CALDWELL, NJ. – Several students from St. Mary of the Assumption High School in Elizabeth attended The Spirituality and Society Summer Seminar July 16-23 on the Caldwell University campus.  They joined other students from high schools around the Garden State.

Dr. Kyle Bennett, director of the Spirituality and Leadership Institute at Caldwell and a philosophy faculty member, said the aim of the program is to introduce high school students to spirituality disciplines and leadership practices to help them grow as young citizens who promote public justice and seek the common good.

The students had a taste of college life, living in the dorms, taking workshops and socializing together.

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Speakers included Michael Oliver, a Caldwell University theology faculty member, on spirituality and the environment; Bennett on spirituality and consumption; cartoonist Drew Dernavich on spirituality and expression; actor Matt Lowe on spirituality and entertainment, and Alissa Wilkinson, a film critic and English and humanities professor at King’s College, on spirituality and the media.  They also took part in a journaling workshop with author and adjunct professor in the Caldwell Business Division, Barbara Davey.

 "We really wanted the students to begin reflecting on how their everyday activities have implications for the kind of person and professional they become," said Bennett. "I think we succeeded." 

There was plenty of time for recreation, ranging from mini golf to kickball to volleyball and a nature walk.

The students were introduced to the Catholic-Dominican tradition and enjoyed time with the Sisters of St. Dominic of Caldwell at an ice cream social.

Gary Striggles Jr., from St. Mary’s of the Assumption High School in Elizabeth, said the week was more than he expected, and he was especially enthused about Oliver’s talk on spirituality and the environment. Oliver encouraged the students to “dial down on some things” like air conditioning to conserve electricity, “only using the amount you need,” said Striggles.

Alizè Stevenson, also from St. Mary’s of the Assumption, said the best part was Bennett’s talk on food and spirituality and how he probed the students on several points. “I like to answer questions,” she said, and the talk made her think that “we do take for granted what we have.”

One of the best aspects of the week was group discussions. “The leaders made sure everyone was connecting,” said Stevenson. “We all came from different places, with different thoughts on different topics,” and through the discussions, students were able to peak into each other’s lives, she said. “It was a life-changing experience … everyone was different, but now our plates are full.”

Striggles said he ended the week with more confidence and that he was grateful to all the leaders and staff especially  Bennett.

The other students who attended are:

Sheydline Moise, Asia Brooks, Nasyr St. Fleur,  Jakub Klimkowski, Anthony Maldonado, Richard Franklin, Oluwatoyin Ogunbiyi, Jennifer Lawson, and Sarei Mosquera  of St. Mary of the Assumption High School in Elizabeth.

Corrin Mahoney of St. John Villa Academy in Staten Island.

Liz Serviss, of Holy Spirit High School in Absecon.

For the rest of the year (and beyond), students will be placed in online cohorts to continue conversations and to maintain personal and professional friendships.

The institute was made possible by a grant the university received from the Lilly Endowment Inc. The program is part of the endowment’s High School Youth Theology Institutes initiative.  

To find about more about the Institute visit, caldwell.edu/SLI, on Twitter follow  @SpiritualityLI and on Facebook at/www.facebook.com/spiritualityleadershipinstitute/.