What does inspiring, praised-filled Catholic music have in common with Euclid’s “Elements” and an afternoon hike? They are all part an array of opportunities being offered to high school students this summer at Catholic colleges and universities across the nation. 

Whether it’s reading a selection of Western literature, singing in the choir or just having fun with your peers at soccer or Ultimate Frisbee, these summer programs look to form the young person in mind, body and spirit.  

Combining faith and fun, these extracurricular opportunities hope to inspire fertile minds, change hearts and open doors to a life of possibilities that go far beyond the dog days of summer.  

Eddie O’Neill writes from Wisconsin. 

Magdalen College 

New England college's program is small in size, but mighty in spirit 

Just 85 miles north of Boston in the town of Warner, N.H., lies the picturesque campus of Magdalen College. This Catholic liberal arts school has less than 75 students in all of its classes. While it may be small in stature, the school’s reputation to develop well-educated and well-formed young adults is widely known.

Attracting future students 

Much of that work often begins with the school’s Summer Youth Program. According to Tim Van Damm, vice president of advancement and admissions, more than 70 percent of Magdalen’s students first found out about the school by attending a Summer Youth Program. 

Each summer the school has three two-week sessions with roughly 30 students attending each week. During the program, the 15- to 18-year-old students study theology, music and philosophy, attend Mass and participate in sporting events. They also take trips to nearby Boston and the White Mountains. 

“Kids come here and fall in love with the place,” said Van Damm. “The last day of the program it’s like a tear-fest around here. No one wants to part ways.” 

Millie Fitterer is one who became hooked on Magdalen at an early age. The Southern California native attended every summer program from 2002 to 2006. In May she will graduate. She calls the summer experience an entire Magdalen school year crammed into two weeks. 

“The best part of the summer program was the sports and the trips,” said Fitterer. “We went to Boston, to the beach and we always played soccer or the Magdalen favorite, hoccer,” a combination of field hockey and soccer. 

Fitterer said the summer program gave her instant, like-minded friends, including her current best friend.  

“I met Esperanza Tona when I was 12 years old at my first summer camp. She is now a senior with me this year, and I not only have a lot of lasting memories, but a best friend as well.”  

Van Damm sums up the Magdalen Summer Youth Program as an opportunity for high school students to grow as people. 

“Not only do the young people who attend get to enjoy the beauty of New England, but also the chance to get a solid catechesis and a taste of what true formation is all about.”

Register online or download a summer youth program brochure at www.magdalen.edu/admissions/summeryouth.asp.

Franciscan Youth Programs 

Firing up the young faithful from coast to coast 

When it comes to firing up young people to love and serve the Lord, Franciscan University of Steubenville’s youth conferences have decades of experience. Since 1976, its youth conferences have inspired hundreds of thousands of teens to go deeper in their relationship with Jesus. This year, Franciscan will offer 19 conferences to an estimated 38,000 high school students in cities coast to coast.  

“The content and the push is to get young people into a relationship with the Church, and that never changes, ” John Beaulieu, director of youth and young adults at Steubenville, told Our Sunday Visitor.  

Beaulieu graduated from the Ohio school in the 1980s. He was involved in the youth conferences as a student and as a youth minister in North Carolina and Texas, when he annually brought his kids back to his alma mater to share the faith. He believes in the power of these weekends to change the hearts of young people.  

“I see the charism of our youth conferences as one that makes faith come alive for young people,” he said. “At a conference, kids have had a personal encounter with Christ in the Eucharist during adoration or during the Mass. Kids are finding Christ and strengthen their faith that way.”

Beyond expectation  

A typical Franciscan conference consists of three days of Catholic music, skits and faith-filled speakers. There are separate talks for young men and young women. The attending teens get a dose of their Catholic faith like never before.  

Sean Malloy, youth minister at St. James Catholic Church in Lititz, Pa., told OSV he plans his summer activities for his teens around the dates of the Steubenville conferences. Malloy has led a group of 25 or 30 students from his parish each summer since becoming youth minister at St. James’s five years ago.  

