The Caritas Center of Brescia University in Owensboro, Kentucky, in conjunction with the Ursuline Education Network (UEN), hosted a retreat on Brescia’s campus on September 15-17, 2022 for engaged high school students who desire a deeper understanding of their Catholic, Ursuline faith. Entitled, The Caritas of Angela, Love through Ursuline Education, the retreat, which was generously funded by the Lilly Endowment, focused on Ursuline founder St. Angela Merici’s incorporation of love as a means to inspire, guide and educate. Prayer, reflection, a service activity, and participation in the Ursuline Sisters’ 2022 Global Convocation were part of the event, which was attended by 24 students and 8 adults from 6 Ursuline high schools, including Saint Ursula Academy in Cincinnati, OH, Ursuline Academy in Dallas, TX, Sacred Heart Academy in Louisville, KY, Ursuline Academy in St. Louis, MO, Villa Angela-St. Joseph in Cleveland, OH, and Ursuline Academy in Wilmington, DE. Dr. Lauren McCrary, Brescia Vice President for Executive Affairs and Chief of Staff, and Peggy McCormick-Platz, Associate Director of the UEN, served as retreat coordinators.
The retreat was a direct outgrowth of the Brescia-UEN Conference in September 2021, which brought Ursuline educators together to craft a partnership which will build capacity for Catholic education at the high school and university levels – a partnership grounded in caritas, or love. The guiding questions for our work together are: Who are we as people who are loved and called to love? What do we need to know as people called to love? What do we need to do as people called to love? –Responding to these questions, the themes of the recent UEN student retreat were “love as an instrument in God’s Providence,” “the identity of love,” and “love as endeavor.”
Caritas was the central theme of Mass, with Brescia University President Fr. Larry Hostetter presiding and music provided by Mike Bogdan, Diocesan Director of the Office of Music, and a musical ensemble. Fr. Larry spoke eloquently of the life and dignity of the human person, setting the tone for the presentations that followed. Prayer, reflection and journaling were integrated throughout the retreat.
Engaging the theme of “love as instrument,” Mary Danhauer, Kim Jones and Jessica Head gave a presentation on Water with Blessings, “a non-profit water purification ministry devoted to bringing clean water to God’s thirsty children,” founded by Ursuline sister Larraine Lauter. The students then decorated large, plastic buckets that will be fitted with water filters and distributed to flood survivors in Eastern Kentucky, who still do not have access to clean water.
Dressed as St. Angela Merici, Brescia Director of Campus Minister, Sr. Pam Mueller, gave a heartfelt keynote address on “the identity of love,” telling the story of St. Angela’s life in first person. In doing so, she drew students into St. Angela’s life in a personal and endearing way. Dr. Josh Clary, Vice President for Student Life and Diversity at Marian University, then introduced the theme of “love as an endeavor” by sharing a poignant story of how tragedy humanizes us, emphasizing gratitude and love as choices we make, and engaging students in a creative follow-up activity on peacemaking. Dr. Emily DeMoor, Director of Brescia’s Caritas Center, continued this theme by presenting on “Caritas and Creation,” in which she connected the teachings of St. Angela Merici and the last three Catholic popes to the moral issue of climate change. She then led them in an artistic activity through which students came to a greater understanding of how they are connected to one another, like a river, and how their actions are affected by those ‘upstream’ from them and affect those who are ‘downstream,’ in one sacred whole.
In preparation for participating in the opening of the Ursuline Sisters Convocation, students from each of the six UEN schools acknowledged their Ursuline identity by sharing a brief oral history of their schools. In doing so, they showed great pride in their schools’ histories and Ursuline identity as well as their personal experiences of community, sisterhood, hospitality, belonging, service and love for the Ursuline sisters. The students then joined participants from various places around the world in a virtual convocation entitled “Challenged and Changed for Our Times,” which was the opening session of a six-week “virtual pilgrimage of encounter with Angela Merici and her Ursuline family.” The retreat participants were delighted to receive hot pink sweatshirts with their schools’ names and logos interwoven within the UEN logo – a reminder that their lives are interwoven in Christ, and in the spirit of St. Angela Merci, in a larger network of love; an understanding they will bring back to their schools to enliven and enrich them.