Youths at diocese-wide Abide in Me retreat assured ‘God desired you. Period.’

Phil Lee, director of the diocesan Office of Divine Worship, places a monstrance holding the Blessed Sacrament atop a tower of candles during a period of adoration at the Abide in Me youth retreat held Nov. 1-3 at Corpus Christi Catholic School in Bloomington. Father Eric Bolek, parochial vicar of St. Patrick Church of Merna, Bloomington, and St. Mary, Downs, is at right. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

BLOOMINGTON — In this age of brief texts and tweets, Father Matthew Hoelscher had a four-word message for high school youth from across the Diocese of Peoria who spent last weekend on a retreat at Corpus Christi Catholic School here.

“God desired you. Period,” he repeatedly emphasized during a homily on Nov. 2 at Abide in Me, a Eucharist-centered retreat that drew about 60 participants.

A monstrance holding the Blessed Sacrament is in the foreground as Karen Hertzner — a geometry and algebra teacher at Central Catholic High School in Bloomington — invites Abide in Me retreat participants to regularly read the Bible to hear Jesus speak to them. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

‘Before any of us ever knew him, before we even existed, God desired you,” said Father Hoelscher, chaplain of Alleman High School in Rock Island. “Not God desired you to do, not God desired you to have, or God desired you to proclaim. God desired you. Period.”

“That’s got to be tweetable or Snapchat-able,” said Father Hoelscher, in a nod to the popularity of social media to spread messages.

Father Hoelscher was principal celebrant of the second of three Masses offered during the Nov. 1-3 retreat, designed to promote knowledge and love of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. The Eucharist was exposed throughout much of the weekend atop a tower of candles in the center of the Corpus Christi School gym.


Through a series of talks and activities, the retreat — the third of its kind for the diocese’s high school youth — also inspired devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and encouraged the youth to consider what God is calling them to do with their lives.

One way to discover that is to set aside time daily for prayer, said Karen Hertzner. The geometry and algebra teacher at Central Catholic High School in Bloomington gave a talk on encountering Jesus in the Bible.

“You can’t be in a relationship with someone if you don’t speak with them,” she told the group, encouraging the youth to commit to 15 minutes a day in prayer and Bible reading. “Jesus can speak to you if you give him the chance by opening the book,” she said, suggesting that those just beginning to read the Bible should start with the Gospels.

Serving as master of ceremonies for the weekend was Sister M. Clementia, FSGM, director of religious education at St. Pius X Parish in Rock Island. Praise and Mass music throughout the retreat was led by a four-person band featuring recording artist and singer/songwriter Luke Spehar of St. Paul, Minnesota.


“We had a jam-packed feast day weekend with All Saints and All Souls days,” said Sister Clementia. “Celebrating these days of the Church in their full capacity was a great grace for the youth and, I think, defined the spiritual success of the weekend.”

Samantha O’Donnell of East Moline, a sophomore at Illinois State University in Normal, places a crown on a statue of Mary prior to the recitation of the rosary at the Abide in Me youth retreat on Nov. 2. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

“The union with the saints throughout the weekend was tangible,” agreed Katie Bogner, junior high faith formation teacher at St. Philomena School in Peoria and a member of the retreat’s planning team. Images of both ancient and modern saints who showed great devotion to the Eucharist were placed on the walls of the school gym-turned-sanctuary.

“We hope the teens left the retreat knowing that they are specifically called to be saints and can use their journey to boldly proclaim Christ,” said Bogner.

One of many highlights of Abide in Me weekends is a Saturday evening personal encounter with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament as a priest carries the monstrance and pauses at each youth participant for individual adoration.

“I witnessed these young people fully understand the immensity of our God and the intimacy that he desires with each of them,” said Sister Clementia.

In his Mass homily, Father Hoelscher told of his own life-changing encounter with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament during a retreat when he was in high school.

“There has yet to be a desire of my heart, a sorrow in my life, a question that I have, an experience that I’ve experienced, that Jesus Christ through the Eucharist given to us in the Church has not answered,” said Father Hoelscher. “I am convinced that the Lord is going to convict you through the Eucharist and through the sacraments this weekend that he desires you. Period,” he repeated one more time.

EDITOR’S NOTE: More photos from the retreat have been posted to an album on The Catholic Post’s site on Facebook.  

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