SJCA Hosts Retreat on the Family


Column By Doctor James Merrick
Saint Joseph’s Catholic Academy

We simply cannot change society without changing the fundamental cell of society, the family. The family is the formative context for self-development and socialization. If we want to promote understanding, self-esteem, friendship, and community, then we need to promote family life. The Love in an Age of Loneliness Family Retreat at St. Joe’s on June 22nd intended to do just that by providing local families with graces, resources, inspiration, and practical guidance.

Dr. Paul Stoddard, who attended with his wife Elizabeth and their newborn daughter, said, “There was a great mixture of inspiring, big-picture talks that cast a vision for the what the family should be and detailed, practical talks that got us into the nitty-gritty how-to of parenting and marriage.” By all accounts it was a great start to what we hope will become an annual event.

What made it so special?

The St. Joe’s Family
It was a great taste of what makes St. Joe’s special. In addition to the SJCA families in attendance, President Rob Thomas and his wife Alice along with Ken and Liz Forstmeier handled registration, St. Joe’s alums Jack Mangene and Nick Shearer along with incoming senior Piper Weldon led the praise band that punctuated the day, former St. Joe’s computer science teacher Devren Yener conducted the St. Benedict’s Schola Cantorum which sang for Mass and the Corpus Christi procession, and SJCA Executive VP Rob Shearer played bass and gave the first talk while his wife Deb ran snacks, held babies, and organized lunch.

“I Can’t Believe These Speakers Came to State College!”
We were fortunate to hear from four of today’s most insightful and inspiring authors on parenting, marriage, and family. Rob Shearer started the day with a lively discussion of why we live at a time of unprecedented connectivity and communication technology yet experience equally unprecedented alienation, fear, and loneliness. “I could have listened to him talk all day,” said Bob Crowe.

After an Examination of Conscience and the opening of Confession and Adoration we heard from Michael Moynihan, who is the Head of the Upper School and teaches mathematics at the prestigious Heights School in Maryland and is the author of The Father and His Family and Decisive Parenting: Forming Authentic Freedom in Your Children. As people increasingly think marriage is unrealistic or even oppressive, Michael gave wisdom gained from parenting his eleven children.

Before lunch, we were treated to a passionate and practical examination of the marriage liturgy filled with both personal and scriptural illustrations delivered by Kimberly Hahn. She is Councilwoman at Large for the City of Steubenville, wife of the beloved Catholic theologian Scott Hahn, and an internationally renowned speaker and author of numerous books that have been translated into several languages. She pointed out that one of the reasons why marriages and families fall apart is that people do not expect or know how to suffer. Among
many exhortations, Kimberly cautioned against the mentality of “I will serve you this far and no farther.” Sacrifice is the only way to strengthen our capacity for love. She also warned against thinking that disobeying Church teaching would strengthen a marriage or family. “I was brought to tears several times…her vision of marriage is beautiful,” said a retreatant.

Cary Valyo – a lawyer from Pittsburgh – and State College native Fr. Peter Crowe joined the speakers for a panel discussion and time for audience questions after lunch. Questions ranged from how to make the home more liturgical, to how to deal with family members who do not share your faith, to the sexual abuse crisis in the Church.
Mary Cooney, who writes at and is the author of the insightful book, Evangelizing Our Children with Joy, spoke next. The topic was raising virtuous children. Virtue brings harmony to the mind, will, and heart. Virtue enables children to feel more self-integrated, secure, and deliberate. At a time when mental distress is on the rise in children, the recovery of virtue is much needed. She described the cardinal virtues as “core moral muscles” and gave concrete examples of how to help children grow in each one.

PSU alum, internationally renowned author, speaker, songwriter, TV host, and Vice President of the St. Paul Center, Mike Aquilina gave the last talk, fittingly on St. Joseph. Although we know little about St. Joseph, we do know that he experienced four angelic encounters. Angels are God’s messengers, and Aquilina argued that St. Joseph was able to be such a protector of the Holy Family because he was able to hear the messengers of God. We should follow St. Joseph’s example.

Rob Shearer exclaimed, “I just can’t believe these speakers came to State College!” It was truly unique experience to be able to hear a world famous author speak and then buy their book directly from them and ask their advice.

The Gym Smelled Like Heaven
The day ended with a glorious Mass and contemplative Eucharistic Procession for Corups Christi (The Body of Christ). Ringing bells, solemn chants, and billows of smoke made the Robert and Alice Thomas Student Life Center heavenly. Instituted in 1264 by Pope Urban IV, the Feast of Corpus Christi reminds us that while His body ascended into heaven, Jesus Christ nevertheless remains bodily present on earth by His Spirit through the Church and the Eucharist. Eucharistic processions are an icon of the incarnation, as the taking of the Blessed Sacrament from the chapel into the mundane and profane world symbolizes the coming of the Holy Son of God to earth.

In an eloquent and profound homily, Fr. Crowe said, “This image of the Blessed Sacrament being adored in silence and with great love while the world buzzes by is a great image of our lives, especially in the family… What a profound comfort to know that our Lord desires to be with us, to literally walk with us in our daily lives, to be the beating heart that gives us eternal life…In having a procession on this great solemnity, we are reminded that God never leaves His children.”

As the Blessed Sacrament was processed around the campus, pausing at a picturesque point in front the school, children threw flower petals before the monstrance. Explaining this custom, Fr. Crowe remarked: “Our Lord calls each person here to be a saint, but He doesn’t expect us to do it simply by white knuckling our way through a lonely walk. No, He leads the way. He remains right here with us in the Blessed Sacrament. He calls us to walk faithfully behind him in this procession of life. To throw down flower petals – those hidden sacrifices of love that fill our days…”

Six altar servers and the freshly ordained Deacon Allan Duman, who also attended the retreat with his wife Joanna, assisted the Mass and Procession.