Talks, Hikes, Sports and Prayer: Family Week Brings Spiritual Family Vacations to America

No wonder it doubled in size in less than a year.

Parents glimpsed the heights, children explored the depths, and together they celebrated the joy of the Catholic faith at Family Week 2023 at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. Internationally renowned theologians, speakers, experts in children’s formation and religious were there to help.

“This is such an important work that you are doing here,” Kansas City Archbishop Joseph Naumann told participants on the final day of the May 28-June 1 event. “Years ago Lewis and Clark explored the bluffs of the Missouri River here, and your adventure is no less grand than theirs,” he added.

Parents heard high insights from the pre-2019 leaders of Rome’s St. John Paul II Institute on Studies of Marriage and Family. Their children experienced the profound encounter with the faith offered by Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. Families sang together, shared meals, played games and experienced a spiritual hike — half in silence, half in conversation and song — with a French religious order.

Family Week is a family enrichment retreat hosted by the Benedictine College’s Center for Family Life and designed by the Disciples of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, who help lead the week. Speakers included Well-Read Mom book club founder Marcie Stokman and marriage and family specialist J.P. DeGance whose group, Communio, is revolutionizing parish outreach.

The week is designed to explore the “why and how” of marriage and family through a Catholic lens. It’s five days of deep and engaging talks, fellowship, prayer, and fun activities for the whole family. In the mornings, couples explore various topics and strategies relating to marriage and family while the kids participate in fun activities and faith formation. Families spend afternoons and evenings together.

The event attracted registrants from four states, each looking to build up their family life.

“I was looking for unhurried time with my spouse and children and renewal in our marriage and family,” said one registrant.

“We attended last year and felt it was very worthwhile!” said another. “We want to be able to take what we learn back to our community.”

“Our friends really loved their experience at Family Week last year and recommended it so highly that we want to experience it, too,” said another.

Participants ate meals in the Benedictine College Dining Hall and stayed in college residence hall suites that can accommodate families.

In addition to DeGance and Stokman, participants heard from Little Brother of the Lamb Father Isaac and Father José Noriega, who was a tenured professor at the St. John Paul II Institute for Studies of Marriage and Family in Rome until changes made to the school in 2019.

“Civilization passes by way of the family,” said Stokman, who writes and speaks to encourage women in a world of rising isolation, loneliness, and mental health issues. She added that, “A mother’s work may be hidden, but every mother is a culture builder.”

Father Noriega, who now teaches at the St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver, Colo.,  spoke about the importance of overcoming the secular American ethic of “my body, my choice” with the truly Christian approach: “my body for you.”

“When someone gives themselves to you, you understand yourself in a new way,” he said. “Conjugal union allows us to have a memory of the original words of God about Adam and Eve: ‘It is very good.’”

Father Noriega is now pastor of St. Mary Parish in Littleton, Colo. His fellow Disciple of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary Father Luis Granados leads the boys division of Mater Salvatoris College Preparatory School in Stamford, Connecticut.

Father Granados (pictured) spent the whole week with participants, hearing their confessions, hiking with them, singing and sharing meals.

“By attending the talks and discussions, praying, singing, hiking, playing, we have seen what St. John Paul II saw,” said Father Granados. “Couples are eager to come to this encounter with other families and to go deeper in the mystery of their marriage. They are really thirsty. … They want their love to be beautiful. They are willing to make heroic sacrifices for that.”

A highlight of the week was a hike with the Little Sisters and Brothers of the Lamb, and a talk by Little Brother of the Lamb Father Isaac. Founded in Southern France, the Little Sisters and Brothers of the Lamb are a Religious Community that is shaped by both the Dominican and Franciscan Spirituality, uniting the proclamation of the Gospel through preaching with commitment to the poor. The motto of the Community is “Wounded, I will never cease to love.”

Said Father Granados: “It was very impressive to see the openness to life of these couples, and the joy they have and share, as a result. They have embraced Humanae Vitae and the Theology of the Body, and the Lord is blessing them, in the midst of their daily sufferings.”

“Family Week is a true experience of an authentic Catholic vision for marriage and family life with experts on both the theology and practice of family living,” said Center Director Tory Baucum. “Together we discuss the importance of male and female and its relation to the Incarnation, how marital unity reflects the Trinity, and the adventure of family life.”

He said that couples have three expectations from Family Week:

  • “Prevention,” keeping the family bond strong,
  • “Restoration,” reclaiming the joy of marriage, and
  • “Exploration,” discovering new directions a married vocation can take them.

Before leading the Benedictine College Center for Family Life, Baucum served for 30 years as an Anglican Pastor, seminary and university professor. In this past decade he and Elizabeth, his wife, worked ecumenically and closely with the Catholic Church, especially with the Italian movement Mistero Grande and its founder Don Renzo Bonetti. The Baucums spoke at the Vatican’s 2015 World Meeting of the Family in Philadelphia. Beginning in 2018, Tory’s friends, Fr. Paul Scalia and Fr. Dominic Legge O.P., prepared Tory and his wife for acceptance into the Catholic Church. Archbishop Naumann received them into the Church Easter of 2020. Since then, Tory has served in the Archdiocese of Kansas City-Kansas.

Benedictine College

Founded in 1858, Benedictine College is a Catholic, Benedictine, residential, liberal arts college located on the bluffs above the Missouri River in Atchison, Kansas. The school is honored to have been named one of America’s Best Colleges by U.S. News & World Report, the best private college in Kansas by The Wall Street Journal, and one of the top Catholic colleges in the nation by First Things magazine and the Newman Guide. It prides itself on outstanding academics, extraordinary faith life, strong athletic programs, and an exceptional sense of community and belonging. Benedictine College is dedicated to transforming culture in America through its mission to educate men and women within a community of faith and scholarship.