charism of unity, McGrail worked, farmed and lived in communion with sisters, brothers and priests who formed More... 

Sarah Spellins: Being radical for Christ

Published: August 28, 2017   

Sarah Spellins admits she didn’t have a personal relationship with Jesus when she entered Benedictine College in Kansas. “I never knew the Lord as a person,” she said. “I always viewed him as an entity.”  Then she was invited to a St. Paul’s Outreach retreat. “It radically changed my life. … At the time I had one foot out of the Church … I remember telling (God) this was his last shot with me … I was prayed More... 

Anna Garcia Smith: On a mission

Published: August 25, 2017   

Anna Garcia Smith, 27, a member of St. Boniface Church in Fort Smith, has a passion for youth and young adult ministry. She immigrated to Orlando, Fla., from El Salvador at age 11, adjusting to her new home with the support of a strong faith community. At the University of Florida, she was active in the Catholic Gators campus ministry, going on missions to Belize and the Dominican Republic.  After graduation, she served in AmeriCorps at More...