Student retreat after snowstorm provides another way to defend life

Fifteen high school students turned disappointment and frustration into hope and joy by creating a retreat after a snowstorm prevented them from joining the archdiocese’s pilgrimage to the Jan. 27 March for Life in Washington, D.C.

The students, 14 from Pope John XXIIII Central Catholic High School in Elgin and one from Clearwater-Orchard High School in Clearwater, were among 75 youths and their chaperones unable to make the trip from Norfolk but encouraged to pray for the more than 250 pilgrims who traveled from Omaha. They took that call a step further with the Jan. 26-28 gathering at a retreat center near Oakdale.

The experience taught students to trust in God’s plans, said Brody Hupp, a senior at Pope John XXIII and member of St. John the Baptist Parish in Deloit Township, rural Holt County.

"Although it didn’t make sense at first, the retreat was a way to make the best of a bad situation and to offer prayers for the intentions and safety of the marchers and the pro-life effort," he said.

"When we found out we were unable to go, our first thought was, can we do something else?" said Father Kevin Vogel, president of the high school and pastor of St. Boniface Parish in Elgin and St. Bonaventure Parish in Raeville.

Father Vogel and other adult leaders for the trip quickly planned the retreat – Becky Kerkman, a member of St. Boniface who also manages the Tintern Retreat and Resource Center, where the retreat was held, Terry Reicks, also of St. Boniface, and Sandy Moser of St. Theresa of Avila Parish in Clearwater.

The retreat provided students an opportunity to reflect on their role in protecting life, said Father Vogel, who also is president of St. Boniface School in Elgin.

"This was a different way that God was asking them to pray and sacrifice for the pro-life cause," he said.

Students and their adult chaperones began the retreat by writing down their disappointment and frustration at not attending the march, then went outside and burned them, offering them up to God.

They attended daily Mass, went to reconciliation, participated in spiritual exercises and talks – including a presentation and discussion about Planned Parenthood, its founder Margaret Sanger and their impact on the culture, Father Vogel said.

"We discussed how each of us can also have a more positive effect on our culture by defending life," he said.

The students also played games, went sledding and built snow sculptures. And they watched the march on TV, including talks by Vice President Mike Pence and others.

Shantel Preister, a senior at Pope John XXIII and member of St. John the Baptist Parish in Petersburg, said hearing Pence and March for Life President Jeanne Mancini "definitely gave me a lot of hope for our country."

"Disappointment and frustration were transformed into a joyful experience," Father Vogel said. "It doesn’t matter where we are – God can transform our hearts and minds."

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