July 19, 2023 // Bishop

Beauty Leads Students to Christ at University of Saint Francis Summer Camp

While society continues to inundate the youth of today with its own interpretations of beauty, a group of high schoolers in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend is embracing beauty as the Church promotes it: an opportunity to experience the presence of our Lord.

Beauty Will Save the World was a five-day summer camp hosted from July 9 to July 13 at the University of Saint Francis campus in Fort Wayne. Funded through a Lilly Grant seven years ago, the camp invited high school students to encounter Christ through five core themes: Beauty of Creation, Beauty of Art, Beauty of the Body and Sexuality, Beauty of Vocation, and Beauty of Worship. Each day revolved around a different one of these themes, with engaging talks and related activities, such as a nature hike or a concert. The camp provided students with breakfast, lunch, and dinner each day, while also allotting ample time for prayer, recreation, entertainment, and community.

Photos by Eric Peat
Bishop Rhoades blesses rosaries following Mass at the conclusion of camp at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne on Thursday, July 13.

Named after a line from Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s “The Idiot,” Beauty Will Save the World’s Catholic perspective on the concept of beauty left an impression on many students attending the camp for the first time.

“I really liked the talk on the beauty of the body because I think it’s such an important topic in our culture,” said Josie Loeffler, a first-time attendee from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Fort Wayne. “In the secular world, it’s such a big thing, and it’s really important to know the Church’s stance and position on it, that your body is a good thing and a gift given by God.”

Beauty Will Save the World 9: High schoolers and parents visit with Sister Jacinta Krecek, Assistant Professor of Theology at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne at the conclusion of camp on Thursday, July 13.

For other campers, like William MacDonald of St. Peter Parish in Fort Wayne, the experience of last year’s camp prompted them to return with their friends. “This year was absolutely amazing,” said MacDonald, “because they had adoration almost daily, they had daily Mass, we prayed Liturgy of the Hours every morning, and it was just so beautiful how deep the talks were into theology and philosophy and how they connected everything so well to beauty itself.”

Campers were able to dive deeper into these connections amongst themselves through designed social opportunities throughout the week. Megan Quigley, Camp Coordinator and Assistant Director of the Assisi Program for Discipleship and Leadership, said that this time was consciously built into the schedule to help foster a sense of communion among the camp attendees, many of whom were experiencing a college atmosphere for the first time.

“I think just being on campus, living in the dorms, eating in a dining hall, having time to discuss the things they’ve learned in informal ways – there’s a lot of learning that happens there,” said Quigley. “As we were kind of preparing the camp and getting our camp counselors ready, we told them to encourage those informal moments of community and conversation because there’s beauty in fellowship. That was kind of the hidden sixth theme of the camp in a way. There’s nothing that can replace just being here and entering into college life, and we hope it gives them a taste of how exciting and joyful academic study can be and what it’s like to be part of a community of learners.”

Bishop Rhoades preaches on how God can bring good from evil during Mass at the conclusion of camp at the University of Saint Francis.

The camp concluded on Thursday, July 13, with a Mass celebrated by Bishop Rhoades at the St. Francis Chapel, and a picnic on the chapel lawn, both of which parents and families were invited to attend. Bishop Rhoades began by commenting on the theme of beauty and how it is reflected in Holy Mass itself.

“I’m happy to celebrate this liturgy at the end of this camp, in which you have reflected on the concept of beauty and how beauty will save the world,” Bishop Rhoades said to the camp attendees. “The beauty of God is witnessed in so many ways. We see the beauty of God in the holy liturgy that we celebrate, in the beauty of the sacraments, the beauty of the saints. He calls all of us in whatever state of life that we are in to experience His beauty and the beauty of holiness.”

During his homily, Bishop Rhoades spoke of the first reading’s story of Joseph, which Bishop Rhoades referred to as “my favorite story in the whole Old Testament, since I was a kid.” His excellency stated that among the many lessons to be learned from this story is the reality that God can bring good out of evil.

“We can ask, ‘Why do bad things happen?’ Look at Joseph – he was thrown into a pit, sold into slavery, put into prison, all these terrible things,” said Bishop Rhoades. “Yet, if it wasn’t for that, those hundreds of thousands of people wouldn’t have been saved [from famine]. This was all part of God’s plan. God allowed Joseph to be sold into slavery, but look at the good that resulted from it. Joseph became the number two man in Egypt. He was reunited with his brothers and his father. We can call this God’s providence.”

“So, what can we do?” asked Bishop Rhoades in conclusion. “Don’t give up. Don’t just stand there. Trust that this is all part of God’s plan, that good can come out of this. And when we do, our life – even if it entails bad things or sufferings or hardships – will always have hope.”

For Camp Director and Assistant Professor of Theology Dr. Robert Koerpel, his hope is that this five-day experience will help campers gain a new appreciation for the role that beauty plays in the Catholic Church.

“We live in a time, I suppose, where now more than ever, we need to kind of recover this part of our tradition,” said Dr. Koerpel. “We need to recover a sense of beauty. And so, I think, given the cultural context of the world we’re living in, beauty is a very apt theme, especially for high schoolers. They’re bombarded with images on a daily basis. And so, we try to give them a sense of what real beauty is and the depths of beauty.”

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