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Highlights from the First Annual AICSN Winter Retreat

by Collin Gortner

Attendees of the AICSN Winter Retreat

Image of Mary at Franciscan Renewal Center in Scottsdale, ArizonaTwenty-five educators from ten schools that serve Native American student populations gathered in Scottsdale, Arizona, in early March for the first annual American Indian Catholic Schools Network (AICSN) Winter Retreat. This convening, which was held at the Franciscan Renewal Center, was designed to promote spiritual reflection and community building among AICSN educators. This article will provide readers with a glimpse into the retreat and spotlight insights from retreat attendees.

The three pillars of ACE — faith, community, and discipleship — served as the animating theme of the AICSN Retreat. Attendees reflected on these themes through Mass, retreat talks, small group conversations, and paired walks. Thetna Weston, the principal of Maȟpíya Lúta/Red Cloud Middle School noted that “centering the retreat on the three pillars of ACE, and tying those pillars into Scripture and our personal experiences was powerful.”  

Members of AICSN schools walking at Franciscan Renewal Center in ScottsdaleFr. Lou DelFra, C.S.C. celebrated an opening Mass and closing Mass, and retreat talks were given by Thetna Weston, Sr. Kathleen Carr, C.S.J., and Will Newkirk. Representatives of three AICSN schools participated in a panel discussion on faith and spirituality in their school communities. April Morago from St. Peter’s Indian School, Kyleigh Blacksmith from Wakȟáŋ Owáyawa-Our Lady of Lourdes, and Brother Dylan Perry, F.S.C. from De La Salle Blackfeet School served on the panel. Additionally, Katie Ward, an ACE 26 graduate, led an evening prayer session at an Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine on the retreat center grounds that focused on the Indigeneity of Juan Diego and included prayers in Native languages. Brother Dylan Perry noted that “the Retreat was organized well to get us to go deep together quickly.”

Outside of the formal programming, attendees shared group meals, visited a local botanical garden, and hiked at the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. These events provided attendees with opportunities to build community. Community building is especially important in AICSN, where educators work in geographically remote schools. As Weston described, “We are all walking the same walk and sometimes it feels alone. But when you go to an AICSN event and you know that others are experiencing the same things, you’re able to connect meaningfully, and it makes your job not feel so isolated.” 

One attendee noted, “Every speaker, homily, and group discussion was meaningful, inspiring, and gave me such joy and inspiration.” Another attendee said, “The retreat was very helpful in finding myself again and being able to reflect on everyday life challenges.”

Members of AICSN schools at Franciscan Renewal Center in ScottsdaleThetna Weston said that she felt like she was returning home with a “feeling of renewal.” Similarly, Brother Dylan Perry said that the retreat was a valuable opportunity to “understand yourself more and your role in this ministry, connect with people who do similar work in similar contexts” and he emphasized that “you come away feeling energized and you feel like you’re part of something a little bit bigger than you might have realized before.”

We were grateful to gather with this wonderful group of educators in March, and we are looking forward to the second AICSN Winter Retreat in March of 2025. As with all things, the best is yet to come

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