Three days, no cellphones? High school seniors say Kairos retreat is life-changing

Juniors and seniors from Brother Rice High School in Bloomfield Hills pose for a group photo outside Manresa Jesuit Retreat House in Bloomfield Hills after the conclusion of a three-day Kairos retreat this spring. Brother Rice is among many local Catholic high schools who offer the three-day immersive retreat to their students as a way to encourage young people to rediscover their relationship with God before they go away to college. (Courtesy of Brother Rice High School)

‘Live the Fourth:’ Kairos retreats offer high schoolers chance to disconnect from world, reconnect with God before graduation

BLOOMFIELD HILLS Between Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok and texting, life can seem like a constant barrage of notifications for today’s teenagers.

Parents and teachers lament young people always being on their phones, and today’s teenagers experience loneliness, despite all the connectivity.

So one can imagine what a relief a Kairos retreat can be — a place where the phones disappear for three days, and students can just experience God, on His time, not ours.

Kairos means ‘the Lord’s time,' as opposed to Chronos, ‘our time,’” said Adam Seneski, English and theology teacher and associate campus minister at Brother Rice High School in Bloomfield Hills. “At Kairos, we ask people to disconnect from society, to leave their devices at home. The goal here is to leave the stresses, all the responsibilities of school, life, sports, friends, and just learn about themselves and their relationship with God.”

Brother Rice is among several local Catholic high schools that offer Kairos retreats to their students — often graduating seniors — as a way to encourage young people to disconnect and rediscover their relationship with God. Brother Rice has offered Kairos retreats at the Manresa Jesuit Retreat House in Bloomfield Hills since 1995, learning about the experience from Brother Rice High School in Chicago.

Schools across the Archdiocese of Detroit, including Brother Rice, Detroit Catholic Central in Novi, University of Detroit Jesuit in Detroit, Mercy High School in Farmington Hills, De La Salle High School in Warren, Austin Catholic High School in Chesterfield Township, and Shrine High School in Royal Oak, cite the retreats as a transformational experience for students.

“It’s a good chance for them to pause before they become an adult,” Seneski said. “A lot of students might not know what is going to happen next year, going to a different place, a different city, meeting new people. Kairos is an opportunity to relish in their high school career, leave it on a positive note where they can really assess their relationship with God."

The three-night retreat has become a staple of spiritual formation for the school’s seniors and select juniors who also accompany their older classmates for the trip. Brother Rice hosts retreats in the fall, winter and spring seasons, to accommodate as many students as possible.

Seneski has been a moderator and guide on many Kairos retreats in his eight years at the school, and said he’s always amazed how students react to being allowed to disconnect over the three-day retreat.

Some students might shudder at not having access to electronics for the whole retreat, but over time, it becomes a relief.

“There are some growing pains when they get here Tuesday night, but they know well ahead of time that is an expectation,” Seneski said. “When we get here, we tell the kids this is an opportunity to experience life without that crutch. The only way to communicate is to talk to people that are here. And eventually, the students really enjoy what time they have, being present with what is happening when the distractions are gone.”

Part of the Kairos allure is not telling the retreatants the daily schedule, or even reveling much about the Kairos experience itself, other than that it is one of prayer, reflection, camaraderie and learning more about one’s classmates outside the confines of a schedule normally packed with homework, exams, sports, clubs and all the stresses of being high school student in 2023.

Parker Toth, a junior at Brother Rice who attended a Kairos retreat at Manresa in April, said he was skeptical at first, but now he wants to return next year to be a senior leader on the retreat.

“It’s tough to give away too much information, but I felt I could understand God more on a spiritual level,” Toth told Detroit Catholic. “When you go on a Kairos retreat, you don’t have your phone or anything. I really felt Kairos for me was super special. I got to connect with all my peers and spent time in prayer.”

The intense nature of a three-day retreat with a close-knit group lends way to being more open and honest with fellow retreatants, Toth said, especially for him as a junior who didn’t know the seniors on the retreat very well.

But after spending three days living a shared experience, he has a whole new perspective about his classmates, and himself.

“Before Kairos, I didn’t talk about my emotions, my feelings with others that much,” Toth said. “Once I came back, I was way more open with sharing my thoughts. I felt more comfortable talking about God, having a relationship with God and being comfortable sharing my opinions without people judging me.”

Students are given a cross to commemorate their Kairos retreat, and Seneski said it is common for students to maintain the relationships they build, even among students who are on different sports teams or have different academic schedules.

Kairos creates a bond with the kids,” Seneski said. “You see students sitting at lunch with kids they didn’t sit with before, or they come back and tell their classmates, ‘You need to go on the retreat.’

“I do very little promoting for the retreat,” Seneski continued. “The students who go on it are the ones who get kids to go back because they are so excited and want to share that joy with those who haven’t been.”

Toth refers to his Kairos retreat as one of the greatest experiences in his life, and looks forward to the experience again next year, guiding others on the three-day immersive retreat, learning about themselves, each other, God and what it means to “Live the Fourth.”

“’Living the Fourth’ is a phrase I heard a lot on the last day of Kairos, when we talked about how when we get back, we need to teach others about connecting with God and being more spiritual and deepen our faith with God,” Toth said.

“After Kairos, I’m having deeper conversations with my classmates. I feel so comfortable talking to any single person who I was at Kairos with; it made me feel we were brothers,” Toth added. “In my own life, I have two brothers, and feel I can talk to them about anything. But when I was at Kairos, with all the guys there, it was really amazing. It really felt like they were my brothers.”



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