Four times each year, Trinity High School seniors make a Kairos retreat to Elverson, Pa. The retreatants, led by adult and student leaders, are transported to an environment without television and asked to leave their cell phones behind.
Completely cut off from the demands of the high school routine and the pressures of post-secondary decisions, the students, immersed in a community of openness and faith, find themselves losing track of time.
They spend the three-and-a-half day duration of the retreat on Kairos, or “God’s time.”
“A retreat is an opportunity to really get away from the world … To have an opportunity to think and to pray,” said Mary Carnahan, director of spiritual ministry at Trinity High School. “Kairos is an opportunity for students to learn more about themselves, their classmates and their personal relationships with God.”
Kairos traces its roots to the 1960s and the Christian Awakening Program. Kairos retreat programs are offered across the country and have been a part of Trinity’s retreat offerings for the past 10 years, Carnahan said. In April, the school will embark on Kairos 39.
“I love to watch them grow in trust of each other, especially in their small groups. I love to see them so supportive and encouraging of each other,” Carnahan said. “There’s a new openness. I find that they become much more accepting of other people. They’re less quick to judge.”
The mission of the retreat is to bring students closer to God and heighten their awareness of God’s presence in all things. For Trinity students, the retreat not only results in a personal experience of faith, but in a more tight-knit class and school community, Carnahan said.
“It makes us a family, it really does,” student retreatant and leader Abby Resavy, 18, said.
“It was awesome. It was so relaxing just to be with a group of people you don’t always talk to and get to know them and get to know yourself,” said Nick Lutz, 18. Lutz made his Kairos retreat in September and returned in February as a leader.
“I didn’t know much going into it. I kept an open mind about it all,” said Katie Earley, 18, who led the September Kairos. “It was an amazing experience. It’s hard to explain.”
‘Catholic, spiritual Disney World’
In order to keep the experience free of expectations, the specifics of the retreat remain a secret. To accomplish the goals of Kairos — to develop Christian leadership; to focus on relationships with self, others and God; and to experience a Christian community — the retreat includes small and large group sharing, presentations by peers and adult leaders, opportunities for quiet time and reflection, and a chance to receive the sacraments through community masses and opportunities for Penance, Carnahan said.
“I was calling it the Catholic, spiritual Disney World. It’s the happiest place on earth,” Heather Merrill, 18, said.
Merrill, who still wears the cross necklace participants receive at the end of Kairos, will be a leader on the April retreat.
“I just wish that anyone would have the opportunity to go,” she said. “It makes everything make sense.”
Each high school in the Diocese of Harrisburg is required to offer a retreat experience to its students, said Jim Gontis, director of the Department of Religious Education in the Diocese of Harrisburg.
It is meant to introduce students to the tradition of the Catholic retreat — an opportunity to develop intellect in accordance with the truth and find strength in God’s love — at a time in their lives when they are beginning to ponder some of life’s deeper questions, Gontis said.
The majority of high schools in the area offer one-day retreats, and Trinity also has a one-day option for students who choose not to go on Kairos.
Across the Diocese, Lebanon Catholic, Lancaster Catholic and Delone Catholic high schools offer Kairos, Gontis said. Next year, students at Bishop McDevitt High School in Harrisburg will also have the option to make a Kairos retreat.
“I know that it can be a transforming time in the lives of a lot of students,” said Jim Fair, Director of Spiritual Life at Bishop McDevitt High School. “It takes the faith of the student, which oftentimes they get from their parents and … lets them make it their own.”
Fair’s hope is that the retreat experience will transform the spirit of the school, making students more thoughtful of their peers and teachers as they live the faith they discovered on Kairos, he said.
“It really should help transform them as a group, just make them kinder and gentler, and I’ve seen a lot of that,” Carnahan said.