“These weekends have a way of making our Catholic faith real and on point to the teens. It is hard to be a teen in today’s world, but these conferences affirm these students as young Catholic men and women,” he said.  

Emily Reed, a freshman at Ephrata High School, is a member of the St. James youth group and attended her first Steubenville conference last summer.  

For the 14-year-old, the Saturday night adoration of the Blessed Sacrament was the most memorable event. “During adoration, I had the opportunity to feel the presence of Mary, Joseph and Jesus Christ. It was as if nothing else mattered. I felt real peace for the first time,” she told OSV.  

Malloy said such prayerful experiences among the teens is not the exception but rather the norm.  

Another high point of the weekend is the Mass, which is often celebrated with 10 to 20 priests and 3,000 other teens.  

“The students are honestly changed when they leave, and for many of them, these changes stick with them for the rest of their lives. Most kids are not ready to go home on Sunday and asked why this is only a weekend retreat,” he added.  

All touched  

Each year, Catholic musician and speaker Steve Angrisano spends 45 weekends on the road, giving retreats and talks or participating in parish missions. Over the last decade or so, at least three of those weekends are spent at a Franciscan University Youth Conference. 

“Although I am part of the conferences, I am constantly ministered to as well. To be at a Steubenville conference and have four or five speakers is inspiring to listen to,” Angrisano told OSV.  

Malloy agreed, adding that the Steubenville staff shows a lot of experience in their work with teens, and it only inspires him to return home and work harder at being a youth minister. 

“At the conferences, we, the group leaders, have some special time in prayer and music and adoration with other leaders from the conference. This is so important and a major plus of these weekends,” he said. 

Parental support 

Beaulieu is gearing up for this summer’s series of conferences. This year’s theme is “The Word Became Flesh.” He told OSV that some of his biggest supporters are parents.  

“The parents that I have worked with over the years love what we do. The parents are 100 percent behind it,” he said, adding that many parents give their children tickets to go a conference as a confirmation gift.

Franciscan University Youth Conferences are held at various dates and locations throughout the country. To find out about a specific conference, visit www.franciscanyouth.com or email youthoutreach@franciscan.edu.


Singing truth to youths 

Summer 1993 was when Catholic singer-songwriter Steve Angrisano got his big break. He had been playing in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, area for some time when he got the call to play at his first Franciscan Youth Conference. A few months later he was on stage in Denver, performing at Mile High Stadium for Pope John Paul II and World Youth Day. 

“Those two events pushed me into a national ministry, and I was getting calls from dioceses around the country,” he told Our Sunday Visitor. 

The 44-year-old musician has since done at least one Franciscan Youth Conference each year since. This summer, he will perform in San Diego, Alexandria, La., and Minnesota. He recently spoke with OSV about some of the things he’s learned when it comes to the faith life of young people. 

Our Sunday Visitor: What has impressed you with these youth conferences year after year? 

Steve Angrisano: The thing that has impressed me the most is the faith of the young people that they bring to these [events]. A part of the experience of these conferences is bringing the faith to these young people, but a really impressive piece is how much faith the young people come with. 

OSV: Over all these years, what have you learned when it comes to evangelizing teens? What works, and what doesn’t work? 

Angrisano: In some ways, I think people find speaking to youths very intimidating, because teens are very in the moment. If they are not interested in what you have to say, they start going to the bathroom and text-messaging their friends.

However, I like the fact that youths are very real. You could speak to a group of adults, and they will just smile at you and nod their head and you have no idea what they really think. On the other hand, with a group of young people, you know right then and there whether they are enjoying it or getting anything out of it. 

You have to be real to meet them, and I appreciate that. You can’t just tell canned stories and sing canned songs. There is a real authenticity involved in reaching out to young people. In the end, young people respect honesty.  

OSV: How important is music in one of these youth conferences? 

