Challenging Students to Explore Faith

Whether or not class is in session, educators at CJ continue to advance the school’s mission by challenging students to seek out opportunities to deepen and explore their faith. This past summer was no different.

M&S Destination:

A group of a dozen girls spent a week in June working to revitalize an urban community center in a low income area of the city of East St. Louis. The retreat was organized and sponsored by the Young Neighbors in Action program.

Mission trip participants spent their days painting, cleaning and interacting with children at the Sunshine Cultural Arts Center. At night, students stayed with other Catholic youth groups at the First Presbyterian Church of Kirkwood. The peers shared time for reflection and attended Mass together each morning. Daily liturgy was celebrated by Fr. Matt Robben, chaplain and chaperone.

“The most powerful experience for the kids was working at the site because I don’t think they realized just how good they had it back home,” Fr. Matt said. He chaperoned with fellow faculty members Sr. Nicole Trahan and Karen Emmerich, religion teachers.

Dejah Gilliam '15 decided to participate in the St. Louis summer retreat, her first while a student at CJ, after being encouraged to get involved by her guidance counselor, Susan Eichenauer.

“Getting used to where we worked and where we slept was rocky at first, but by the end of the week I wanted to stay longer,” Gilliam said. She plans to attend Kairos in the fall and is now actively encouraging her friends to give summer retreat a try.

“I learned that it’s ok to go outside of your comfort zone for a few days,” she said.

M&S Destination:

It was familiarity that drew Zak Shrewsbury '15 back to Solsberry, Ind. where he participated in a rural plunge experience for a second year in a row.

“I had a lot of fun, and I felt like I got closer to my faith and closer to those around me,” Shrewsbury said. He, like Dejah, also plans to attend and possibly lead Kairos this fall.

The second summer retreat group from CJ spent the week of July 7-11 volunteering with the local chapters of Habitat for Humanity and the Community Action Program outside of Bloomington. They were joined by students from fellow Marianiast institution Moeller High School (Cincinnati) and chaperoned by teachers Michelle Mize and Caty Maga.

“Every day students broke up into small groups and went to one or two different sites volunteering and working with many different social justice issues,” Maga said. “Students began their day with prayer, volunteered, lived as community and ended in reflection.”

According to Zak, one of the most meaningful experiences of the trip was helping bring a property up to code for one local resident.

“He was really grateful,” Shrewsbury said. “It was heartwarming to know that we helped him keep his house.”

More information about service learning trips at CJ is available from under the Ministry & Service tab.

Extra-curricular Faith Journey:
A third trip, unaffiliated with the school, took more than a dozen members of the CJ community to a town in Bosnia and Herzegovina where an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary is said to appear.

The pilgrimage to Medugorje has been a popular destination for Catholics since 1981 when the apparition was first reported to appear to a group of children. Although yet to be confirmed by the Church, millions of people have traveled to Europe to be part of this faith experience.

While not sponsored by CJ, about half of the roughly 30 pilgrims who made the trip from the Miami Valley were either alumni, CJ parents, current students, faculty and staff, or a combination like Mike Hoendorf ‘03. The grad, now assistant director of ministry and service at his alma mater, said he ultimately decided to attend after “feeling the call.”

“The trip blew my expectations out of the water considering everything I took away from it,” he said. “I felt where God was calling me to become a better Catholic, a better mentor for the youth I work with, and to get closer to Him.”

The 10-day trip across the Atlantic was organized by CJ parents Tim O’Loughlin and Mary Pyper ‘76, who themselves felt called to take a group of youth there, said Hoendorf.

Among a handful of current students who made the journey was Maureen Zopff '16. “Mrs. Pyper was my confirmation sponsor at St. Luke and she’s always talked to me about strengthening my faith,” she said. (Pyper’s call to live out the Gospel was recently the subject of a story in the Spring 2014 issue of Vision, CJ’s alumni magazine.)

Highlights from the trip included climbing Cross Mountain (pictured top), attending a Croatian Mass with 80,000 fellow pilgrims from all over the world (pictured right), and witnessing an apparition of Mary to Marijana on August 2 (watch the video or read the translation).

The experience was eye-opening and helped put priorities into perspective for Zopff, who said she has been talking to God and attending Mass more frequently since returning to the States.

“Once you’ve been to Medjugorje, everything else just kind of disappears and you feel more at peace,” she said.