“It’s wonderful to be Catholic.”
Thomas LaJoie says that is what he came to believe at a young age and what now, at age 17, he still knows to be true.
“Being Catholic is all about spreading joy,” he says. “It’s all about spreading great news.”
In a time when he sees fewer and fewer of his classmates embrace their Catholic upbringing, Thomas remains committed to God and the Church, attending Mass regularly at Saint Bruno – Saint Remi in Van Buren, serving as an altar server, and being a leader in youth ministry.
“I’m proud to say that I’ve been active in my faith all my life,” he says. “I’m very happy for that. I’m very lucky because I see how it affects people who aren’t. The outlook that you have when you attend Mass is very rewarding because, ultimately, listening to the word of God every weekend is what drives me to be a better person. The lessons that you learn, both from the readings and the homily that the priest gives, are just inspiring. It’s truly inspiring because we’re learning how to live just as Jesus did.”
Thomas was raised in a Catholic household in Van Buren, the youngest of four children. He credits his faith to his family. His parents formerly served in faith formation, which gave him a head start in youth ministry.
“I’m very blessed because God has provided me with such a faithful, supportive family, who has believed in me, no matter what,” he says.
He especially points to his grandfathers, who, he says, laid down a firm foundation for future generations to build upon.
“The faith has always been in the LaJoie family and the Morrow family as well. Both of my grandfathers are very faithful men, and they sought to teach all of their grandchildren about the Catholic faith and made sure that they live it every day,” he says. “It was definitely something special to have them both in my life.”
Thomas says both his grandfathers had a positive outlook on life. He says his paternal grandfather always had a smile on his face, no matter what challenges he faced.
“He always looked for the positive things, the good things from situations. He would use that to his advantage to just spread joy,” he says. “He would wake up in the morning, and he would always say, ‘Thank you, God. I’m alive today, and well, and healthy.’”
His maternal grandfather approached life the same way. “My Pepé Morrow, he loved to talk to people. He was very social. He was very loving and caring,” says Thomas. “They both were just great men who served all around them.”
Thomas says his paternal grandfather had a phrase he would often share with family members. It so hit home that his parents, as well as his aunts and uncles, had it printed and framed. It hangs on walls in households and workplaces.
“His famous quote for the family was, ‘You have to wake up each morning with something generous to give to the world,’” says Thomas.
It’s a belief that Thomas says he tries to live by.
“It means that, as Catholics, we have to live each day as Jesus did and to give to people, give of yourself, and be generous, as he said, to make a positive impact on people’s lives,” says Thomas. “It’s as simple as being a kind person who is caring and who is willing to help others. It’s about being who God calls us to be.”
Thomas says he tries to bring that to every aspect of his life. As with many teenagers, he keeps a busy schedule. He graduated second in his class this spring from Van Buren District Secondary School, where he served as class president and president of the National Honor Society. He received a principal’s award from the Maine Principals’ Association, as well as a Mitchell Scholarship.
Inheriting a love for music from both his grandfathers, he plays six instruments and was a member of his school’s concert band and pep band.
“I’ve had the opportunity to use my musical abilities in the church. I’ve played at a wedding. I’ve played at Mass, both guitar and saxophone during Mass,” he says.
He was also captain of the soccer, tennis, and basketball teams, and he was first chair in the school’s Chess Club.
Thomas also volunteered at Vacation Bible Camp for three years, participated in Project Graduation, and volunteered for four years at the Aroostook Teen Leadership Camp in Presque Isle, a development and drug prevention program for youths in grades 5-9. This summer, Thomas presented a workshop at the camp on leadership on the playing fields.
“That one is to talk about sportsmanship and being a positive leader on your team,” he says. “It’s about developing team chemistry, so I think that’s a really cool topic. We’ve never done it before, so I’m excited to be the first one to do it.”
Thomas also helps out on his family’s farm, which he says led him to develop a strong work ethic, and he was employed as a pharmacy technician at Hebert Rexall, located in the center of town.
“One of my favorite parts is talking with people, helping them find something, cashing them out even, and saying, ‘Have a good day,’” he says. “We have some nice, elderly people who come in and have coffee in the morning, and it’s nice to make the coffee and serve it to them and talk with them for a while. It’s a very rewarding job.”
For the past two years, Thomas has also served on the Catholic Youth Leadership Team (CYLT), which helps plans diocesan youth events, such as the annual convention. He says he joined because he wanted to share Christ’s light beyond his own community, to grow in his own faith, and to develop leadership skills.
“The one thing I appreciated about CYLT the most was that we got to do something good for the state, for our faith, for ourselves,” he says. “Serving the Lord is always special on its own, but when you’re really connecting with people and when you’re really realizing how it’s supposed to be, it’s just amazing. It’s a great feeling. When it comes down to it, I learned that there are so many different ways that we can learn more about God. And I learned that you never stop learning about God. You never know everything, but that’s what makes it exciting!”
Thomas was one of the emcees of the youth convention, during which he was presented with a Saint Timothy Award for living as a disciple of Christ and being an example to others. At the closing of the convention, he addressed the nearly 200 teens present, telling them that being part of youth ministry is one of the greatest choices they can make.
“The Lord brings great things, and it’s all there right in front of you. Believe, pray, and love,” he said. “Please, don’t be afraid to share your faith.”
He says that is something he always tries to do, but he acknowledges that discussing God and his faith with his peers can be challenging.
“It’s very hard to talk to your classmates about that sometimes because it seems like religion has become irrelevant to them. It doesn’t matter to them,” he says. “With technology, we have the world at our fingertips. We have access to basically everything, and with that, I feel like, especially teens, start to think they don’t need anything else.”
He says he finds it sad because they are missing out on so much.
“We need God in this generation with everything that is going on in the world, in the country. We need God more than ever, but the only way that they will receive Him is by realizing He is there,” says Thomas. “He’s going to be there for them whether they seek Him or not, but whether they use that to their advantage or not is up to them. They control their faith. They need to take advantage of the faith. They need to ask Him to help guide them in life. They need to realize that there is someone to lean on. He is there for them always because He loves them. It’s the truest love there is.”
He says everyone faces challenges at one point or another, which is why it’s so important to be have an active prayer life.
“There are times when those people are going to feel helpless in life, and I hope, with all of me, that they will turn to God. That helplessness is the reason I have to believe in God,” he says. “When you send your prayers to God, it’s like you’re talking to Jesus, and sometimes, you just don’t know what to do, but in the end, you end up feeling relieved, feeling hopeful. It’s so hard to explain because it’s really just so powerful."
He says he used his commencement speech, delivered as salutatorian, to let his classmates know that God’s path is the one that leads to success.
“I told them that you might feel scared, and I admitted that I sometimes feel scared, too, but if I strive to be the person that God wants me to be, that God has made me to be, I will achieve greatness, no matter what. No matter how many friends I have, no matter how much money I make, I know that I will be great because I know that God has made me this person,” he says.
Thomas will attend Colby College in Waterville this fall where he plans to study medicine. While in high school, he was chosen as a delegate to the Congress of Future Medical Leaders. He is considering becoming a family practitioner, a surgeon, or an oncologist, since both his grandfathers died from cancer.
“The ultimate goal is to help people in any way possible,” he says.
While at Colby, he plans to become active in campus ministry and says he will look to evangelize as much as he can, so that others will discover what he has.
“My goal is to be the light, shine a light on faith and what it brings, to help plant those seeds, to help them realize they need God,” Thomas says. “We all need God.”