When Sara Secada-Lovio finished the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s weeklong High School Leadership Institute (High-LI) a year ago, she felt herself evolving.
There was a new confidence in the Immaculate Conception, Baltimore, parishioner. She was ready to promote change inside Mercy High School with the energy pulsating through her.
“I guess it was just the atmosphere and the people – we’re all just crazy Catholics,” she said with a laugh. “It helped that I now had a support group to go to full of crazy Catholics. Having other youths my age, strong in their faith and fully alive, interested and engaged, really helped me build up my faith.”
Another crop of potential church leaders were trained July 27-Aug. 2 in the latest High-LI at the Monsignor O’Dwyer Retreat House in Sparks.
Sara returned as a peer minister to help fellow archdiocesan teens like Ryan Ackerman and Marvin Roxas, students at Loyola Blakefield, Towson, and Maddie Zell, of St. John the Evangelist, Severna Park, find their own leadership traits.
The 66 High-LI participants were divided into three tracks. “Acts 29” trained young people to serve in leadership teams and councils, “Emmaus” instructed them on how to be a peer minister, and “Source and Summit” gave the teens a hands-on experience in liturgical ministries.
“High-LI is about preparing these kids to go back and use this to be leaders in their parishes and schools,” said Margaret Brogden, the coordinator of training and certification in the archdiocese’s Youth and Youth Adult Ministry office. “We’re preparing them for ministry.”
Participants took workshops in disciplines like communication, decision-making, values and prayer, and liturgy planning. They were instructed at the start of week how to perform those tasks, then were quickly handed the reins to execute them. They also performed service projects in Baltimore City.
While it appears as if the week hones some political skills, organizers said it’s about much more.
“We pray a lot,” Ms. Brogden said. “They understand that the universal church is bigger than their parish.”
Taking part in the Acts 29 track, Ryan said he felt empowered by High-LI, as he helped organize vital house meetings. He plans to use his new organizational knowledge when he returns to the Catholic Community of St. Francis Xavier, Hunt Valley, to help steer its youth group.
“We realize we aren’t the future of the church,” he said. “We are the church now.”
Maddie’s Emmaus experience taught her how to manage social dilemmas with peers and to improve her time management.
“The whole thing is about how great you can do,” she said, “and how great you can become.”
Marvin, a parishioner of Sacred Heart, Glyndon, gained a greater understanding of his place in the church.
“We’re trying to learn why we are motivated to go to Mass,” he said, “and to find out how the Mass can be incorporated in our lives.”
Organizers said they saw spiritual nourishment abound throughout the week. The end of the program was bittersweet for many.
“We put a lot of energy, heart, sweat and tears in this,” Ms. Brogden said. “I see where they started and where they are at the end. They are different, and God was here.”