The drive was actually very pleasant. We did not go the way "Google" suggested but instead took a nice drive through the lovely Ohio farmlands and lakes. It was very pleasant and the traffic was not too bad. Stopping for a picnic lunch by one of the lakes was a nice start to our Steubie adventure as it got us out of the car for a bit and started to form some cohesiveness in the group.
One girl started to sit by herself to eat her lunch and so I invited her to sit over at our table. It seemed to me that one of my jobs should be to see to it that no one felt left out and that we all were responsible for one another.
When we arrived I could see that the parking attendants were getting slammed with all the cars and buses arriving. We were all required to check in at the same spot so the parking lot was getting very full, very fast. The actual checking in experience this year took a long, long time. Our youth group leader said it was a lot quicker in years past and I am not sure why it was longer this year. But because it took extra time and we weren't prepared for it, we missed mass the first day, which was kind of a bummer. I wondered why mass wasn't later with adoration immediately afterwards, but they didn't and so we missed it. My suggestion here would be to get most of it done over the internet so that the leaders would only have to get the tags and wrist bands, perhaps even meeting authorities at the actual dorms so that traffic is more dispersed throughout the campus instead of jammed in one spot. Of course, since this was the first conference of the season, I'm sure they'll get better at this procedure as the weeks go on.
Next came checking into our accommodations - these are notoriously bad. Mr. Pete had to sleep on the floor several times as a chaperon and I was praying that I wouldn't have to! Our youth minister figured out that if you go earlier in the summer there are fewer people, which is why we went last weekend, so the girls for the most part, did not have to sleep on the floor and neither did the female chaperons!
The boys had a different experience. 15 of them including chaperons were stuffed into a dinky little town house with only one bathroom and two beds. Really- for the money the kids and the parents pay, it was a little disconcerting that the college can't make sure that the accommodations are more reasonable. I think this is something they need to be a bit more sensitive to, and since I have heard about this a lot before it seems to be an ongoing problem.
Food was interesting. In years past, one son or another would complain that they weren't getting enough to eat. I'm not sure why. The food hall is set up cafeteria style so that you go through, grab a paper bag, and then fill it full of the stuff in boxes along the way - this included granola bars, cookies, little snack cakes, and apples - lots of apples! There was usually a salad (iceberg lettuce with two slices of cucumber and a cherry tomato) and then a hot entree at the end. The first night that was rice and two egg rolls, the second night was hamburgers. Breakfasts included a hot folded omlet and a breakfast pizza. Overall it wasn't that bad, but it was a little challenging if you were trying to eat healthier.
When we got to the field house after dinner we were met by an aisle of Steubenville assistants, young college students who were there to greet us with high fives and hoots and hollers of welcome! This was very exciting and uplifting the first night! It was exciting and uplifting the second night! But it was annoying at 8:30 in the morning for the morning sessions. Maybe the kids didn't think so but I was like, "really? again?!!" I will say though that all of these young assistants were very helpful and kind throughout the weekend and they were especially reverent when the priest processed in with the monstrance.
The music was uplifting and motivating. Bob Rice really rocked the place all weekend long - unless he was moving the crowd during mass and adoration. This man is a truly gifted Catholic musician. Below is a Youtube video of the very last song of the weekend - it's not representative of the quality of music (everyone was tired by this point and voices and bodies were exhausted!) but it is representative of the heart and soul that was behind all the music the entire weekend.
My only thought on the music was that there was too much of it! Some of the talk time got cut so that they could do more praise music. But it may be that they felt the teens needed a break from the talk intensity and that music helped with that.
The speakers were very gifted in reaching out to young people. Our speakers included Chris Stefanick, the lovely Sister Miriam Heidland, the very funny Chris Padgett , and Father Chris Martin.
Here is an example of Chris Stefanick's key note - this is one he did last year.
We also did a breakout session for boys and a different one for girls. I was particularly interested in these because I wanted and needed them to stress the merits of chastity and purity to my teens. I think in different ways each of my kids have gotten that message and it has helped them in their early adult years.
Sister did the girls' talk this year and she stressed loving yourself and seeing yourself as beautiful. Here is a sample of one of sister's talks. Some of the content is the same.
Out of three masses at Steubenville, I only managed to get to one! We were too late for the Friday mass, and on Sunday one of our kids had a terrible migraine headache, and so I saw beside his bed in the First Aid department until he was feeling better. But the mass I did get to attend was celebrated by the new Bishop of Steubenville in person! and he did a great job of speaking to the attendees during his homily.
Confessions were available at many times during the conference. One of our girls wanted to go and had no one go to with, so I accompanied her to the chapel for confession. That was also organized very well. You basically sit in the pews and keep moving down until it is your turn for confession. There were at least six priests hearing confessions while I was there so the line moved pretty swiftly. Our new parochial vicar said it was an honor and really exhilarating to minister to the youth in that way.
And then there was adoration - the high point of the weekend. Mr. Pete and the older boys had told me about this - how it was so spiritually uplifting and so, so powerful. In the past Mr. Pete had seen some of the kids slain in the spirit. I didn't see that this year, but the kids were all very reverent, many were crying, a few were in a state of ecstasy, and most were on their knees in deep prayer. It was a very deep and moving experience. The words "You art all good and deserving of all my love" kept going through my own mind over an over again. At the very least, it was quite something to be in a room with over 2000 teenagers who are quiet that we could hear the crickets chirping outside. That in itself was a miracle.
On the last day there was breakfast, packing and then mass. One of the last things they do for the weekend is ask young men who are even thinking a little bit about the priesthood to come forward so that we could pray over them. Two of our young men went up including my son, Noah. For young ladies considering the sisterhood, one young lady went up. So out of our group of 24, we had three considering vocations, which is a very good start.
It's taken me a few days to recover and contemplate the experience, but I am definitely glad that we have sent our kids to this conference all of these years, and I am also grateful that I finally got a chance to go myself!