Stacey Leitmann, who founded HopeStone with her husband Peter, speaks to a group of students. Photo by Michael Dizon

HopeStone retreats put spotlight on youth

  • October 1, 2017

Stacey Leitmann was preparing herself for a tough day.

She was leading a Grade 12 class retreat when she saw a young boy walk in. He wanted to make it clear to everyone that he did not want to be there. As the students broke out into small groups for an activity, he was sullen and he was mean.

The goal of the activity was to demonstrate family challenges between poor, middle-class and wealthy families. As everyone began to work on their group’s “family budget,” all the boy wanted to do was cause trouble.

“This one young boy was so mean to everybody. It was almost as if he just wanted to cause havoc to his classmates,” said Leitmann. “When we did a debrief, this one girl (who spoke of her family’s poverty) sort of just broke down and said, ‘You don’t get it. This is what my family lives like in the Philippines….’ And this young boy just broke and he was like, ‘I never realized until right now, how mean and how selfish I am.’ ”

These are the moments of transformation that drove Leitmann and her husband Peter to found HopeStone Catholic Formation Inc. ( Through retreats and programs, they hope to not only catechize today’s young people, but to create opportunities for them to be transformed in their Catholic faith.

HopeStone speakers and retreat facilitators are trained in a range of programming for youth Grades 5 to 12, including retreats about identity, Christian leadership, the Sacrament of Confirmation and Catholic social teaching.

Since launching the organization in May 2015, HopeStone facilitators have organized more than 80 retreats at local schools, churches and retreat centres across southern Ontario.

“Our team is so important. Teens can sniff out (insincerity) like nobody’s business and we in the team need to show these young people, who would maybe never otherwise have a real encounter, the opportunity to have this encounter,” said Leitmann. “Most teenagers walk away and say thank you for being intense and authentic and you know, giving us the real information, the truth.”

Youth retreat ministry has always been the Leitmanns’ dream. It led them to pursue careers as youth ministers in the Archdiocese of Toronto. They met at a youth ministry studies certificate program at University of St. Michael’s College in University of Toronto in 2005. They have worked together for different youth ministries across the archdiocese for several years.

Now, as a married couple with two children, and as co-founders of HopeStone, they hope to create the same opportunities for young people.

“I think that we were very Spirit- led and know that God wanted us to reach those who are not involved in the parish level, that are in the Catholic education system and may never have the courage to go to a youth group setting or even church,” said Leitmann.

Although HopeStone is young, the 11-member team has already seen many lives transformed through the program.

About 95 per cent of the schools and parishes that booked a retreat in HopeStone’s first year booked more retreats last year and this year.

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