When Helen Vysotska entered University College Dublin, she knew she wasn’t happy – she just wasn’t sure why. Practically in the first week, however, Ms Vysotska was drawn to the Newman Catholic society. Within a few years, the shallow faith of her youth took root and flourished and Ms Vysotska is now the general manager of Catholic youth group, Pure in Heart.
Despite this, she identified as a Christian and, coming into college, she was interested in learning more”
“I did have some Catholic upbringing,” Ms Vysotska began. “I was baptised as a Greek Catholic. My family are Ukrainian, my grandparents would be very practising. My parents, they would stick with traditional celebrations, Easter, Christmas – those events would be highlighted and we would mark them. But we wouldn’t know beyond those aspects of the faith, we wouldn’t be going to weekly Mass or Confession.”
She described her relationship with God as a teenager as being “transactional”.
“It was like a jackpot machine, like I put in a coin and I get more coins out,” Ms Vysotska said. “But I didn’t have a deeper understanding of a close intimacy with Christ and really having him the centre of my life.”
Despite this, she identified as a Christian and, coming into college, she was interested in learning more. At fresher’s week, when new students get a chance to sign up for college societies, Ms Vysotska chanced across UCD’s Newman Catholic society – it was a fateful encounter.
“I kept going to their Monday night gatherings, the people there were really genuine, really lovely and I just really liked that they had a wholesome, a different life perspective,” Ms Vysotska explained. “In college, it was really easy to be sucked in to drinking, partying, all that kind of stuff. These people, they could have a laugh, they could have fun, but they wanted more, they wanted a greater purpose to life than just getting drunk.”
At these Monday nights, she met an American missionary from Focus (Fellowship of Catholic University Students), who asked her along to a Bible study group.
“That first commitment I made with my relationship with Jesus was the Bible study,” Ms Vysotska continued. “I thought, hey, you know what, that makes sense – if I want to know more about God, it makes sense for me to get to know the Bible. I started to attend weekly these Bible studies. I started to get a greater grasp on the Church, the sacraments, and then Mass. All of a sudden, I was going to Mass every Sunday.
“However, there were things I still didn’t fully surrender. One of the biggest things was chastity and purity. First of all, I didn’t know that young people actually practised chastity. I did not know that. There was a desire in my heart to practice it, but I’d never had accountability or people of a mindset to be pure.”
This desire found its fulfilment, its grounding, when the Bible study group read Theology of the Body by Pope St John Paul II.
After that encounter came the discovery of Pure in Heart, which she was introduced to by a friend”
“For me, that was like, boom – everything just made sense to me,” Ms Vysotska said. “It made sense to me why the culture is the way it is. Why people are searching for love, to be loved and they’re looking for it in the wrong places and they’re trying to fill the emptiness that can only be filled by God.
“Seeing the beauty of the other person and the gift of the other person, the gift of marriage – understanding all of these big themes – I then in 2019, went to a retreat and at that retreat, I had my first very honest confession. That for me was like, yeah, I’m never going back.”
After that encounter came the discovery of Pure in Heart, which she was introduced to by a friend.
“It was in September 2020, when we were able to get back in person, thanks be to God,” she said. “It went on Zoom and I kept on going weekly to their prayer meetings. I loved the mission, to spread purity amongst the youth, authentic relationships and chastity and the gift of love. That was huge, I think that’s the crisis at the moment, the crisis of love and how we should love and how we should respect our own selves.”
All the while she had been coming to a deeper understanding of the Faith and relationship with Christ, a desire to be on mission came to the fore. Having led Bible studies of her own, an opportunity arose when the position of general manager for Pure in Heart opened up.
Having prayed and reflected, Ms Vysotska determined to apply and was blessed to take up the position. Now, just a few months into her tenure, she has ambitious plans for the youth group.
Pure in Heart
“I think that we should really re-evangelise and implant a greater desire to know God more and to know ourselves more, the purpose of our bodies and our dignity,” she said. “I think it’s difficult because of the secondary schools – that’s our mission to go the schools, do retreats and talks. The bigger kind of mission that we’re about is going to communities already out there, like chaplaincies in university.
“A lot of them don’t know Pure in Heart, they need a reminder, to be reminded of the message. Youth communities, parishes with active youth groups or who need help, they want youth groups. Also branching the groups out. Our head office is in Merrion Square, but we’ve had so many emails in the past couple of months, from Limerick, Cork, Belfast, asking can they have a Pure in Heart prayer group. We’d like to branch out and spread the seeds of Pure in Heart around the country.”