FAIRFIELD—Twenty-four high school students from across the state were selected to attend the second annual SHU Journey residential mentoring program in late June. The Lilly Endowment Summer Theological Institute for High School Youth provided funding for the weeklong event.
“The grant is to educate youth in their faith, to help them explore contemporary moral challenges of the world in which they live and to explore how their faith calls them to service and leadership in the world,” said Michelle Loris, associate dean of Sacred Heart’s College of Arts and Sciences, chair of Catholic Studies and lead organizer of the SHU Journey.
“Each day focused on a different theme: God’s Call; a Life of Meaning and Purpose; God’s Presence in the World; Human Dignity; and Going Forth,” Loris said. Activities included classroom instruction, prayer and reflection, Mass, music ministry, group discussion with mentors and peers, listening to religious leaders and lay Catholic speakers such as Frontier Communications CEO Dan McCarthy, athletics like volleyball and flag football, local community service and day trips to places such as The Cloisters in Manhattan and the Discovery Museum.
Bishop Frank J. Caggiano celebrated the opening Mass for the journey, and Fr. Robert Kinnally, Chancellor of the Diocese and Pastor of St. Aloysius Parish in New Canaan, said the closing Mass at Sacred Heart.
Seven student mentors from Sacred Heart University trained to lead participants in a transformative experience. “I truly feel that the most impactful part of the week was being able to lead and guide high-school students through their own faith journeys,” said junior Trevor O’Brien ’19. The mathematics major appreciated the time spent doing community service in the Bridgeport area. “Mentees gained an understanding of the innate dignity of each person. We heard fabulous stories from the mentees on the sincere and heartfelt joy they experienced, helping those who were less fortunate than themselves.”
The SHU Journey has a built-in support system, with supervisors in charge of assisting the mentors and overseeing the week’s events. Campus minister Devon McCormick connects students with their faith during the regular academic year through retreats, prayer services and fun events, so getting involved with SHU Journey was a natural transition for her.
“The program that Dr. Loris designed is incredible. As soon as I learned of all the wonderful classes and activities planned for the participants, I knew I wanted to be part of SHU Journey,” she said. “It was one of the most rewarding weeks of my ministry career; it was so full of love, companionship and friendship. To see so many high school students from the area come together for a week like that gave me so much hope for the future of our Church and our world.”
McCormick also noted the difficulties high school students face and the importance of making connections that will change lives. And this experience, which expands students’ understanding of faith through self-discovery and intellectual exploration, is sure to continue. “I am so looking forward to the future of this program and all the joys that will come from it,” she said.