October 21, 2016

Worship and Evangelization Outreach / Cheryl McSweeney

Faith, collaboration are at heart of Student Leadership Program

Erin Jeffries“SLP [Student Leadership Program] kids lead with the understanding that they are merely instruments in God’s plan rather than architects of their own plan. Leading is much easier when you know God has already prepared the path for you.”

Sounds like a quote from someone that has spent years on a faith journey, doesn’t it? It’s actually a quote from University of Notre Dame sophomore Gary Schorr, who is a 2015 graduate of Cathedral High School in Indianapolis.

He is referring to the Student Leadership Program that he attended at Our Lady of Fatima Retreat House during his sophomore year in high school.

This program, in its 13th year, was developed by Deacon Rick Wagner in 2003 to help in the development of high school student leaders in a variety of different Catholic high schools across the archdiocese.

Each fall, approximately 50 high school sophomores are chosen by their schools to attend the three-day program. They are divided into small groups that have representatives of at least six different schools, and they work on issues that schools deal with on a regular basis. The students spend a half day at Marian University in Indianapolis to learn from student leaders at the college level, as well as hearing from a variety of community leaders on the joys and struggles of leadership and how best to maneuver through it with integrity, humility, grace and with the heart of a servant leader.

Many of the students come into it thinking that it will be “just another leadership workshop,” but leave feeling more in touch with their gifts and the way that God wants to use them in their leadership roles.

Whit Grote, a 2015 graduate of Father Michael Shawe Memorial High School in Madison, said, “SLP refocused the priorities I had in my life. It allowed me to strengthen my personal relationship with God, not only through teachings, but by example. In my three years as both a student and a leader in this program, the guidance of God in the works of SLP shaped me into the servant leader I am today.”

Anna Lubbers, a 2016 graduate of Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis, noted, “Not only did SLP open my eyes to seeing God in every moment of my life, but it also showed me that there is something much greater in our lives.” She expressed the significance of the SLP atmosphere. “When six schools, most of them being rival schools, become a family created by a judgement-free, God-loving atmosphere, it shows that in all things, God is good.” It is a rare opportunity to have so many students from a wide variety of schools working together for a greater good.

It is a wonderful gift to see the youths of our Church and our world discover that leadership is not about a “title” or “power,” but about serving others.

Schorr feels that the experience changed his perspective on leadership. “Through the talks and the activities, you begin to see the face of God in everyone around you. You begin to understand that God works in each and every person’s life. In our times of reflection and quiet prayer, you realize that God is active in your life and that people may see the face of God in us. With this realization, leadership is entirely different.”

These students aren’t the future of our Church—they are our Church now. Thanks be to God.

(Cheryl McSweeney is associate director-program manager at Our Lady of Fatima Retreat House in Indianapolis.)

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