Students spend a week learning how to be leaders in their communities

BATESBURG-LEESVILLE — Catholic high school students met recently at Kinard Conference Center to fine tune their leadership skills at the Diocese of Charleston High School Christian Leadership Institute (CLI) offered each summer.

This year’s group was one of the largest ever, but the participants stood out for other reasons. Counselors agreed that these students were on fire about their faith from the very start.

St. Joseph Church youth minister John Waters was impressed with the youths’ enthusiasm.

“When you see these young people in action you can’t help but be inspired,” he said. Waters remembered many of the college counselors when they went through CLI as students.

“These counselors, who have been through the program, have now, in turn, decided to share themselves and their faith with the younger students,” said Waters. “They are so proud of their Catholic faith. It is an amazing thing to see them continue the faith journey and see how they want others to join them on that journey.”

A couple of those returning counselors were Sophie Hodaly from St. Joseph Church and Sarah Kraus from Mary Magdalene Church. Both girls had participated in leadership programs when they were in high school.

“I just could not believe how these high school students were so in tune with their faith and already know how to live the Gospel in their everyday lives,” said Hodaly.

Kraus was one of the counselors who gave her testimony in a talk called “New Life.” She was part of the diocesan Evangelization Team when she was in high school, and Jerry White, director of Youth Ministry, invited her to be a counselor.

In her talk she reminded the youth that they should look for ways to be beacons of light for those around them. She spoke on the importance of going to confession and having Christ in one’s heart.

“You should wake up in the morning and ask God how you can do his will. It is in following Christ that you will be truly free,” said Kraus.

When college student leaders are willing to give up a week of their summer to help their younger peers, it is an indication that the program is really making a difference.

“The reaction from this summer’s institute has been positive. We already have had one student who inquired about becoming a counselor,” said Cathy Roche, administrative assistant for the Youth Ministry Office.

The CLI week includes prayer time, small group discussions, team building activities like intramural sporting events, and general sessions that include skits and testimonies.

The leadership and discipleship program has been operating for several years and is geared for young people in ninth- through twelfth-grade who are in leadership roles or will be assuming leadership roles within their parish, school or diocese.

The purpose of the institute is to help students learn how to get excited about their faith and learn how to share that excitement. It also teaches the youth how to be leaders in the church and in their own youth groups. Many of the youth ministers have seen a difference when the youth return from the summer gathering.

“CLI is not just a week-long thing; it does make an impact. The seeds from the experience do not fall on the hard path but on fertile ground because the youth return, proud of their Catholic faith and willing to share it,” said Waters.