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High school juniors invited to apply

Caldwell University has received a $600,000 grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. to establish an institute for spirituality and leadership for young leaders. It is part of the Endowment’s High School Youth Theology Institutes initiative, which seeks to encourage young people to explore theological traditions, ask questions about the moral dimensions of contemporary issues and examine how their faith calls them to lives of service.

“Young people get excited seeing how their spiritual life has bearing on the other areas of their life, especially their desire to become effective leaders,” said Dr. Kyle Bennett, director of the institute and assistant professor of philosophy at Caldwell.

Noting that studies show that young people who have been involved in youth groups as teens do not stick with their faith or even connect with a faith community after high school, Dr. Bennett said Caldwell University wants to counter that trend by inviting high school students in their junior year to apply for the program.

The institute will be a dynamic program that will lead students to “intentionally and mindfully” think about their attitudes and priorities towards the challenging issues of the day and about the way they can play a role in social justice and promoting the common good, said Dr. Bennett.

Students who are accepted into the program will take seminars on topics such as: entertainment and technology, food and drink, fashion and expression, and relationships. There will be opportunities for learning about a “Rule of Life,” engaging in reflection and journaling, and exploring options for faith-based careers.  The program will give students the chance to discuss contemporary issues of concern to them through the lens of Catholic Dominican tradition. They will hear from experts in theology, philosophy and leadership, including the Sisters of St. Dominic of Caldwell, and they will learn how to incorporate the four Dominican pillars of prayer, community, study and ministry into their lives. There will be activities such as challenge courses and canoeing and day excursions like a baseball game and a trip to the zoo.

The program will span six months, with the commitment of a spring and a fall weekend retreat at the Archdiocesan Youth Retreat Center in Kearny, N.J. and a 7-day residential Faith and Life Summer Program at Caldwell University.  In between the retreats, students will use social media to engage with one another, their teachers, and Caldwell University student mentors, and to take part in weekly prayer interactions.

Upon completion of the program, they will have the opportunity to earn digital badges in spirituality and leadership.

Leaders at Caldwell University were excited to receive the grant, said Patricia Levins, grants officer at the university. “We are thrilled that Lilly Endowment chose to support us in helping young people grow in their spirituality and leadership skills,” she said.

Students interested in applying to Caldwell’s program should contact Patricia Levins at or call 973-618-3604.

Caldwell University is one of 82 schools participating in the initiative.  The schools are located in 29 states and the District of Columbia.  “These colleges and universities are well-positioned to reach out to high school students in this way,” said Dr. Christopher L. Coble, vice president for religion at the Endowment. “They have outstanding faculty in theology and religion who know how to help young people explore the wisdom of religious traditions and apply these insights to contemporary challenges.”

The Endowment is giving $44.5 million in grants to help a select group of private four-year colleges and universities around the nation to create the institutes. The grants are part of the Endowment’s commitment to identify and cultivate a cadre of theologically minded youth who will become leaders in church and society.

Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by three members of the Lilly family – J.K. Lilly Sr. and sons J.K. Jr. and Eli – through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly & Company.  The Endowment exists to support the causes of religion, education and community development.  Lilly Endowment’s religion grantmaking is designed to deepen and enrich the religious lives of American Christians.  It does this largely through initiatives to enhance and sustain the quality of ministry in American congregations and parishes.