Angrisano: At all the major Catholic conferences involving the youths, music plays a big part. I think music really speaks to young people. Music says things that words alone don’t say. Music expresses our heart, and music is certainly a way to express how we feel about God and how we pray. 

OSV: After all these years do you still get excited about playing a youth conference? 

Angrisano: I do still get very excited about them every summer. I think that part of that is that evangelization is always new. Every time a group of young people begins to pray, it’s a first time. It’s a first time for me with them. Looking at it like that keeps it fresh. I don’t like to think of it that I am singing this again; I like to think of it that, as a group, we are praying this for the very first time. 

To learn more about Steve Angrisano’s ministry, visit www.steveangrisano.com.

Thomas Aquinas College 

Finding answers to life's toughest questions 

Do you enjoy reading? Do you enjoy thinking about the texts that you read? Do you wonder about things? If you answered yes and are in high school, then the Great Books Program at St. Thomas Aquinas College might be the place for you this summer 

That is according to Jonathan Daly, who serves as the director of admissions for this small liberal arts college in Santa Paula, Calif. 

“The motivation behind the program was to give high school students the chance to read original texts and having conversations about them in the manner in which the students here at the college have them,” Daly said about the summer program, which began in 1996.  

St. Thomas Aquinas is one of a handful of colleges that offers a four-year degree following the Great Books program. Great Books, as defined by the college’s website, are original texts that have the “ power to shape human events and change human lives.” Titles that students might read that fall into that category are Aristotle’s “Rhetoric,” Dante’s “Inferno” or Kierkegaard’s “Fear and Trembling.” 

Socratic method  

Each summer, Thomas Aquinas opens up its doors for two weeks and welcomes around 120 students from around the world. Each day is full of classes, time for study, prayer and recreation. 

Classes are conducted using the Socratic method of discussion, which is led by a member of the teaching staff. Professors at the college are called tutors because, as Daly told OSV, the real teachers are the original authors of these texts. The tutor throws out questions and things to ponder in a roundtable setting. All classes, even biology and math, are 100 percent conversational, and size is limited to 17 students to allow for fruitful discussion.  

Michael Letteney, who is in charge of the summer high school program, said he is quite impressed with the ease at which the summer students waste no time and get to work with their readings and discussions.  

“They are living the life that our college kids are living, “ Letteney said. “With that, so many of them rise to the occasion, and give it their all in this two-week academic pursuit. As well, by diving into the same texts, they have a lot in common and a lot to talk about during their time here.”  

Catherine Connelly, a junior at Thomas Aquinas, attended the Great Books program in 2006.  

She told OSV that it was a challenge at times to adapt to the teaching method. While attending Bellarmine Preparatory School in Tacoma, Wash., she was used to traditional classroom lectures. However, she is now a believer in the Socratic method.  

“I have found that this method allows one to identify exactly what he or she does or doesn’t understand. As well, it allows one to truly learn instead of merely memorizing,” Connelly said.  

She added that while she knew a lot about Thomas Aquinas College from her parents, who are both TAC graduates, it wasn’t until she attended the summer program that she solidified her college decision.  

“The summer program provides the student with the chance to eat, sleep, live and learn as an Aquinas student,” she said. “It is an accurate representation of life at this unique college.” 

Not all books  

Daly told OSV that there is much fun to be had at this summer program as well. It is not all just study and reading.  

“We try to give students the sense of what opportunities are in the local area,” he said. “This includes a trip to the beach, shopping and eating out in Santa Barbara and a trip to the Hollywood Bowl to hear the Los Angeles Philharmonic.” 

Connelly was impressed with this total package.  

“To see people my age wanting to discuss the biggest questions affecting the human race, want to go play a game of Frisbee and then kneel before the Blessed Sacrament was such a gift. I wanted to share in this balanced, fulfilling experience.”  

Charlie Goodwin felt the same way. The Aquinas senior from Pasadena, Calif., attended the Great Book program in 2005. He was thrilled to meet young people who were interested in study, the truth and God. In his words, while the chapel and the classroom were the main focus for the two weeks a lot of other great activities took place.  

