September 5, 2013
“You cannot love or choose what you don’t know.”
This simple fact is what inspired Jerome Richter, along with Monsignor James Shea and Monsignor Chad Gion, to establish the Cor Christi Institute, a program intended to educate youth on the basics of the Catholic faith before they celebrate the sacrament of confirmation.
Realizing that many students were getting confirmed without having an actual relationship with Christ, the group brainstormed ways to equip students with the information they need in order to know and love their Catholic faith.
“Cor Christi began out of a movement of a couple very generous priests’ hearts,” said Jerome Richter, who taught at Saint Mary’s Central High School in Bismarck for 11 years before being named director of public affairs at the University of Mary in 2010. Through their work with students, the group began looking for a way to bring all the students together to learn the basics of the faith from highly qualified instructors.
“And then when Msgr. Shea came to the University of Mary [as president in 2009], he said, ‘Here’s the opportunity. We have the resources, we have the facilities, we have the manpower to do this,’” said Richter. Cor Christi was born.
The first Cor Christi hosted at UMary included 40 kids. Now in its fourth year, 150 students stayed on campus for five nights and took in classes on topics ranging from faith and reason to the Holy Trinity.
“It’s fun to watch the priests explain it,” said Coltyn Nelson, a junior at Dickinson Trinity High School. “Some people see the priests and think they’re old-school, strict and serious. But the priests walk in and you see the zeal. They’re pumped because they know what they’re talking about and what it means. It’s beautiful to watch them and they have fun with it. They’re already on fire, and it’s nice to see that.”
Whether students attend home school, a public school or a Catholic school, the institute is meant for everybody. Plus, it captures the attention of the students during the summer when their minds are fresh, Richter said, which isn’t always the case with ordinary faith formation classes held on evenings during the school year.
“In six days, in about 60 hours, we want them to encounter Christ, to come to know Him. If they know Him, now we can reasonably expect them to put their faith in Him and to love Him. Until then, we’re fools to think that young people are going to all of a sudden be faithful and go to Mass and live a good life,” Richter said.
Each instructor at Cor Christi has a master’s degree or more and has taught in some capacity, Richter said. On day one, students are given a test. The test is given again on the last day and the results are sent to the students’ pastors back home.
“The pastors can use that as preparation and to see if these kids are ready to be confirmed and if they took it seriously,” said Richter. A number of parishes now require their students to attend the institute as part of their pre-confirmation program.
In addition to “sounding cool” because it is Latin for “heart of Christ,” Richter said the name of the institute has great significance.
“We want to get them in connection with the heart of Christ, so we use the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The Sacred Heart of Jesus is what we’re all made for. It reminds us that our faith is not some moral guideline—it’s not just some ritual practice. It’s about a person. Most intimately, it’s about Jesus’ Heart and our hearts aligning with His, desiring the same thing.”
Throughout the event, priests hear confessions, the students pray morning and evening prayer, pray the rosary and attend Mass each day. Time is also set aside for movie night, campfires and other fun activities.
“I promise you they’re going to get something out of it,” Richter vowed. “I sit through the classes each time and I’m learning, so they’re going to learn too.”