Thursday, January 30, 2014

Kairos @ the Prep

In today's post, Mr. Turner '00 chats with Sr. Kathleen Woody G.N.S.H. about the origin and history of Kairos at St. Joe's Prep.

A recent tumblr. post, shared with the St. Joe's Prep community by Mr. Tony Braithwaite '89 and written by a Jesuit high school grad, reminded me of something that I should never forget: Kairos is one of the best things we do at St. Joe's Prep.

Sr. Kathleen Woody G.N.S.H, whom countless Prep alumni fondly recall as both a teacher and the Amazing Kairotic Ixthotic Supernun, spent some time with me to discuss the origin and history of this "intense retreat."

What is Kairos?

Now, I have to say this: I can give you the basics, but as you know, there is an element of secrecy and privacy to this retreat. OK, here we go.

Table 5 - '99
Kairos, an ancient Greek word that means the right time or God's time, is a three-and-a-half day retreat for adolescents that is based on the Cursillo retreat for adults. Kairos follows, roughly, the same pattern, and the topics of the retreat's speeches are modified for teenagers. I think the beauty of it is that the retreat takes you where you are. If you're someone whose relationship with God is solid, then the retreat confirms you and gives you a boost. If you're having problems at the time of the retreat, your experience might be more profound. It's absolutely the work of the Holy Spirit. During the first couple of retreats, I used to worry about how things might turn out. Around the eighth retreat I said to myself, "Why am I worried? I'm not in charge of this. I just order the buses."

How did Kairos come to the Prep?

There are a few different creation stories out there, so let me give you the one I'm familiar with. We got Kairos by way of Kentucky, I believe, through a Franciscan priest who was familiar with the Cursillo retreat. This priest and his faculty colleagues tweaked the retreat to make it appropriate for high school students. Since Kentucky isn't that far from Chicago, Loyola Academy in Wilmette, Illinois got a hold of it. And once in got into the Jesuit network, it took off. We got it from Gonzaga high school in D.C. We sent seven Prep kids and Fr. Joe Michini, S.J. to D.C. to make the retreat and bring it back. The students thought it was a great retreat, they loved it. But one student said to Fr. Michini, "It'll never work at the Prep." Of course we made him the first rector! (student retreat leader).

How were those first retreats?

Since I hadn't made the Gonzaga retreat, that first Prep Kairos was led mainly by the students. We decided that we would not push the seniors to make it. We knew that if a priest and a nun pushed a retreat, it'd be the kiss of death. The kids would think that you pray all day and that'd be the end of it. So we let the word spread - and it did. We ran three retreats the first year, and for four years after that. One year we added a fourth retreat, then a fifth, then a sixth. We learned real quick, also, that a full four day retreat was too long - by the afternoon of the fourth day, they want to see their loved ones.

What are some of your favorite things about Kairos?

Now that I'm a full-time classroom teacher and no longer in Campus Ministry, I miss the experience of knowing on Monday night that in a few days I would have a much deeper understanding of who these young men were and what made them tick. I miss the students' creativity - I'll never forget a makeshift, Kairos-wide bowling tournament complete with brackets and team names. I also miss seeing how Kairos affects our adult leaders, some of whom said it was life-changing. I don't miss the planning or the worrying.

Are you sure you don't want to share any good stories about Kairos?

Oh, I'm sure.

What do students get out of the retreat?

Although we break students down into groups, the retreat is geared towards the individual because each reaction is individual. Here are the two big graces from Kairos: you recognize that you are a person loved by your God, by your family, by your friends. It then teaches you that everyone else is lovable. Once you know another's story, you're much more accepting of the person and therefore it's much easier to receive someone in a Christian spirit. It can, if you are open to it, change your attitude to become much more open and much more tolerant towards others.

This blog post was written by Mr. Ed Turner '00, Director of Admission.

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