Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 15, 2004
Camp Encounter opens hearts
St. Francis Xavier pupils' relationships with God and parents blossom during spiritual retreat
By BILL GLEN
WCR Staff Writer
Lac La Nonne
Tearful and brimming with gratitude, Chelsea Williamson's eyes mirrored the emotions within her.
The Grade 12 student at St. Francis Xavier High School was on a retreat at Camp Encounter on Lac La Nonne recently when she was surprised with a letter from her parents telling her how much they love her.
"This tells me how unbelievably proud they are of me; of all my accomplishments," she said, dabbing at tears. "They are amazed by what I have done."
Williamson and 60 other high school students were profoundly moved by what their parents told them in letters and photo albums presented by Eugenia Chisotti, religion department head at St. Francis Xavier and retreat directors Doug Kramer and Dale Kiselyk, as part of the school's curriculum on relationships.
Chisotti said Camp Encounter provides an ideal setting to spring the surprise because the students are emotionally and spiritually receptive.
"We think it is really important that when the kids get into high school, we give them the opportunity to experience their relationship with God and intensify it outside of the Catholic education they get at school," she said.
"A lot of people tend to speak more openly here than in a structured classroom."
Chisotti called all of the parents and they liked the idea immediately. Some of the students were expecting the letters because Chisotti has done this before. But the event still had a powerful effect on them.
"With the opportunity here at Camp Encounter, with Doug and Dale being so experienced, they take the kids on a journey to experience God you just can't create in a classroom. The students really build a community out here.
"They will never forget this moment. I think it is one of the most spiritual moments they will ever have."
Just before their final prayer circle and meal, the students were put into small groups and encouraged to discuss their relationships with God and their families.
What were their likes and dislikes about the relationships?
How could they strengthen them?
Then they were presented with a scenario that they had only one chance to tell their parents what they felt. What would they say in those final moments?
"A few hands went up and they responded they would like to hear their parents say they are proud of them and that they are loved," Kiselyk said.
"Many of them would like to tell their parents they are sorry for some of the things they have done."
After the mood is set, out come the letters and photos.
"It's a very heartfelt moment," he said. "The atmosphere in the room is really emotional. Some of the tougher boys and girls break right down."
As a Catholic educator, Chisotti says she is fortunate to have the retreat because it takes herself and the students one step further in their spiritual lives.
"When they return to school, they will be the ones carrying the torch, going forward talking to kids about God," she said.
"It is such a pivotal time for children when they go out the door to high school."
"I'm completely shocked to see my parents feel this way about me."
- Matthew Culo
Chisotti receives calls from parents thanking her for the experience. They talk about going through the journey of writing the letters and that telling their children they love them was really bonding.
"I'm completely shocked to see my parents feel this way about me," Matthew Culo said.
"I know they tell me, but it's so great to see them put in the effort to do this. When I get home, I'll give them a big hug and thank them for everything they have ever done for me."
Emma Emter could not wait to get home to thank her mom and dad.
"It shows they really do care about me. No matter what happens or what we do, they really do love us," she said.
Kiselyk used to build golf courses before he felt a calling to serve and mentor children. Through a lot of praying and personal contacts, he found his way to the retreat.
"We try to create a community that does not have put-downs. We don't allow negative talk or criticisms. My one and a half years here have been magic," he said.
"The kids get a sense they are loved and appreciated just for who they are. We fill the time with role modelling love and the principles of Christ."
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