By Barb Arland-Fye
Twenty-one years ago Paul Marvin’s girlfriend, Sherry, recruited him to participate in a Christ in Others Retreat (COR) in Charlotte. She had participated the previous year and was volunteering as a team leader for COR, a youth-driven retreat for high school sophomores, juniors and seniors.
Paul didn’t need convincing. “I was 17 or 18; she was my girlfriend,” he explains.
Whether or not COR bonded them for life, the experience has had a lasting effect.
Today Paul and Sherry Marvin, married and parents of four children ranging in age from 12 to 2, are the lead parent-couple for the COR retreat to be held March 6-8 at St. Joseph Parish in DeWitt.
They couldn’t have imagined as teenagers that such a possibility was in their future. But they believe the Holy Spirit has led the way.
COR not only “provides an opportunity for the youth in our parish, but helps us to understand what’s going on in their heads and what we can expect when our kids get to that age,” Sherry says. “A lot of people ask us, ‘Why are you doing this?’ We want to figure this out before our kids get to be this age.”
And Paul says he’s impressed by what he and Sherry witnesses at COR.
“Every year I am amazed by the quality and the integrity that we see in a lot of the teenagers. You don’t hear about it a lot in the mainstream media. These kids really have a pretty good perspective on where they want to go. I didn’t at their age,” Paul says.
The Marvins made their first COR retreats as teenagers in the 1980s, when Pat and Deacon Mike Sheil were the lead parent-couple. The Sheils, in fact, convinced the Marvins to take their place.
The Sheils, who have been involved in COR since 1982, now work behind the scenes.
Like the Marvins, they were parents of young children when they accepted the invitation to assist and thought it would be helpful in relating to their own children. All three Sheil children eventually made COR retreats — and two of them served on the team.
For the weekend-long retreat, teen participants divide up into small groups of “families.”
The teens give talks, pray, and share whatever they feel comfortable sharing about their lives.
“It’s very relational. The kids want to share the good stuff and the bad stuff. Sometimes it’s easier to talk with people they don’t live with,” Pat says. The teens also participate in apostolic outreach to help others in the community.
Having participated in COR as both a teen and an adult, Sherry says, “Now as an adult it’s pretty cool to look at it with parents’ eyes.”
When she and Paul are out in the community, teenagers will greet them, “Hey, Mom Marvin and Dad Marvin,” because of COR’s family emphasis.
Georgia and Greg Gent are serving their fifth year as a parent-couple for the COR retreat at Holy Trinity Parish in Keota, held in the former Keota Catholic High School. This year, they’re the lead couple. Their daughter’s experience led them to COR.
“Our daughter had gone, and she spoke highly of it,” Georgia says. “We both definitely agreed it’s the best thing we’ve ever volunteered for.”
The retreat draws teenagers from a number of communities in and near Keota. “By the end of the weekend, they’re all friends with each other. It’s just a real, loving experience for kids,” she says.
This year’s retreat in Keota, scheduled for March 27-29, can accommodate up to 50 participants. Each year, it fills to capacity.
“Last year, about 40 percent of the kids there weren’t even Catholic. It’s sponsored by the Catholic Church — that’s pretty awesome. I think it’s a great thing our church offers,” Georgia adds. “We’ve had kids come who were nonbelievers and they kind of changed their mind at the end of the weekend.”
St. Patrick Parish in Ottumwa will host a COR retreat March 14-16. Anna Hanson, religious education director and youth minister at St. Patrick’s and St. Mary of the Visitation Parish in Ottumwa, has been involved in COR with her husband, Steve, for about 13 years. He is principal of Ottumwa High School.
Anna says her husband enjoys doing COR because “he gets to see a different side of the kids.”
Some years are easier than others, depending on the participants’ receptivity to the message, she says. But at the end of every COR, when each teenager gets up to talk about what he or she has gotten out of it, “you can see that it’s been a weekend full of activities, full of prayer and full of different talks and communication with their own peers.”