No Retreat: Family Week Draws Hundreds Deeper Into Family Life

The St. John Paul II-style Family Week event at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, started small and has grown mighty.

It began as an effort on the part of the Center for Family Life to import to America a form of family formation that Center Director Tory Baucum experienced with his mentors in Italy who brought him into the Catholic faith. But three years later it has more than doubled in size. This year the event welcomed 43 families, including 171 children, to campus for a week (see photos here).

“I’m surprised how quickly returning couples are becoming fast friends, a caring community, a family of families,” said Tory Baucum, Director of the Center for Family Life.

Just like John Paul II, famous for his pastoral approach as a priest in Poland, the event combines community-building, prayer and intellectual formation.

Adult Formation

The main formators of the event are two priests of the Disciples of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary Father José Noriega, and Father Luis Granados. Father José was a professor at the Pontifical Institute for Marriage and Family in Rome. He now teaches in Denver’s St. John Vianney Seminary while doing parish work. Father Luis serves at the Boys Division Director at Mater Salvatoris College Preparatory School in Stamford, Connecticut.

Father José began the week by explaining how true it is that the future of the Church is now in the hands of the family — in the same way that the British relied on small boats at Dunkirk. Father Luis ended the week by describing how the sacrifice and love of families is connected to the cosmic sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

Konrad Milewski, from Poland but living in Kansas City said, “I was struck with the simple phrase ‘God created man and woman to fill heaven with people,’” he said. “Then, a a complement to that, Father Jose defining us as a Creative Minority … our mission is to use creative means of outreach — including creative content and tools.”

Benedictine College theologian Aaron Riches helped plan the adult formation for the event. Riches, who has attended Family Week in the past, said he understood the event better than ever this year.

“It’s not a retreat, it’s not a step away from life. It’s a step into life, but really intensely. This year gave me a clear understanding of why we’re doing this, and why it is a whole week. You live with other families for a week. You sing together, laugh together, cry, play games and eat together. You go on hikes together, you have highs and lows. It creates an incredible solidarity.”

One feature of the event is its skill sessions, where teams lead couples through communications exercises. “It is always a joy to help married couples have a more profound, fulfilling relationship,” said one “skills” leader, Lucia Luzondo, an attorney who is co-founder of Family Renewal Ministries. “It is crucial for every couple to participate at least once per year in an event to ‘sharpen the saw’ of their marriage and family life.”

The week also featured daily Mass, including once with Kansas City Archbishop Joseph Naumann, a Eucharistic Holy Hour, and family activities including outdoor games, a sing-a-long and an ice cream social.

Kids’ Formation

The experience worked for a first-time attendee from Denver, Colo.

“Family Week was a transformative experience for our family, and we are excited to return next year, hoping to bring more families along to share in this enriching experience,” said Jason Smith, who attended with his wife and six children.

Paul Burghart said this year’s Family Week had a number of new features, including an increased focus on children’s formation.

The scale of the event, organized by Burghart and his assistant, Sofia Leiva, is impressive, with 22 young people signed up to help with children’s formation, many of them John Paul II Fellows with the Center for Family Life, which hosts the event.

Family Week provides Catechesis of the Good Shepherd formation for children. Older children and teens are catechized following John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. They also get to choose a specialty focus, including the Thespian Guild, which performed and filmed a movie during the week, the Makery Guild, focused on arts and crafts; the Track and Field Guild, the Schola, the Gardening Guild and the Ceramics Guild.

“We had five religious sisters helping with us this year,” Burghart said, citing the School Sisters of Christ the King of Lincoln, Neb., and the Immaculate Heart of Mary sisters of Wichita, Kansas. “This was also the first year that we did a talent show with the full group and partnered with Atchison’s Benedictine high school, Maur Hill-Mount Academy.”

Riches said, “One of the coolest moments for me was to see one of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart in the middle of kids, spraying kids with a hose and being beaned by water balloons, her habit and rosary completely drenched.”

Smith said each of his children had a significant experience. His 5-year-old and 8-year-olds made new friends, his three teen boys enjoyed sports and want to return. And his 17-year-old daughter “was initially skeptical about the experience but ended up being deeply moved by the faculty’s genuine interest in her, which made her feel valued and respected,” he said.

He summed it up, “My biggest takeaway from Family Week at Benedictine College was the profound sense of community and the lasting impact it had on my family.”

Baucum said that all the work with children done in the week paid off. “We learned that children are great protagonists in the mission of the family, as parents accompany them on their journeys,” he said.

A Year in a Week

But the best summing up of the event was probably from one of the presenters, Jason Baxter, the director of the Benedictine College Center for Beauty and Culture.

“What blew me away about Family Week is how it was a kind of garden of all the characteristics of the Christian life,” said Baxter, who attended with his family. “It was serious, deep, and sincere; but, at the same time, friendly, good-humored, and vulnerable. I think this is to the credit of the amazing leaders of Family Week: Fr. Luis, Aaron Riches, and Tory Baucum. I really felt I grew more in a week than I had in a whole year.”

Editorial Staff

Benedictine College’s mission can Transform Culture in America by modeling community in an age of incivility, spreading faith in an age of hopelessness, and committing to scholarship in a “post-truth” era. We create video and other media content to promote positive messages of faith, hope, and love while Ex Corde Media Fellows program provides students with the tools, experiences, and contacts they need to enter the 21st century media world as effective communicators. Learn about the Ex Corde Media Fellows program.