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Caldwell, N.J., July 27, 2016 – Seventeen high school students had the chance to look deeply at how their spirituality could underpin their leadership skills and help them make a difference in the world as they explored options for their college and career paths. The Spirituality and Society Summer Seminar was held July 16-23 on the Caldwell University campus.

Dr. Kyle Bennett, director of the Spirituality and Leadership Institute at Caldwell and a philosophy faculty member, said the aim of the program is to introduce high school students to spirituality disciplines and leadership practices to help them grow as young citizens who promote public justice and seek the common good.

The students had a taste of college life, living in the dorms, taking workshops and socializing together.

Three key areas of study were spiritual formation, theological reflection and vocational discernment.

Speakers included Michael Oliver, a Caldwell University theology faculty member, on spirituality and the environment; Bennett on spirituality and consumption; cartoonist Drew Dernavich on spirituality and expression; actor Matt Lowe on spirituality and entertainment, and Alissa Wilkinson, a film critic and English and humanities professor at King’s College, on spirituality and the media. They also took part in a journaling workshop with author and adjunct professor in the Caldwell Business Division, Barbara Davey.

“We really wanted the students to begin reflecting on how their everyday activities have implications for the kind of person and professional they become,” said Bennett. “I think we succeeded.”

There was plenty of time for recreation, ranging from mini golf to kickball to volleyball and a nature walk.

The students were introduced to the Catholic-Dominican tradition and enjoyed time with the Sisters of St. Dominic of Caldwell at an ice cream social.
Liz Serviss, of Holy Spirit High School in Absecon, was moved by Wilkinson’s talk on spirituality and the media since she wants to pursue journalism. She was inspired to hear that communications professionals can be “really contributive to the world and still be living out their faith.”

Gary Striggles Jr., from St. Mary’s of the Assumption High School in Elizabeth, said the week was more than he expected, and he was especially enthused about Oliver’s talk on spirituality and the environment. Oliver encouraged the students to “dial down on some things” like air conditioning to conserve electricity, “only using the amount you need,” said Striggles.

Alizè Stevenson, also from St. Mary’s of the Assumption, said the best part was Bennett’s talk on food and spirituality and how he probed the students on several points. “I like to answer questions,” she said, and the talk made her think that “we do take for granted what we have.”

One of the best aspects of the week was group discussions. “The leaders made sure everyone was connecting,” said Stevenson. “We all came from different places, with different thoughts on different topics,” and through the discussions, students were able to peak into each other’s lives, she said. “It was a life-changing experience … everyone was different, but now our plates are full.”

Serviss said it was wonderful to be in a healthy environment with other people who want to live in the world while maintaining their faith in Jesus Christ.

Janiece Montas, a senior at Caldwell University, worked at the seminar, taking pictures throughout the week. Since she had been involved in programs in high school she could relate to the younger students. “I was in their shoes … growing with the group … making friendships, learning from each other.”

Striggles said he ended the week with more confidence and that he was grateful to all the leaders and staff especially Bennett.

The other students who attended are:

Anjelika Catral of Academy of Holy Angels in Demarest.

Samantha Docteur of Holy Spirit High School in Absecon.

Kassandra Pardo and Sophia Feijoo of St. Dominic Academy in Jersey City.

Sheydline Moise, Asia Brooks, Nasyr St. Fleur, Jakub Klimkowski, Anthony Maldonado, Richard Franklin, Oluwatoyin Ogunbiyi, Jennifer Lawson, and Sarei Mosquera of St. Mary of the Assumption High School in Elizabeth.

Corrin Mahoney of St. John Villa Academy in Staten Island.

For the rest of the year (and beyond), students will be placed in online cohorts to continue conversations and to maintain personal and professional friendships.

The institute was made possible by a grant the university received from the Lilly Endowment Inc. The program is part of the endowment’s High School Youth Theology Institutes initiative.

To find about more about the Institute visit,, on Twitter follow @SpiritualityLI

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