Reflecting on TEC retreats of the 1960s and ’70s

By Dan Russo

Witness Editor

CASCADE — Young people who participatedin the Teens Encounter Christ (TEC) program in the 1960s and ‘70s hada chance to explore their faith at a time of major change in the Catholic Church.

The first retreats in the Archdiocese of Dubuque took place in 1967-1968, not long after the Second Vatican Council. Katie McGuire, a participant in TEC No. 2, the first one offered for girls, remembers it as a profound weekend of growth.

“TEC, for me, was the first time I remember the church, my religion and even Jesus becoming personal,” recalled McGuire. “Growing up and attending Catholic schools in the ’50s and ’60s, the religion classes I remember in grade school at Sacred Heart,  Fillmore, were memorizing the Baltimore Catechism and learningLatin. High school classes at Aquin High School were more about learning church doctrine. During TEC, Jesus became more the person we could relate and talk to. Talking to Jesus alone or with others was altogether a new idea to me.”

McGuire grew up on a farm near Sacred Heart Parish in Fillmore and went on to Clarke University after high school. The fall of her first year in college, she served on TEC as part of an organizing team and she went on to assist with several “Searches,” a similar retreat program for college students. As life moved forward for McGuire after college, she started a family and became a teacher, retiring recently from Aquin Catholic School in Cascade.

The impact of the three-day retreat she took as a high school senior has reverberated throughout the years.

“I believe the TEC taught me to better see and think of the Jesus in everyone,” she said. “I think that helped me in dealing with my own children and students.”Every TEC retreat is assigned a number. As of this week there’s been 571 in the archdiocese, involving generations of teens and organizers. Each one is special. Just ask Steve Schulte if you need proof. It’s been 45 years since Schulte made his TEC weekend (No. 48) in 1972 at Don Bosco High School in Gilbertville.

“My classmate talked me into going,” he remembers. “It was a great experience.”

Schulte recalled being reluctant at first to go on the retreat because it was the same weekend as a big game between rivals LaSalle and Regis high schools, but in the end, it was worth it.

“You can help people in trouble with your faith,” he said. “You hear people talk about what they’re struggling with. It’s a spiritual experience, a learning experience and a social experience all in one.”

At the time of his TEC, Schulte was a senior at LaSalle High School in Cedar Rapids. He still lives and works in the city and gives credit to the retreat for helping him form a life-long passion for his faith.

“(TEC) brings you closer to God, Jesus, to the whole trinity,” said Schulte. Father Mark Ressler, now pastor at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Hiawatha, was another participant in the early TEC movement. He attended the first-ever TEC in 1968 as a student.

TEC combines a series of talks by presenters with table discussions and the opportunity to attend Mass and partake in the sacrament of reconciliation. Participants stick with their table throughout the weekend, with facilitators in each group to help foster conversation and prayer.

“In those days, every table had a priest at it and a layman,” remembered Father Ressler. “I was already thinking about being a priest. (TEC) reaffirmed that.”

The priest stayed active in helping to plan and put on TECs over the years and later, Christian Experience Weekends (CEWs). He remembers his TEC as particularly groundbreaking in that it reflected some of the changes in the liturgy, music and approach to faith formation that came out of Vatican II. As someone who grew up in the pre-Vatican II church, Father Ressler found it surprising to witness things that we take for granted today, likethe addition of the English language to the Mass.

“I was on the cutting edge of change in the church,” he said.

TEC came to the archdiocese after local priests made a trip to Techny, Illinois, to the headquarters of the Society of the Divine Word, a missionary religious order, to take part in a TEC retreat and learn how to stage them. The group included Fathers Dennis Colter, Joe O’Brien and Joe Herard.

Over the years the TEC program has evolved in many ways, such as going from single-sex to coed retreats, and from being mostly organized by priests to now laypeople, according to Father Ressler. The core principals of fostering an encounter with Christ and having fellowship with other Christians, however, have stayed the same. These concepts have been carried over into other, newer youth-directed retreats that are also popular today, such as the National Catholic Youth Conference and Kairos, another program that is held in the archdiocese.

“You’re meeting people you wouldn’t normally meet and seeing that they have a faith life too,” said Father Ressler.

As the retreat marks 50 years in the archdiocese in 2018, those who took part in its first 20 years have a chance to look back at an experience which, for many of them, truly was an encounter with Christ.

“I am so happy that TEC has endured 50 years and that thousands have gotten to experience Christ in a different, personal way,” reflected McGuire. “I’m thankful to those who’ve kept this alive for the young people.”

This article is the second in a series on the Teens Encounter Christ program that The Witness is doing to mark its 50th anniversary. The next part will focus on retreats of the 1980s and 1990s, along with coverage of more of this year’s retreats. If you have any stories you’d like to share about TEC, please contact us at 563-588- 0556 or via email at dbqcwit@dbqarch.org.

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