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Caldwell, N.J,– Aug.7, 2018 – The treetop course at the Turtle Back Zoo was a highlight of Tameeah Browne’s week at the Spirituality and Leadership Institute on Caldwell’s campus. Beyond the fact that the course was fun, the physical challenges were a metaphor for the “leap of faith” that one should take in “approaching any obstacle,” said Browne.

A senior at Immaculate Conception High in Montclair, New Jersey, Browne was one of the students who took part in the weeklong institute aimed at teaching young people spiritual disciplines and leadership. Through a series of workshops and activities, the students were inspired to think about ways to engage in public justice, seek the common good and contemplate where God is leading them in their lives.

Meleny Gonzalez from Lacordaire Academy was pleased with the talk by Dr. Kyle Bennett on communication. “We are quick to judge” but do not always take the time to listen to others, said Gonzalez. Bennett, director of the institute and an associate professor of philosophy, spoke to the students about the importance of understanding how their communications—from listening and gesturing to engaging digitally and interpersonally— can affect others. Jillian Vorisek, a Paramus Catholic High student, said the talk made students think more about the ways they should speak to and treat others—“not just in person but also online.”

The students were introduced to the Catholic-Dominican tradition, which underpins Caldwell University. Dr. Christopher Cimorelli, assistant professor of theology, presented on “Contemplation, Identity, and Leadership” from a Christian perspective and how it can help people discover their identities in relationship to God and their work as servant leaders in the world.

Sister Gerardine Mueller, O.P., an artist and professor emerita, described the stained-glass windows with Dominican saints that she created in the chapel in St. Catherine’s Convent on Caldwell’s campus.

Caldwell art education student and peer leader Allison Johansen encouraged the students to notice beauty in God’s creations. She challenged the students to see themselves as “everyday artists” who can contribute to beautifying creation in areas such as penmanship, setting the dinner table and taking photographs.

Browne was happy to take the strength and analysis test given by Gerri Perret, director of Caldwell University’s Career Development Office.

Carmen Aguirre, a junior at Mount St. Dominic Academy in Caldwell, said it was eye-opening to hear from a representative of First Friends, an organization that provides volunteer visitation, resettlement assistance and advocacy to detained immigrants and asylum seekers. It is important to “learn how to be a good neighbor to everyone,” said Aguirre.

Evenings featured activities such as mini-golf and other outdoor games, a Jackals baseball game and a trip to New York City.

Myles Crawley ’18,  a recent Caldwell University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in sociology, said he came away with insights on how to “look at life on a spiritual level—a different level—to help me become a better person and make environments better.”

Caldwell University student and peer leader Julianna Verso was assigned to come up with probing questions. “Everyone reacted with very intelligent answers,” she said.

The leaders and teachers learned from the experience too. Abby Cimorelli, a staff member in Caldwell’s campus ministry office, was inspired by the university and high school students and “how they made connections that I may not have thought of.”

Bennett was struck by the sensitivity of the students and how they were attuned to nuanced and subtle ways people can hurt and wound each other. “In a culture that is trying to desensitize us to this, I hope that awareness and sensitivity are never stifled—that we keep cultivating how to use our mouths, eyes and ears.”

The institute is made possible through a grant from the Lilly Endowment Inc.