May 4, 2018

Youth-designed retreat reminds teens they are ‘priceless’ to God

Teens write affirming words to describe Audrey Braughn, seated in the center, during the “Priceless” retreat at St. Malachy Parish in Brownsburg on April 6. Three teens of the parish designed the retreat with the help of their parish youth and campus ministries director. (Submitted photo)

Teens write affirming words to describe Audrey Braughn, seated in the center, during the “Priceless” retreat at St. Malachy Parish in Brownsburg on April 6. Three teens of the parish designed the retreat with the help of their parish youth and campus ministries director. (Submitted photo)

By Natalie Hoefer

BROWNSBURG—Sometimes, simple ideas develop into grand projects. And sometimes, the result of such projects have a tremendous impact on others.

Take Anna Scott, a 17-year-old‑member of St. Malachy Parish in Brownsburg. A simple “lock-in” idea she had for high school girls of the parish turned into a 24-hour ecumenical retreat reminding 27 young women of their infinite worth—not based on boyfriends or social status, but on their value in God’s eyes. She named the retreat “Priceless.”

A ‘struggle with finding our worth in God’

It all started late last summer after a youth lock-in held at the parish.

“It was [for] boys and girls,” says Anna, a senior at Brownsburg High School (BHS). “I went to Corinne [DeLucenay, parish youth and campus ministries director] afterward and said, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to have a girls’ lock‑in?’ That was the original plan.” But as the two talked, she says, “We realized we wanted to make it a retreat.”

When it came to choosing a theme, Anna says she “looked around at what my friends were struggling with—finding our worth in God and what God calls us to be.”

In naming the retreat, Anna says she and DeLucenay “were going through different adjectives to describe our worth in God’s eyes. ‘Priceless’ just came to me because it encompasses everything we are to him.”

Anna and two of her St. Malachy friends and youth group peers, Brooke Dixon and Olivia Brown, designed the retreat. DeLucenay guided and advised them.

“Theology of the Body [a series of talks by St. John Paul II] was our foundational resource,” she says. “It’s about … our identity [being] in God, and our dignity [being] in God. From there, we don’t need other outside influences. Our worth comes from above.”

‘To live … as daughters of God’

To set the tone for the retreat, one of the first activities was eucharistic adoration.

“That was the favorite part of the retreat for many of them, having that time to pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament,” says DeLucenay.

It was also a means of evangelization. With several of the participants being from other Christian churches, the prayer time was preceded by a talk explaining Catholic teaching on the Eucharist and the practice of adoration, followed by time for adult leaders to answer questions on the faith.

Even the discussions, by focusing on a godly woman who exemplifies the topic, offered evangelization moments.

“We brought in women from the Bible so all the girls could relate,” says DeLucenay. “But we still introduced [the non-Catholic girls] to the saints in our faith.”

Appropriate to the theme of the retreat, the first talk focused on self-worth and dignity, with St. Perpetua serving as the example.

The second talk discussed living love after rejection, looking at “what it means to live as a broken woman,” DeLucenay explains. “We’re all broken—but not dwelling on it, learning from it and moving forward. We focused on the [Bible story of the] woman at the well, and how we can learn about how Christ redeems us and our relationship with him.”

The third talk dealt with authentic friendships, which DeLucenay describes as “wanting what is best for the other, encouraging, more than being a friendship of utility.” The relationship between the biblical women Ruth and Naomi was used to illustrate authentic friendship.

“Our going forth session was [about] what it means to live out our womanhood as daughters of God,” DeLucenay says. “We looked to [St.] John Paul II, his ‘Letter to Women’ on the feminine genius, embracing our own gifts. We focused on Mary, the best example of living out one’s womanhood.”

‘Quite literally a love tank’

In addition to saints and women in the Bible, activities helped reinforce the message of each talk. An “affirmation” activity after the second talk proved particularly meaningful to many of the girls. One at a time, each girl sat in a chair with her back to a chalk-paint wall, where the other participants and even adult leaders wrote affirming messages about the one seated.

“To turn around after everyone had written all their words and to see what others wrote and see how others felt about [you], it was just like your time to accept all this love,” says Audrey Harrison, a member of St. Malachy and a sophomore at BHS.

Fellow parishioner Julia Diagostino, an eighth-grader at Tri-West Middle School in Lizton, agreed.

“It was really inspiring to see how everyone can build each other up just with a few words,” she says.

For Olivia Brown, St. Malachy parishioner and a freshman at BHS, the highlight of the retreat was when “we went outside and took pieces of paper and wrote down any of our struggles or insecurities, and we burned them. I think it showed us that our struggles are still there, but we can send them up and let God take them.”

Carter Davis, a senior at BHS and a member of Eagle Church in Zionsville, Ind., appreciates something she physically walked away with—each girl had a bag into which participants dropped notes with encouraging messages.

“It was quite literally a love tank, because it fill[ed] the bags up with love,” she describes. “And maybe when they need [encouragement] in a week, or a month, or tomorrow, they can go back to it and it will fill them up with love.”

Of all the talks and activities, Audrey Braughn’s favorite part of the retreat was adoration.

“Even though we were all having our personal time with Jesus, we were still able to feel that sense of community,” says the junior at BHS and member of Brownsburg Church of Christ. “It was a really good time to quiet our minds. It was really needed.”

‘An opportunity to build friendship and faith’

The retreat was needed as well—something all of the girls agreed on.

“It was a great way to escape all of our struggles and realize that God is the center of our lives, and that he will take all of our struggles for us,” says Rachel Barnes, a senior at BHS who worships with her family at Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Parish in Indianapolis.

“It was also a great way to connect with all the other girls in high school and realize we all have similar struggles, and that we all can help each other in times of need.”

Brooke Dixon, a BHS sophomore and St. Malachy parishioner, says it “went way over my expectations. We didn’t think we’d have as many girls as we did,” she says of the 30 who responded and 27 who attended. “This was a great opportunity to build friendship and faith between girls. ... It’s something other churches should try to do.”

DeLucenay says the “Priceless” retreat was such a success that she hopes to work with teens to offer another retreat for girls next year, and one for boys as well.

“It’s so powerful to see that the youth want to be engaged in their faith and have that personal relationship, and hopefully become more active,” she says.

Olivia looks forward to helping develop the next retreat. Meanwhile, she reflects on the value of the “Priceless” experience.

“I think that in today’s society girls—especially girls—don’t see themselves as worthy. … As you go through life, you’ll lose people and friends, but you’ll always have the Holy Spirit and God, and knowing you’re worth something in his eyes.”
 

(Youth group leaders or others interested in offering the “Priceless” retreat may contact Corinne DeLucenay at cdelucenay@stmalachy.org or 317-852-3195, ext. 7007, for more information.)

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