Jesuit High School has re-established a foothold in Wyoming.
After a one-year hiatus due to COVID-19, the Tigers were back in the Rocky Mountains this summer for a phenomenal week-long Leadership Retreat.
Fifteen rising seniors and juniors, along with chaperones Jimmy Mitchell, Jesuit's director of campus ministry, and Fr. Jason LaLonde, S.J., participated in the Catholic Outdoor Leadership Program of Wyoming Catholic College (wyomingcatholic.org/cor-expeditions) during the last week of June.
"From hiking through hailstorms to sleeping under shooting stars, they all came back physically, mentally, and spiritually tougher than they could have ever imagined," Mitchell said.
Jesuit has connected with COR Expeditions (Catholic Outdoor Renewal) and their Outdoor Leadership Program for years, with COR representatives coming to Florida and coordinating experiential leadership retreats for Jesuit students.
In 2019, for the first time, nine Jesuit seniors traveled to Wyoming for the week-long experience in the rugged and isolated Wind River Mountain Range, which stretches across the western end of the nation's least-populated state (Wyoming), south of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.
Last month in the Wind River Range, the 15 Jesuit students – Tony Troncoso '22, Jackson Graham '22, Nathanael Moore '22, Danny O'Leary '22, Logan Kant '22, Kaden Wheeler '22, Hayden Kirk '22, Michael Garcia '22, Trey George '22, Luke Denick '22, Michael Poynor '22, Carter Kreis '22, Kevin Doherty '23, Matt Griffith '23, and Nick Rodriguez '23 – experienced the extraordinary demands and commensurate rewards of a week together in the mountain wilderness.
Accompanied by three full-time guides with COR Expeditions, the first night and the following day were filled with intensive outdoors wilderness training. They received all their gear, layers of clothing, learned about trail etiquette, what to do about bears, how to cope with lightning, where to take shelter, practiced rock climbing, and more.
The next morning they embarked on a week of trekking through the Rocky Mountains. The COR leaders demonstrated how to lead the group, and then they turned it over to the students, with different students serving as group leaders each day. They were responsible for all aspects: waking people up, breaking down the site, delegating responsibilities, and reviewing the map for risk assessment of things such as rivers and snow.
The students had to carry everything, from food, stoves, and tents to snowshoes and extra layers. They woke up each morning sore and bruised. The inevitable blisters, which they called "hot spots," were treated with duct tape.
Each day, the Jesuit contingent hiked about five miles with 50-pound backpacks. Along the way they had formation sessions, gathered for daily Mass and Adoration, and cooked their own meals. At some point, everyone shared his life story. For all, it was an unforgettable and formative experience.
"There was one formation session each day, with topics ranging from the role of community in building up team dynamics to the need for Catholic leaders to practice heroic virtue," Mitchell said. "Each night, several of the students shared their personal testimonies and life stories.
"During these moments, there often wasn't a dry eye around the campfire. One of the great highlights of the trip was having a young Jesuit priest, Fr. Jason LaLonde, celebrating Mass each day and offering Adoration and Confession."
It was a transformational experience for the Jesuit students.
"Many of them have described the trip as one of the most difficult and life-changing experiences of their lives," Mitchell said.
Please view below a photo slideshow from last month's Leadership Retreat in Wyoming.