“I had a very strong sense of community with the other summer program students,” Goodwin said. “We played sports together, sang and danced together, studied together and prayed together. I experienced the kind of fellowship and community that I had always been longing for, but struggling to find in high school.”

The Summer Great Books Program runs July 25-Aug. 7. For information or online application, visit www.thomasaquinas.edu/admission/summerprogram/index.htm.

University Of Dallas 

Roaming the ground that inspired Shakespeare 

What could be better than studying William Shakespeare in his native England? How about having the chance to experience the bard’s famous dramas firsthand in Italy? 

That is the hope of the University of Dallas’ summer program called Shakespeare in Italy. From standing where the final scene of “Julius Caesar” takes place to exploring the layout of “The Merchant of Venice,” this program looks to open young minds and hearts to a world beyond themselves. 

“We use Shakespeare in conjunction with sites in Rome and Venice to have students think about the type of question on how to live one’s life. These are questions that young people seeking after integrity should be asking,” said Andrew Moran, assistant director to the summer program. He has accompanied student groups to Italy for the last six summers.  

In 2009, the two-week trip had 11 high school students. The program’s director, Dr. Gregory Roper, told OSV that 25 students have already signed up for this summer’s trip. But Roper is quick to point out that this is not a tourist program. A typical day starts off in the heart of Rome, where these young students have a chance to get a glimpse of where many of Shakespeare’s classic plays took place. In addition to Rome, Shakespeare set plays in Italian locations such as Venice, Verona, Padua and Sicily. “We excite the students by having them deepen their knowledge of Shakespeare by seeing the very places that stirred his imagination,” Roper said. 

For University of Dallas sophomore David Ringwald, walking the streets of ancient Rome three summers ago inspired him to know more about ancient culture.  

“It is one thing to look at the floor plans of an ancient building in a book, but quite another to identity and walk around the parts of the house in Pompeii,” he said. 

Lighter side of academics 

Students stay at the university’s Rome campus, which is located about 12 miles south of the Eternal City. Returning home for the afternoon there is time to swim, explore the campus’ vineyard or hang out at the cappuccino bar before classes later in the afternoon.  

“The program hopes to prepare students to excel at college through writing, tutorials and small-group discussions,” Moran told OSV. “Students emerge sharper writers, more precise and eloquent conversationalists, and more careful and thoughtful readers.”  

Ringwald was grateful for the program’s emphasis on academics. “The program definitely made me wiser. The teachers and tutors were amazing and really knew what they were talking about” he said.  

However, as program director Roper explains, there is some fun to be had as well. “There is certainly an academic seriousness to the program, but there is some serious fun that takes place as well,” he said. “We try to show that serious academic effort can and should be fun.”

To find out date, cost and application information for the University of Dallas’ Shakespeare in Italy program, visit www.udallas.edu/academics/summer/hs/italy

More Summer Opportunities

Christendom College, Front Royal, Va.  

Students take classes in faith and reason, ethics, moral imagination in literature and the West and Christianity. When not hitting the books, they’ll canoe the Shenandoah River and hike the Blue Ridge Mountain trails. 

Summer Scholars students participate in an intensive two-week course of study on a specific academic track. This year’s tracks include Dante’s Inferno, Acting for Stage and Film, China’s Transformation and Policy Debate and Public Speaking. (The admissions deadline has passed for this year.) 

The school offers three one-week sessions that combine academic courses, including the art of writing, the Latin experience and the theology of John Paul II and his theology of the body, with spiritual enrichment. 

High school juniors and seniors can earn credits while taking courses alongside current college students through CUA’s summer program. The school also offers a non-credit media and video production workshop. 


Loyola University, Chicago, Ill. 

Students can enroll in either three-week seminars in topics such as environmental biology, theatrical experience or museum studies, or they can take classes alongside current college students in Loyola’s six-week academy.