Kairos helps students focus on eternity, not university

A group of juniors from Kapaun Mt. Carmel pose for a photo during a Kairos Retreat Oct. 20-22, 2022, at the Heartland Center for Spirituality in Great Bend. (Photo courtesy of KMC)

About Kairos Retreats

Kairos Retreats are three-day, two-night events for junior class members of Kapaun Mt. Carmel High School in Wichita. They are held at the Heartland Center for Spirituality in Great Bend, a ministry of the Dominican Sisters of Peace. Here are the retreats scheduled for the remainder of this year: Oct. 12-14, Nov. 9-11, and Dec. 7-9. Next year’s schedule: Feb. 22-24, March 21-23, and April 11-13.

The preeminent reason for a Catholic education isn’t so that a student can eventually get into college, according to Superintendent of Catholic Schools Janet Eaton, it’s so a student can get into heaven.

One of the long-range plans the Catholic School Office has to help students fulfill the reason God created them is by having all Catholic high school juniors take part in a Kairos retreat. (Kairos is a Greek word meaning the “right time.”)

The process has begun at Kapaun Mt. Carmel Catholic High School in Wichita. The other diocesan high schools have begun to implement or are making plans to incorporate the retreats for their juniors.

In the large high schools, one of the first steps to initiating a Kairos program is to appoint a campus minister, Eaton said. The smaller schools have chaplains and have less of a load to carry for incorporating Kairos. Then a Peer Ministry Team is established. The team consists of seniors who have applied for the role and have been trained for the retreat. They lead retreats for their junior classmates.

Keeping young adults in the faith

“Our students need ‘mountain top’ experiences, whether that is Totus Tuus or a mission trip or a retreat,” she said. “Eighty-nine percent of Catholics, beyond college age describe a mountain top experience as being a significant reason why they continue to practice their faith. We have to reach the heart of our students. That is where we are headed with Kairos.”

Eaton said being 17 or 18 isn’t easy and that young adults face many challenges in continuing the practice of their faith. “We want to provide our teens with all the tools to be able to know Jesus intimately.”

Kairos retreats are one way to do that, she said.

Great Bend Dominicans host

The retreats are hosted by the Dominican Sisters of Peace at the Heartland Center for Spirituality in Great Bend. Thirty-five to 40 students take part in a retreat led by the Peer Ministers, a chaplain, a campus minister, and other adults.

The retreats also have an impact on the adult volunteers, Eaton said. “Their faith is impacted – it happens time and time again. We know that young people who have a trusted adult in their lives – someone to share their faith journey with – are better able to sustain it.”

Praying for success

The superintendent said the “miracles” resulting from a retreat are not accidental. “As leaders, we pray and fast constantly as a retreat approaches and we invite the parents to join us in prayer. In fact, on the first night of the retreat the parents are invited to gather at a parish where they spend an hour in adoration.”

Kapaun Mt. Carmel is now in its second year of implementing Kairos retreats. A Peer Minister has been trained at Trinity Catholic High School in Hutchinson. Kairos Retreats for Trinity juniors begin in November. Bishop Carroll Catholic High School has hired a part-time campus minister and will hire another person to assist with Kairos so that it can begin offering the retreats to its juniors. St. Mary’s Colgan and Bishop Carroll will begin in 2024-25 with the selection of Peer Ministers.

Retreat generates excitement

KMC’s chaplain, Fr. Curtis Hecker, said Kairos retreats have generated a lot of excitement.

“I just can’t say enough good things about it,” he said on a recent About 4 O’Clock podcast, available at about4.org. “It has absolutely changed the whole dynamic of the school… .”

Almost 40 members of the junior class took part in a Kairos retreat last year, he said, adding that they will be assisting at the seven retreats scheduled this year. Several teachers oversee small group discussions and assist with other activities.

Lock those doors

“It’s just blown the doors off of this school!” he said. “There are absolutely, indisputable miracles happening.”

Fr. Hecker said Jesus emphasized a change of heart over physical healing.

“That’s what I see happening at Kapaun. Kids who are carrying a lot of baggage, who have been on the edge of their faith or maybe even been away from their faith, encounter the Lord tangibly, indisputably and they come back different. It’s incredibly, incredibly exciting!”

Fr. Arnold sees a difference

Fr. Chad Arnold said on the podcast that he and others have noticed a difference in how the students relate to each other and how they participate at Mass. “As a person who comes once a semester, it is clearly different than it was before the retreat.”

Fr. Hecker said Fr. Arnold isn’t the only person who noticed the change. “I’m telling you, the Holy Spirit is alive and well and working at Kapaun Mt. Carmel.”

He said he was overwhelmed by students and teachers at the May Crowning events on May 4 last year. Several priests were brought in to hear confessions, Eucharist adoration with music was available, and prayer teams led by teachers were praying with students.

Lining up to confess to Jesus

“There was a confession line 200 kids long,” Fr. Hecker said. “It was the first time I had…teachers, students – even freshmen who are squirrelly – locked-in at adoration and complaining that the hour and a half wasn’t long enough.”

He said adoration was scheduled to last one hour but Kapaun’s principal, Rob Knapp, said more time was needed. “We can’t shut this off,” he said.
Fr. Hecker said he has been telling others that he doesn’t think the school has peaked yet. “I think we’re still on an upward trajectory.”

‘Normalizing’ the faith

The chaplain said Kairos has given students at KMC permission to care about the Lord and to not feel strange, weird, or holier-than-thou. “It’s become cool. It’s become normalized to actually invest in your faith. It’s become normalized to talk about your prayer.”

Fr. Hecker praised the team of students who led the retreats last year, some of whom are now part of the St. Joseph House of Formation, the Diocese of Wichita’s minor seminary on the campus of St. Joseph Parish in Wichita. “They are amazing human beings. I look at them and I wish I had a fraction of what they have when I was in high school.”