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Remove your sunglasses, let Catholic social teaching in

St. Thomas U. hosts second annual summer theology institute for high school students

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MIAMI GARDENS | Sunglasses: a necessary accessory of summer in South Florida. An iconic image of endless fun in the sun, they shade eyes from intense rays at the beach or at the park.

But who wears sunglasses indoors, let alone during a conversation on theology? For 15 students who participated in STU Impact last month, wearing sunglasses indoors was a critical part of their lessons on Catholic social teaching.

We all wear shades sometimes: With sunglasses on, Karina Czubkowski and Stephanie Melendez listen to a presentation on perspective.

Photographer: CRISTINA CABRERA JARRO| FC

We all wear shades sometimes: With sunglasses on, Karina Czubkowski and Stephanie Melendez listen to a presentation on perspective.

“Everything that has ever happened to you in your whole life is seen through your glasses,” said Mary Carter Waren, associate professor at St. Thomas University’s School of Theology and Ministry. “Over time, the glasses get dirty and scratched, sometimes preventing new information from getting in.”

Waren reminded students that as Catholics, they not only need to keep their sunglasses clean; sometimes they need to remove them to get a clearer, more compassionate perspective.

The lesson came near the end of a week-long camp called STU Impact: Empowering Young Disciples, offered by St. Thomas University and aimed at high school students. Now in its second year, STU Impact combines classroom learning of theology with hands-on service in the community.

The students, from Miami-Dade, Broward and other counties, spent June 17-24 living on the STU campus. Lessons in Catholic social teaching came to life when the students engaged in off campus learning opportunities.

Karissa Kang, who attended boarding school in Massachusetts before moving to Florida, admitted that attending STU Impact changed her perspective on Catholicism.

“Growing up I always associated Catholicism with just going to Mass and being quiet and in prayer,” said Karissa. “But now I have learned that there are so many important actions that we should take as Catholics, and human beings, and I feel really inspired to do more than just thinking about what I could do.”

Stefan Finke barely stretches out a rubber band showing that without faith, we will not be able to truly stretch to a greater capacity as Catholics.

Photographer: CRISTINA CABRERA JARRO| FC

Stefan Finke barely stretches out a rubber band showing that without faith, we will not be able to truly stretch to a greater capacity as Catholics.

After reviewing Pope Francis’ call to care for our “common home” in Laudato Si, students were shocked by the state of the environment at John Lloyd Beach State Park, Dania Beach, where they participated in a beach cleanup. They picked up wrappers, bottles, cans, and even flip flops, filling numerous bags to capacity. They were so bothered that even after their lunch break, students asked for more bags to continue working.

“That was a big impact on the kids; it was a big impact on me,” said Joseph Steele, an STU Impact counselor. “I didn’t realize how nasty we could actually be.”

Another day, students visited the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, in Immokalee, to learn about farmworkers, their work and their rights.

“It was a humbling experience,” said Anthony Palenzuela, a parishioner at Our Lady of Lourdes, Miami, and a student at Archbishop Coleman Carroll High School. “We have to remember what these workers go through.”

That lasting impression, in a sense, is what the staff of STU Impact hopes will inspire students to become advocates of change in their communities, whether that change be environmental or sociological.

“The students come here and they change,” said Jennifer Kryszak, STU Impact program manager. “But what happens when they go back? The reintegration into their parishes or their high school is important and will shape the opportunities for them to make those changes.”

After the camp, participants are encouraged to create service learning projects and implement them in their home parish and communities. In the fall, they will return to campus for a service day, followed by a mid-year convocation in the winter of 2018, to see where the students’ initiatives have led them.

Beyond the camp days, STU Impact’s staff wants students to remember that God calls everyone to serve, in one way or another.

“Your life has a purpose and nobody else can fulfill the purpose of your life,” Waren told students. “You can do amazingly good things in your life, but you can only live out your purpose, not anybody else’s purpose.”

STU Impact students, counselors, and instructors take a group photo. It is the second year that the theology camp brings high school students to a one week intensive experience in Catholic theological education.

Photographer: CRISTINA CABRERA JARRO| FC

STU Impact students, counselors, and instructors take a group photo. It is the second year that the theology camp brings high school students to a one week intensive experience in Catholic theological education.


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