Archdiocese of Philadelphia
Office for Catechetical Formation
Grant: $20,000; Funded 2016-17

Problem: Another Predictably Conventional Experience

Research shows that sophomores are caught in a limbo, of sorts, between special attention showered on them as freshmen and new respect that comes from being upperclassmen. Apathy, decreased initiative, and lack of motivation often surface, conditions that directly affect not only a sophomore’s academic life but also his or her spiritual development. The extended concern is a sophomore’s susceptibility to risky behaviors involving drugs, alcohol, and recreational sex; bullying and cyberbullying; anti-social attitudes, and undesirable influences from a choice of friends.

Retreats and days of reflection are a sacred part of the Catholic tradition, one that extends to students attending the 17 archdiocesan high schools. While the annual retreat requirement had been working well, overall, school ministry directors found it increasingly difficult to frame a quality spiritual experience for sophomores. “Retreat,” viewed as a mediocre one-day event within an already woe-is-me sophomore mindset, only served to hinder rather than deepen faith formation. In reality, the retreat day for many sophomores was simply a school day without classes. The event produced little, if any, spiritual connection within each student or among the students. Ministry directors were stumped as to ways to reach these sophomores and asked for help and resources from the Secretariat for Catholic Education.

Solution: A Rally That Really Roars

The Office for Catechetical Formation responded by creating a pilot program that engaged more than 2,200 students from 11 high schools in a meaningful retreat day that addressed the personal issues confronting them in their sophomore year and offered them guidance in personal decision-making rooted in Catholic values and principles. Inspiring speakers, riveting stories, lively contemporary music, stirring liturgy, and breakout sessions for small-group reflection and discussion converged in an upbeat faith-based Sophomore Rally at LaSalle University’s Tom Gola Arena on October 17, 2016. The concluding procession and Divine Adoration quieted down the animated assembly as each student recognized the Spirit present among them. The plan was to face the sophomores’ woe-is-me, “it’s all about me” frame-of-mind — head on — and say, yes, it is all about you, and we want to help you help yourselves reach a better, God-centered place now and as you continue making serious life choices.

Results: The Pilot Was a Hit … But Bigger and Better Next Year

As the rally date approached, organizers drew from the Greek to title the event “Metanoia: Change Your Heart, Your Mind, Change Your Life” in an intentional challenge to look inward for resources and strength to choose wisely when dealing with a variety of difficult situations. The goal was to increase students’ ability to apply Catholic principles and teachings to decisions that affect their own lives and their relationships with family, friends, and others. This sort of event, remarked one sophomore, “shows why faith is important … you realize it’s OK to practice your faith, to speak out and not be ashamed.” The Sophomore Rally/Metanoia produced far more than a day of spiritual energy, deep thinking, and good vibrations, as sophomore theology teachers created a companion theology curriculum to measure the impact of the day’s content throughout the school year. Assessment tools continue to measure student decision-making processes, especially in facing several thorny issues, and personal application of learned principles. The pilot Sophomore Rally program clearly deemed a success, ministry directors plan another high-energy faith-filled rally, now officially retitled Metanoia, to include both sophomores and freshmen in 2017.

Click for Follow-Up Metanoia Program Videos:

Metanoia Monday Video #1
Metanoia Monday Video #2
Metanoia Monday Video #3
Metanoia Monday Video #4

“… [My daughter and her friends] loved it. One described it as a Catholic Rave. Clearly, she has no idea what a rave is, but I understood what she was implying … I think this is a great direction to move forward with. When asked if this type of format was better and more meaningful than last year’s Freshmen retreat, they responded, ‘Waaay better!’”

Dennis Mueller
Parent, Archbishop Wood High School