Seniors at Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy, an all-girls Catholic high school atop the San Rafael hills, piled into two big yellow buses Tuesday and readied themselves for the school’s Kairos retreat in Rancho Palos Verde.
The four days are legendary among FSHA and St. Francis High School students, who also hold their own Kairos retreat. Students say they come back transformed.
“It’s this process of figuring out yourself and your own spirituality that you just can’t explain until you go through it,” senior Kairos leader Isabelle Kouyoumdjian, 17, said.
Starting in their freshman year, students hear rumors of the four-day trip’s transformative experience. Kouyoumdjian and other Kairos leaders laugh when they talk about fielding questions from underclassmen about naked masses and cults — none of which are true.
“I let people guess,” senior Kairos leader Kaitlin Powers, 17, said. “I just think we don’t talk about it because you really don’t get it until you’re there.”
The actual retreat, according to Rosemary Johnston, assistant principal of student affairs, is only sensational in context.
“Each activity builds on the last and the result is really a manifestation of the Holy Spirit,” Johnston said. “It is awesome in the truest sense of the word.”
The Kairos retreat program started back in 1965 as a teenage adaptation of the “Cursillo” Catholic retreat. The purpose is for participants to kindle their own faith and, on their return from the retreat, share that with their community. In the process, the teenagers bond through sharing their stories.
New movements in public schools also mirror Kairos in bonding students through story. La Cañada High School hosted its second annual “Challenge Day” in September. On that day, students went through activities designed to encourage them to open up to each other, heal and connect.
Johnston refers to the Kairos retreat, which began at FSHA in 1985, as a “living experience.” Every school has its own iteration of the four days. For instance, some may focus less on Christian faith to cater to diverse belief systems.
On Tuesday morning, a mountain of duffel bags and backpacks lay on the patio at FSHA, ready to be driven off with 40 seniors to the retreat center. The remaining seniors will experience Kairos in January.
Katy Sadler stayed back on campus Tuesday after watching the excitement unfold. She retired as assistant principal in 2013 and now works part-time in the business office at FSHA.
"(The retreat) was life-giving to me,” Sadler said. “In my 38 years at Flintridge, Kairos is what I miss most of all.”
-- Natalie Wheeler is a freelance writer.