Students attending the Catholic Leadership Camp paddle past a rockface (pictured) rising from the water with a clear image of Christ on the Cross. Photo courtesy Luke Stocking

Finding Jesus in the rock of community

  • August 31, 2023

We are last to push off from the shore into Oxbow Lake. I am in a canoe with Steph and Ava, two high school students from the Toronto Catholic District School Board. Ahead of us are 30 other TCDSB students ranging from Grades 10-12. For many of them it is their first time paddling a canoe. We are bringing up the rear to ensure no one goes astray. Leading the pack at the front is Greg Rogers, founder of this week-long Catholic Leadership program at Camp Olympia near Huntsville, Ont. He is taking us all to see Jesus.

Greg has always gone out on the lake on his own early in the morning for personal prayer and meditation. Near the end of the lake there is a 40-foot rockface rising out of the water. One morning many years ago, he noticed something in the shape and colour tone of the rock. Carved by retreating glaciers, and weathered over thousands of years, was the clear image of Jesus on the Cross. It became a place where he could meet Jesus and talk to Him in prayer.

But he did not keep this “rock of the faith” to himself. He did what any good Catholic who encounters Jesus should, he shared Him with others. These 30 students we are canoeing out with are the most recent among the hundreds of people that Greg has shared this special and sacred place with.

I have been a partner with Greg in this Catholic Leadership Camp, which promotes the Ontario Catholic Graduate Expectations, since 2009. Greg did not just invite me though. He invited my whole family to come and share in the beauty of the place. We have been coming together here every year since. The invitation is core to Greg’s ethos — camp is a place to nurture family and build community.

Since becoming a director at DPCC, I have deepened our commitment to the camp, bringing my whole Ontario staff team here and leading as many as eight sessions during the week. We use the See, Judge, Act method of social engagement to focus their formation on the spirituality and practice of Catholic Social Teaching.

Being more deeply engaged in the camp is a blessing. You get to see a collection of students who barely know each other develop into a true community of young leaders who will have an impact on their Catholic school communities and beyond. The camp is designed to help them to get to know and trust each other. It starts with something as simple as learning each other’s names by tossing a frisbee around while waiting for each session to start.

Catholic leadership camp is probably the week that I have the most people ask me “can I help you with that?” in whatever I am doing.  This is because the leadership they learn is a servant leadership, the type of leadership embodied in the person of Jesus. The students come to learn that the fruit of this servant leadership is not a bunch of people who follow you. The fruit is the formation of community and the promotion of the common good. Through the camp they learn to live a life of solidarity, which means, as Pope Francis says, “thinking and acting in terms of community.”

Solidarity is also what makes the camp affordable for all the students who are here. Attending a well-resourced camp is not cheap (and Camp Olympia has it all — zip-lining, rock-climbing, a giant swing, high ropes courses — you name it!). These students have all been supported by the TCDSB to attend the camp free of charge. In other years, students from other school boards have also been supported to attend the camp and there have been as many as 80 students there. As we emerge out of COVID, I am hopeful that level of support will return.

On the last full day of camp, the students make a small retreat to the beautiful Dyer memorial in the middle of the woods off-site. During the retreat, Greg has the students write a letter to Jesus. I write my own letter, “Dear Jesus, I am happy Greg found you in the Rock and I am grateful that you nourish his Spirit in the mornings. I am grateful that he does not keep you to himself but shares you with the world — with me especially and with the young people here at this camp.”

(Stocking is Deputy Director of Public Awareness & Engagement, Ontario and Atlantic Regions, for Development and Peace.)

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