Fifth year students of Clongowes Wood College SJ in County Kildare reported on their ‘life-changing experience’ at the Kairos retreat held in Dromantine Retreat and Conference Centre, Newry. The three day Christian retreat was led by sixth year students and staff members who ensured a safe and confidential atmosphere, enabling the young men to put love into action. The following account includes a reflection from staff members and student feedback on their experience.
This year, the Kairos retreat for Poetry (fifth year) students was held in a new venue; in the beautiful surroundings of the Dromantine Retreat and Conference Centre, Newry. This is the 21st year of the Kairos model whose purpose is to allow the young men to see the value of their Christian faith, to reflect on their relationship with God and with each other. Kairos is held over three and a half consecutive days and the boys divide into two groups to ensure each has as much support as possible throughout the experience. Although held off-site, Kairos concludes back at Clongowes in the Boys Chapel with a parting ceremony. Rhetoric (sixth year) students, who themselves have experienced Kairos last year, are the leaders of the retreat – 18 leaders in all, supported by staff members. The peaceful and tranquil surroundings of the Dromantine Estate no doubt added something special to the whole experience for the young men. Below, a number of fifth year students shared their views on the retreat and on what they learned.
“The Kairos experience has made me more humble and grateful for what I have. It has also strengthened the bond I share with God.”
“I feel after Kairos I have matured. I also feel like I am closer to God but also to the other members of my year and the small group I was in during Kairos.”
“I am more gracious and have more gratitude for my family. I also have a greater sense of understanding – what others are going through.”
“Kairos was a great learning experience for me. It strengthened my relationship with God as well as building a greater trust with other lads in the year group.”
“Through the Kairos experience I have become more in touch with God and I see him in a different way. I found it very relaxing and good for the mind. I also made a lot of new friendships and found out a lot about people and what they had been going through that I wasn’t aware of.”
“Kairos changed the way that I will look at people. I will never be as quick to judge anyone again, as you don’t know what they have been through. It also helped me to share and listen – something I have never been good at.”
“I feel like the experience reminded me of my integrity and other such morals.”
“Kairos opened up a different way of thinking for me about certain situations.”
Themes such as leadership, holiness, and friendship with God were discussed followed by a series of ‘sharings’ delivered by the Rhetoric students who were supported by the adults who themselves imparted their own personal stories. The trusting atmosphere of the Kairos community facilitates this process and helps promote a long-term positive change for the young men. Kairos gives them a chance to share their own life experiences, the opportunity to listen to others and ultimately teaches them the true power of accepting themselves and others. Prayer and the sacraments are an essential part of Kairos, as are the young men’s involvement in discussions and various exercises. They each receive a beautiful silver Kairos cross at the parting ceremony. Past participants have cherished these as they are a representation of their time at Kairos, which they deem to be a life-changing experience.
In these difficult times it is not easy to face such questions about God, but we hope that as a result of these days of Kairos spent together students will help each other on the journey that we are all making, together. The real value of the retreat happens through living out the challenges of our daily lives. The retreat concludes with a sharing of ‘love in action’. In other words, will the students assimilate in their lives what they have learned and absorbed during these days together, i.e., ‘Kairos’ (God’s time)? That is the challenge – putting love into action, not just talking about it and being able to animate this back in to ‘Chronos’ time (chronological time) from ‘Kairos’ time… Our immense gratitude must go to the 18 Rhetoric leaders who gave of their time and themselves, and to the adults who shared and helped along the way. Kairos is a ‘gem’ that is unique to our Jesuit schools, encompasses everything that is our Jesuit/Ignatian ethos, is talked about and remembered by students and parents for many years to come… Long may it continue!