‘Saints in Training’ retreat aims to help students strive for holiness

Categories: Around the Diocese

Photos by Paul Middlestaedt / For The Visitor Reagan Lieser (left), Abby French, Olivia Nguyen and Nora Simones laugh as their peers perform a skit Tuesday during the Saints in Training retreat at All Saints Academy in St. Cloud.

Reagan Lieser (left), Abby French, Olivia Nguyen and Nora Simones laugh as their peers perform a skit Tuesday during the Saints in Training retreat at All Saints Academy in St. Cloud. Photos by Paul Middlestaedt / For The Visitor

By Kristi Anderson
The Visitor

St. Paul Church in St. Cloud was a wave of blue and gold Nov. 3 when more than 400 students, staff, faculty, parents and community members packed the worship space to celebrate Mass in honor of All Saints Day.

Sporting their school colors, students from the All Saints Academy campus in St. Joseph joined students from the All Saints Academy campus in St. Cloud for a day-long retreat called “Saints in Training,” planned by former teacher Sandy Baldwin.

“The purpose of the retreat is for all of us to recognize that through our baptism we are all called to be saints,” Baldwin said. “We are saints in training. But, just how do we do this? Each grade focused on a topic related to living a life of kindness to all. We identified simple ways to make the world a better place — by following the message of Jesus.”

About 50 student campus ministers from Cathedral High School donned royal blue shirts and were joined by other students from Cathedral and Apollo High School who wore light blue T-shirts representing Ellie’s Army, an organization of students who formed to honor their friend and classmate, Ellie Sovada, who died in a car accident in April 2013 when she was 13 years old.

Cathedral High School senior Tabby Durdall leads a class of fourth graders in discussion during the retreat

Cathedral High School senior Tabby Durdall leads a class of fourth graders in discussion during the retreat.

Sovada attended the St. Cloud All Saints Academy campus —formerly St. Peter, Paul and Michael School — and was in the seventh grade at Cathedral.

“Ellie was someone who did her best to make sure that everyone felt included and valued,” Baldwin said. “She wasn’t afraid to be the ‘one’ to go out of her comfort zone to connect with others.”

The mission of Ellie’s Army is to develop, encourage and model positive peer relationships in elementary and high school students through planned events and activities, such as “Saints in Training.”

“This [started as] a group of young people who went to school with Ellie,” Baldwin said. “They meet and support each other and also mentor youth. They are awesome. The group has expanded to other students who want to spread the message of kindness.”

Two years ago, Ellie’s Army implemented a lunch mentorship program at the St. Cloud campus where members visit the school and spend time talking with the younger students about kindness. Baldwin hopes that collaborative efforts like these will help Ellie’s Army grow and spread into other communities.

Role models

After the Mass, all the students ate lunch and enjoyed recess together before Baldwin introduced the retreat with a talk on holiness.

“With courage, determination and a great love of God and the church, we can overcome all that keeps us from holiness,” Baldwin said. “Saints are our role models. It takes practice to be a saint, lots of it, and when we fail, we have the wonderful sacrament of reconciliation.”

The K-6 students were placed into groups by grade level and the Cathedral ministers and Ellie’s Army students facilitated afternoon sessions where each group learned about a saint and a particular behavior through music, skits and discussion.

Students in kindergarten learned about St. John the Apostle and showing kindness to others, one of the things Sovada was most known for.

Other saints and behaviors included St. Francis of Assisi — respect, responsibility and manners; St. Nellie of God — responding to joking, teasing, bullying; St. Bernadette — accepting others and their differences; St. Tarcisius — qualities of a friend; St. Dominic Savio — handling peer pressure; and St. Francis de Sales — turning away from gossip and harmful words.

Laura French couldn’t help but laugh as her fourth grade classmates write notes on their backs during the retreat.

Laura French couldn’t help but laugh as her fourth grade classmates write notes on their backs during the retreat.

Baldwin challenged the kids to try some of the things they learned in their everyday lives.

“My greatest hope for the retreat is that all who are present this day — students, parents, campus ministers, Ellie’s Army, staff, teachers — may all recognize that they are a ‘Saint in Training’,” she said. “We are all holy people of God and by doing simple acts, we can make someone’s day better.”

Making connections

Deb Schnettler staffs the campus ministry office at Cathedral. She said it is important for the Cathedral students to identify with the youth and to “make a connection.”

“Our campus ministers are spiritual leaders in our community, and this is a way to show them that what they say, how they act, what they do, impacts the greater community,” she said.

Another hopeful outcome is to build on the connection between the Catholic grade schools and Cathedral.

“[Cathedral students can] model behaviors that are kind and good for others [and] provide the younger students with the skills to be able to handle difficult situations like bullying, gossiping and texting,” Schnettler said.

Tabby Durdall, a senior at Cathedral, was one of the campus ministers who helped lead the retreat. She spent the afternoon with fourth-graders talking about friendship.

“It is important to help the kids grow,” Durdall said. “I remember in fourth grade that I became friends with someone I had not been before and she is still my best friend today.”

Campus ministers like Durdall received information about their topic and worked collaboratively to plan the day’s activities.

“I really liked how much we were able to improvise with the students and share personal stories and not to just go by the book,” Durdall said.

“For some kids, they will walk away from today and perhaps forget what was talked about, but for others, it really did make a difference,” she added. “I could see a change in kids even from the beginning of the day to the end and this was evidence that it was worth doing.”