REFLECTION BY BRIAN GILMORE '02, THEOLOGY TEACHER, CAMPUS MINISTER AND CROSS COUNTRY COACH
The word Kairos resounds deeply within the hearts of many who have come to know SLUH. To understand why, you really have to just give it a shot. On the surface, it is an elective retreat offered five times annually to second-semester juniors and first-semester seniors. Its true meaning and impact, however, far surpasses any such surface-level identification. Its essence is much more mysterious and difficult to define.
Kairos is a Greek word that many translate as “God’s time,” though linguists may more precisely say, “a time set apart.” The time of Kairos truly does feel like a moment suspended – suspended within the flow of daily life for students, faculty and staff alike. It’s a retreat that magnifies realities and offers of love, friendship and faith that exist in the lives of our students.
Chuck Hussung, a colleague and a veteran of many SLUH Kairos retreats, once offered me a way of looking at Kairos. It is a retreat where the extraordinary will happen in ordinary ways, and the ordinary will happen in extraordinary ways. Indeed, Kairos heightens one’s sense of wonder and awe through some very ordinary exercises and exchanges. I find Kairos to be a beautiful, lived expression of faith and relationships at a paramount developmental moment in the lives of our students.
Since the retreat began at SLUH in October 1995, our students, faculty and staff have taken 83 Kairos retreats. Each retreat is numbered, as each iteration can safely claim to have a life of its own. Such a life is animated by the beautifully vulnerable and courageous talks that students and adults present, honest small groups led by well-trained student leaders who first attended the retreat as retreatants, and the lowering of masks and pretentions that can periodically mark the way of proceeding for adolescents in a competitive college-preparatory school.
One of my personal experiences of Kairos has to do with the sacredness of sharing one’s story and, likewise, encountering the story of those around you. As an adult leader, I have had the chance to appropriately share parts of my own journey within the framework and progression offered by the retreat. As with many others, Kairos has been a place where I have received the gift of tears – tears of laughter, sadness and redemption. It is a place where I have formed or deepened friendships with a number of colleagues, each of whom hold this retreat near to their own heart. It is a place where I have witnessed incredible moments of student reconciliation and transformation.
In November 2017, I attended my 29th Kairos retreat since joining the SLUH faculty 10 years ago as a member of the Alum Service Corps. After that year, when Matt Stewart, S.J. '98 left SLUH to become a Jesuit, I joined Campus Ministry and inherited the organizational duty of the Kairos program, a role I have served in ever since. Kairos 81 again took place at King’s House Retreat House in Belleville, IL. King’s House is a location we often use for Kairos, and thus it is a place remembered as sacred by many SLUH Kairos retreatants over the past quarter century. My colleague and friend John Penilla '99, SLUH’s Director of Annual Giving, directed the seven members of the Kairos 81 student team, and six other wonderful members of the faculty and staff rounded out our leadership team.
Over the course of this retreat, held during the four days leading up to Thanksgiving, our senior team displayed incredible leadership and Christian witness. The senior retreatants entered the retreat willing and open, and they went home for the holiday feeling a refreshed sense of belonging, faith and connection. That is to say, Kairos happened. And that truly is a beautiful thing.