Kairos has become rather ubiquitous whenever BC High is mentioned, yet with COVID-19 and its restrictions, it must have changed a tremendous amount. The following is an interview of Mr. Mark and Ms. Killorin in Campus Ministry. I am extremely grateful that they took time out of their days to be willing to meet and respond to these questions. Hearing them and eventually transcribing their responses has been really informative and engaging, so I hope you will feel the same.
Q: Normally, for students who don’t know, what has occurred in Kairos in the past?
Mr. Mark: “Traditionally, Kairos has been a four-day retreat that takes place down at the Cape. Typically, the kids would leave after school on Wednesday and arrive back here in Boston on Saturday afternoon. So, this year, we changed that obviously. We’ve scaled it down so it begins Friday morning, and then it concludes Saturday evening.”
Ms. Killorin: “Well, I can’t say everything that happens because we do like to keep a portion of it as a surprise… We hear talks from all of the adult leaders and the student leaders, who share their life experiences and talk about different aspects of their life depending on which talk it is that they’re giving. Then we break off into small groups and reflect on what we’ve heard and share from our own experiences and stories. And I think that it is really quite moving for students… [to see] adults, specifically teachers and staff members, people they look up to, take down those walls and speak so truly of themselves and show their vulnerability.
“On every retreat we try to incorporate some fun… some outside time. Especially these days. On this last one we went hiking in the Blue Hills… experiencing God in nature and the joy of being out in nature is an awesome part when we’re able to do that. There’s games; we always have some downtime where students can play board games or ping pong, or if it’s a place before COVID, some touch football… When do you get to play?… And even if it’s a sport or something like that, it’s structured time. And for a lot of students, while they enjoy it, there’s also a lot of stress with that. So this is just like stress-free, having fun, bonding with someone who maybe was in your class for four years but never actually spoke with. It’s really enjoyable and meaningful at the same time.”
Q: To what extent have restrictions due to COVID-19 impact the overall planning of this year’s retreat?
Mr. Mark: “We have to think about how we do the work of retreats. So like the large groups, small groups, how we have conversations. We have to make sure we all have a mask, and we are all distanced. And that affects what kinds of spaces we could use: for everything… All those really important aspects of being on retreat, you just have to make sure they’re done in a safe manner.
Ms. Killorin: “Normally, we would be running it not at school… The retreat center was closed, and because they wouldn’t be able to provide their services with the COVID regulations, you can’t have six students sleeping in one bedroom. Another big issue, too, was that they weren’t providing their food in the dining hall. We looked into a bunch of different ones, and they had the same problems for all of them. So it came to us that we set up really great COVID restrictions within our building, in terms of the plexiglass, the spacing of six feet. If we were able to limit the number of students, that would be great. We could bring in food from the outside.”
Mr. Mark: “For sleeping, our big idea that sparked everything was that we decided we’re going to put everybody in a tent. That way, you can have kids in the same realm, the same basic space. In a tent, it’s like a body mask: Everybody’s protected. We began the year by putting tents outside on the practice field outside of Cadigan. So I think the students really liked that because how often do you get to sleep in a tent outside?… We [at Campus Ministry] bought sleeping bags… everything that kids might need to do this.”
Ms. Killorin: “When the weather was nice, we were able to do that outside, which is even better because you are getting more ventilation. Then this last month, because it was cold and humid that night, we did it at McNiece, which is a big, open space with great ventilation… Then [we were] just being really mindful throughout the retreat of hand sanitizing… [making sure that students] only had their mask down when eating behind plexiglass, or on the hike when they were spaced out, single-file, or if they needed a mask break while hiking… I think that students have gotten really used to a lot of the protocols with the masks, so it was not as hard as it was in the beginning.”
Q: When the quarantine hit around March, how did that affect prior planning of Kairos?
Ms. Killorin: “We got really lucky last year in that our last Kairos retreat was in early March. So we were able to run our full Kairos retreat program last year. Then this year when we were really wrapping our brains around, ‘How do we offer a retreat program?’ We were really committed to offering these experiences to students, and we know how important they are. And how much more important they even became in COVID. “That social piece [in campus] is really, really missing. So it became more important than ever.”
Mr. Mark: “We had to cancel retreats, we had to cancel trips. That was not a good experience; we knew that a lot of kids were isolated. And so we started thinking over the summer how we could adapt.”
Q: Do you think that students are losing vital parts of the Kairos experience because of COVID-19?
Mr. Mark: “No, I don’t. I think our experience on the three Kairos retreats we’ve done has been that they’re fantastic retreats, that the kids are getting a lot out of them. And yes, it’s different and shorter, but they get more individual time from us (because it’s a smaller group), and I think because it’s a shorter time they’re showing up prepared because they’re ready to go right from the first moment, so they’re making use of kind of the entire time. I think they’ve been terrific experiences.”
Ms. Killorin: “Well, I don’t think that they are losing vital parts. I think we did a really good job with keeping the vital parts. The only thing that, I think, would be lost is just the time that students spend together, like 4 days versus 2 days. I think that time is important, and it’s nice to have more downtime, more hangout time. But it’s not vital. I think we managed to keep the vital aspects of the retreat, and they’ve been really successful.
“When we announced the last one, the one we just ran last weekend in December, it filled up in two days. I think students in the beginning were kind of apprehensive like ‘Ugh, is this going to be real Kairos? I don’t want a “knockoff” one.’ I think the word got out that it’s still awesome so it filled out really quickly.”
Q: What are some key similarities and differences between students’ experiences between this year and the past?
Mr. Mark: “A lot of our major themes within Kairos remain the same… We didn’t change the basic structure in terms of what happens… And I don’t think some of the fun parts of Kairos [have changed].”
Ms. Killorin: “I think that the connection piece is still happening, connecting with each other. Every retreat that we run has, at the heart of it, the same goal: looking at yourself in a new way, a new understanding of those around you and the relationships in your life, and a new view and understanding of God in your relationships, yourself, and your life. And that’s still happening in Kairos. New friendships and bonds are still happening, new discoveries and acceptance and love of your true selves are happening.”
Q: In a way, have the struggles of COVID-19 emphasized or underscored some of the retreat’s main themes or messages?
Mr. Mark: “Yeah. I think it’s something that the kids are very willing to talk about… How did it affect their family? How did it affect their mental health? [for example]”
Ms. Killorin: “I heard it coming up in what students share, like what they’re struggling with… [Their struggles] definitely seem to be amplified by the experience of being separated from their friends, students who may have already been struggling socially: It’s that much harder now… We hear everyday about more students struggling with remote learning or students opting to go full-remote because they’re struggling onsite.
“It definitely hasn’t changed the focus of the retreat, but it makes [the retreats] much more needed for students.”
Ms. Killorin: “I’ve been really, really happy that we’re able to offer [Kairos] to students. It feels good to know that we’re providing something that students need and want so much in their lives. I hope that we’re able to keep doing that.”
Mr. Mark: “It’s something that the whole community is committed to. Mr. Lewis, our principal, has said this is a priority for him, to allow the students to do it. Our buildings and grounds people, the maintenance workers at the school, support us tremendously by making sure that things are clean and sanitized. And the parents are great. Parents could be really worried about their sons on retreat and saying ‘No, I don’t think you should go because I don’t think it’s going to be safe,’ but the parents have said, ‘No, you should go because this is a great experience and we want you to have this.’ It’s not just Campus Ministry, but we’re supported by all these other people. That makes it worthwhile.”