Youth leader ‘walks the walk,’ as everyone can see.

Youth leader ‘walks the walk,’ as everyone can see.

pow_073109Kari Palmieri Janisse is pictured with friends at St. Mary’s carnival in June.

The back of Kari Palmieri Janisse’s Honda Element kind of says it all.

On one side is a stick-on, metallic fish, symbolizing Christ. On another is a press-on decal that reads JP2, honoring the late Pope John Paul II.

Kari Palmieri Janisse, 27, of Williamstown, is a lot of things, but pretty much above all else, she is a faithful Catholic.

And those car decorations – each there for at least several years – are also what she’s called a “God-incidence.”

The September after her 2004 graduation from Rowan University with a B.F.A. with a concentration in graphic design, she was working as a graphic designer in New York City. A former president of Rowan’s Newman Club while in school, she decided on a visit to South Jersey to have then-Newman director Father Cadmus Mazzarella bless her latest wheels.

“He said to me, ‘Nice car for a youth minister,’” Janisse recalled. “In the back of my mind I said, ‘He’s crazy.’”

Fast forward to September 2008, and relative newlywed Janisse was living with her husband Phil a short hop from Newman and St. Bridget’s in Glassboro, where Father Mazzarella was serving as pastor. She also was looking for a new job. She got it. The priest she knew so well from her college days, the one who celebrated her nuptial Mass, proved prophetic when he hired her to run the youth ministry at St. Bridget’s.

She held that position through June of this year, and in July accepted the same position at St. Mary’s in Williamstown, where Father Mazzarella now serves as pastor. She’s looking to carry on a lot of the same work there that she did in her earlier post, focusing junior (sixth to eighth grade) and senior (high school) groups on faith, service and fun. (And, as it turned out, the youth in those ministries selected as the names of their organizations “Jesus Fish” {the junior group} and JP2 {the senior group}, independent of influence from the decals on Janisse’s car.)

The Bloomfield, Essex County, native expects to work with hundreds of kids at St. Mary’s, including a number from St. Bridget’s, where she volunteered for a year before she landed the full-time position working with 75 kids. The St. Mary youth groups can expect to participate in social activities such as a recent group kickoff that included a moon bounce and Velcro® wall, monthly service activities that include baking cookies and singing Christmas carols at the homes of housebound parishioners, and faith-based activities such as listening to guest speakers talk about chastity and pro-life issues.

Father Mazzarella applauds her efforts with the area’s young Catholics. “She certainly has high energy, but it’s focused, centered in her faith and Christian principles,” said Father Mazzarella, whom she recently helped start a young adult ministry for 18 to 25 year olds at St. Mary’s. “Her faith is very important to her, and she’s definitely a leader, not only with youth but also with her peers. She’s a very positive person and has a good way of interacting with people. She’s diplomatic when she needs to be and has a way of convincing people of things, especially spiritual realities. The kids love her. Parents love her.”

Youth ministry work was not where Janisse — whose husband often volunteers with the groups — expected to be at this stage in her life. But, she noted, “It was on my bucket list of something to do in my life.”

The young woman, who is the definition of exuberance, has a lot of things on that bucket list, many of which she already has accomplished or is accomplishing.

The 5’3” brunette often can be found reaching great heights — as high as 8 feet — as a stilt walker, sometimes dressed as the Statue of Liberty, a leprechaun or toy soldier. She also can be found twisting balloons into puppies or monkeys in palm trees at children’s birthday parties, businesses’ grand openings, a regular Thursday night gig at T.G.I. Friday’s in Turnersville and charity events. When she’s not doing that, she might be painting faces at various events, creating murals and handling graphic design projects for her own firm, Creative Juices by Kari, LLC. “I always was an ambitious go-getter with creativity,” said Janisse, who started performing at parties when she was just 10 years old and worked church bingo as early as fifth grade. “Growing up, I loved clowns. Clowns were everywhere in my room.”

She’s also volunteered at St. Michael’s School in Clayton, teaching two classes each week the art of Balloon-a-tics, which she said aided in her ministry with the junior youth group.

When she’s not working — or working or working or working — she maintains an email prayer ministry she started after a pilgrimage to Medjugorje, rallying her 50 or so “Prayer Warriors” to intercede for ill babies, men who have lost their wives and people with special intentions, among others. “Sometimes I feel guilty sending so many (requests),” said Janisse, an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist. She says her own Hail Marys as soon as she receives a request and tries to remember those on the prayer list in her rosary or at Mass, which she attends three to five times a week.

Still, her youth ministry work is where her heart is. “For me, it’s not a job,” said Janisse, the second oldest of four siblings raised in a very Catholic family. “It’s more of an answer to doing God’s work here where he needs me.” Her role, she said, is getting youth “fired up” for their faith so they can carry on with it for the rest of their lives.

Patricia Quigley is a member of Incarnation Parish, Mantua.

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