Young people are struggling in today’s culture, especially in the past few years. For current students at Christendom, they see the struggles their fellow young people are going through, especially at the high school level, and want to make a difference. Last week, over 30 Christendom students took on that mission by leading a retreat at local Seton School in Northern Virginia, impacting hundreds of lives, and hopefully igniting fires in as many souls as possible for Christ.
Christendom students were first contacted about this opportunity last year, when sophomore John Paul Vander Woude, a graduate of Seton, was contacted by Bob Pennefather, the director of Seton School and father of multiple alumni at Christendom. In the past, Seton’s retreats were led by the religious, but Pennefather was interested in having peers of the students lead the retreats this year, thinking the high schoolers would relate even more to college students.
For students like Vander Woude, this opportunity immediately answered a need within him to go out and try to impact his peers for the better.
“We are given so much here at Christendom, especially in regards to the Catholic education we receive and the culture in which we are immersed,” says Vander Woude. “To whom much has been given, much will be expected. I think it is a duty we have as Christendom students to try to impact the community in ways that we can. Obviously, it is important to develop ourselves and the college community during these four years, but I think it is also important to look for ways to impact the broader community for the better as well.”
There are approximately 180 women and 170 men who study grades 7-12 at Seton. Leading a retreat for all of them would require the assistance of numerous Christendom students. Quickly, over 30 stepped up, wanting to give of their time for these students.
The retreat was split into two days — one day for the women, one for the men. After weeks of meetings, emails, and preparation, 22 female students traveled to Seton to run the first day of the retreat. The day, lasting from early in the morning until 4:00 in the afternoon, consisted of talks, small breakout groups, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and Mass. The talks varied, from focusing on “Who are You Becoming?”, a theme of Christendom’s own Student Life mission at Christendom, to “Look to the Roots” and “Authentic Femininity.”
For junior Michelle Kelly, who was one of the students who helped lead the retreat, it was a special privilege to be able to spend so much time with the high school students at Seton.
“It was so good to be a part of it — For Claire (Mense), Cecilia (McFadden), and I, it was a special privilege to be able to organize this retreat alongside Seton, not only for Seton’s students but for our own students as well,” says Kelly. “Our students themselves were able to take so much out of the day and put into practice skills and knowledge that they have accrued over their time at Christendom. Many of us want to go into youth ministry or related fields for a time after Christendom, so this opportunity was a gift. After the day was done, many of the girls came up to our volunteers, including myself, thanking us for the talks and for taking the time to come out for the day.”
The next day, a group of male students went to Seton with the same goal of impacting these students for the better. Taking on a different format from the day before, the retreat began in the morning with three groups, each featuring two grades combined together. Three sessions were held in the morning, in which two of the Christendom students would give talks and answer any questions, and then rotate to the next group. The talks focused on such topics as, “Leading by Example,” “Living Out Your Catholic Identity in the World,” “Living Out Prudence in the World,” “Carry Thy Cross and Follow Me,” “Surrender,” and finally “Friendship.”
After the talks, the Christendom students led a Holy Hour, did Stations of Cross, gave another talk on living out the Messianic Missions, and then concluded the day with Mass. Confessions were offered throughout the day as well.
The day was moving for both the high school students and for the Christendom students who led them, with Vander Woude hopeful that they were able to bring the students even closer to Christ.
“Ultimately, my hope is that through the help of the Holy Spirit, we were able to start a fire in at least one person’s soul,” says Vander Woude. “I am extremely grateful to Seton for trusting us to put on the retreat for their students.”
Young people face so many challenges in today’s culture to turn away from the Gospel and live more secular lives. For the Christendom students who led these retreats, their hope is that this is the first of many opportunities to be able to go out and help their peers in their spiritual journeys, ultimately fulfilling the mission of Christendom to “go out and restore all things in Christ.”
“If our aim is to bring as many souls with us as possible to heaven, then now is a good time to start,” concludes Kelly. “This mission is what Dr. Carrol had in mind for Christendom, that the students undergo these studies so that they, as both lay people and religious, can go out into the world and evangelize it. Maybe we will not know our impact on those [students] in the retreat till much later, but I pray and trust that our work bore fruit. To restore our culture, Christendom College students and alumni must go out and be a witness by spreading and strengthening the Faith.”