By Jennika Baines
SUN Assoc. Editor
Dozens of teenagers milled around the doorway and jostled each other in the seats. They laughed and chatted quietly as Peggy Perkins walked back and forth with informational sheets and a sign-in board.
But this was no classroom or club, instead students at Christian Brothers Academy (CBA) were waiting for their opportunity to have their confessions heard.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation was offered to students at CBA during Advent and again on March 30 as part of the school’s Lenten observance.
This is Perkins’ second year as director of campus ministry at CBA, and she said she was surprised by the turnout when the school offered the opportunity for confessions to be heard this past Advent. About 75 students turn up to that first confession. “I didn’t expect that many,” Perkins said.
When the confessions were offered again on March 30, about the same number showed up again. “We had some of the same people, but there were some new faces, too,” she said.
Perkins welcomed each of the students as they poured into the chapel and asked students if they needed a refresher on what to expect. She had sheets available with the Act of Contrition written on them in case the students had a little trouble remembering the words.
Msgr. Ronald Bill, a retired priest in residence at Immaculate Conception in Fayetteville, is one of the members of clergy who hear the confessions.
He said he thinks the confessions draw such high numbers of students for several reasons.
“I think part of it is that we usually hear them during times like Christmas and Easter, and I think there’s a greater attraction to the sacraments at that time,” Msgr. Bill said. “And Holy Week is a time of reflection and a time of being forgiven for our sins. Holy Week is just a wonderful time to feel the healing touch of the Lord, and I think that has a lot to do with people turning to confession.”
He said he finds that the older students tend to be more nervous than the younger ones. “I think maybe they might have a better understanding and they’ve had a bit more exposure to the faith,” Msgr. Bill said.
Msgr. Bill is from the CBA class of ‘49, and he said he remembers going to confession at the church across from the old school Willow Street. But he said it was something the students did on their own initiative, and he said he thinks the students benefit from being able to have their confessions heard right at school.
Perkins said it was important to her to establish opportunities for the Sacrament of Reconciliation because it is a fundamental aspect of the Catholic faith.
“Reconciliation is such an important sacrament and it’s kind of gone by the wayside,” she said. “I just wanted [the students] to have an opportunity to know that it’s such an important part of our faith.”
This opportunity is part of a larger campus ministry program that includes retreats, junior and senior peer ministry, social justice education workshops and fundraisers for various organizations in need. “I’m kind of impressed myself seeing some of the service opportunities that are offered to the kids,” Msgr. Bill said.
James Bruska, an eighth grader at CBA and a parishioner of St. Daniel Church in Syracuse, is a member of the peer ministry team. He’s just like many other eighth graders in that he plays soccer and snowboards, he’s excited to taking part in an upcoming rocket competition and he likes to play the saxophone.
But he also gets excited about his school and its ministry program. “I love it here. It’s like a community,” he said.
He rattled off some of the different things that the peer ministry program has been involved in in his time at the school, “But not only that,” he said, “we help each other to grow more in Christ.”
James said he thinks the confessions have become popular because there aren’t many opportunities to go to confession during the school year.
And he said he doesn’t really get nervous going in to speak with the priest.
“You go to confession because the priest isn’t really the one sitting there. It’s God acting through the priest,” James said. “He’s kind of like the tool for music, like a saxophone. You use the tool to express your feelings, you use that tool to show something greater. You know that he’ll forgive you and you know you’re heartily sorry so, I mean, why would you be afraid to go?”