Diocese of Lake Charles
Sometimes the best way to reach students where they are on their faith journey is through their peers. That’s exactly what Awakening retreats do — offer college students the opportunity to encounter Christ on a personal level in community with others their own age.
Cowboy Catholics, the student ministry at Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic Church, hosted “Cowboy Awakening 75” the weekend of Sept. 17-19 with remarkable success. The student-led retreat is held twice a year – fall and spring – to help students grow deeper in their faith.
Faith Dalton and Landon Leger, co-directors for the fall semester retreat, both agree that prayer and spending time in adoration play a key role in the transformation of students from Friday night to Sunday.
“We allow the students a ton of time in front of the Blessed Sacrament,” Landon said. “The main thing I heard from most of the retreatants at the end of the weekend was that it was either a life-changing experience or something they would hold dear to their hearts because it impacted them that much.”
Faith credits the power of prayer with one of the highest turnouts of students, many who had been on a waiting list to attend.
“For a couple of weeks leading up to the retreat, everyone serving on staff set their phone alarms to 10 p.m., and we all prayed a ‘Hail Mary’ each night asking for Mary’s intercession to take away any fears or doubts the retreatants might have about the weekend,” said Faith.
Father Paul Jussen, pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel and chaplain of Cowboy Catholics, said a lot of the students told him they felt the presence of God like they never felt before.
“They expressed their experience with adoration and small groups where they can share parts of their lives that they don’t normally open up about,” said Father Jussen. “They were able to open up with their peers knowing they can trust them in this setting.”
Key elements of Awakening are small group reflections, Mass, confession, prayer, talks and activities, some of which are kept secret to allow the retreat to be veiled in mystery for those attending. Awakening is formed on Catholic principles, but students from all denominations are invited.
Landon said he was not Catholic when he made Cowboy Awakening 68. He fell in love with the structure of the Mass compared to the non-denominational church he had been attending.
“The Awakening introduced me to the sacraments in a way that I had not seen before. It sparked a conversion and not long afterward, I signed up for R.C.I.A. (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) through the McNeese student center,” Landon said. “I was confirmed in the Spring of 2019.”
Aggie Awakening 111 at Texas A&M was the beginning of Faith’s spiritual growth.
“After I transferred to McNeese, I didn’t want my Awakening experience to end in Texas, so I started staffing retreats with Cowboy Catholics,” she said. “Over the years, staffing Awakenings has been impactful for my faith. There is a whole new level in serving rather than receiving.”
Faith said she was excited but nervous when she was asked to lead the Awakening. She did not think she was capable or worthy.
“Over the summer, I was part of a F.O.C.U.S. project in Colorado,” Faith said. “It was my involvement with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students when I learned faith formation that challenged me and allowed me to grow. Because of that growth, I was able to lead the Awakening retreat with confidence.”
When Faith chose the retreat theme, “Called to Sainthood,” her intention was to remind the students that everyone is called to do great things, and to die to Christ day after day.
“I feel like the saints are not talked about enough,” she said. “The staff really wanted to instill in the students that the saints lived such great lives of heroic virtue.”
Father Jussen said the college students are recognizing that there is something in themselves that is yearning to be with God.
“I am edified because our young people have countless pressures with school, sports, breakup of family, finances, hurricanes, the pandemic, and social isolation,” said Jussen. “Awakenings help them to recognize God’s presence in their lives amid all the stuff that is happening in the world and in Southwest Louisiana.”
“Cowboy Awakening 75” had one of the highest turnouts of college students during the fall semester retreat Sept. 17-19 at Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic Church in Lake Charles. Put on by college students for college students, the retreat is designed to “awaken” their faith, offer fellowship, and strengthen their relationship with God during college life. Staff leaders on the front row, from left, are Conner Williams, Amy Yokubaitis, Faith Dalton (retreat coordinator), and Landon Leger (retreat rector and master of ceremonies). Father Paul Jussen, far right, is pastor of OLGC and serves as chaplain for Cowboy Catholics, the student ministry organization.