Sister Kathleen Woody: Kairos Retreats provide a powerful prayer experience for teens


Sister Kathleen WoodySister Kathleen Woody

“Kairos is a very sacred and powerful experience and it comes at a time in the lives of young people when they need it the most. It gives them a very deep sense of how good they really are and how good they can be.”

Sister Kathleen Woody (Sister Ann Sharon) spends most of her time with teenagers. It’s not that she is acting inappropriately for her age; rather she is dedicated to a ministry that helps young people learn to love themselves by realizing God’s deep and unconditional love for them.

As Director of Campus Ministry for St. Joseph’s Preparatory School, Sister Kathleen has a ministry within a ministry. She is also the Director of the Kairos Program, facilitating retreats for the young men who attend the Jesuit High School of Philadelphia.

Religious retreats are always centered on prayer but Kairos retreats, which are structured specifically for young people - typically high school seniors - also incorporate communications from family and friends. The purpose of Kairos is to give teenagers a very strong sense of their relationship with God as well as their relationships with families and friends.

The ultimate goal of Kairos is that the sense of connection to God, family and friends that teens experience during the retreat will flow into a sense of Christian compassion for all human beings. “They see that God’s love comes to you through prayer but, as you journey through life, you are going to meet God through other people as well,” Sister Kathleen says.
She adds that Kairos retreats are geared to high school students. “At this age, they really need it. It’s a jumping off point in their spiritual lives as evolving adults. The closest one gets to God’s love on this earth is the love of parents. But God’s love is greater. We want the boys to understand that at the deepest core of their being.”

Before becoming a faculty member of “The Prep” (as it is known to Philadelphians) 30 years ago, Sister Kathleen taught at Grey Nun institutions, Melrose Academy and Grey Nun Academy. Her experience formed her deep conviction that teenagers need to be made aware of God’s love for them. “They are filled with self doubt about themselves, their appearance, their popularity, their place in the world.”
She sees her Kairos work as a way of “illuminating for our young men how God works in their lives. To me—as a teacher and—more importantly—a woman religious, this is crucial.” She also sees it as a way to carry on the work of St. Marguerite d’Youville in modern times. “Marguerite always met the immediate human needs that were presented to her. My retreat ministry meets the immediate needs of these young men.

“This is a deeply satisfying ministry,” she observes. “In teaching, you don’t always see immediate results. In Kairos, I see immediate results. These young men are tangibly different at the end than they are at the beginning. As individuals and as a group.

“The whole experience is really facilitated by the Holy Spirit,” Sister Kathleen concludes with a smile. “It is a very sacred and powerful experience and it comes at a time in the lives of young people when they need it the most. It gives them a very deep sense of how good they really are and how good they can be. And how they are loved and how they can love others. It is truly a life changing event and a compassionate world is created through these transformed young men.”