A Little Child Shall Lead Them

Peer mentors are key to youth leadership program at the Jericho House.
Well-known for their effortless blend of leadership, social and ecological justice and spirituality, Jericho House retreats are held in the 18-bedroom facility situated on 17 picturesque acres in southern Ontario, on the border of Lake Erie.

For over 25 years, Jericho House in Wainfleet, ON has galvanized young leaders through a unique model as dynamic and effective today as it ever was. Sr. Mary Jacqueline Keefe and Br. Bill Carrothers facilitate TORCH Leadership Retreats, training sessions and conferences developed around their belief in the dignity and giftedness of young people.

“Our retreats are not sitting and listening to experts, they’re about interacting with inherent leaders. We are here to enhance the leadership that’s already there.”

-Sr. Jacquie

The TORCH model has nurtured and empowered hundreds of young leaders over decades, and though the issues students face have changed with time, the model continues to work because of its core element —peer leadership.

The program begins with students nominated by school principals. “The principals often ask if we want student council leaders,” Br. Bill said. “We tell them, yes, but we’d also like kids who come into the school through different doors, or on different buses,” recognizing that many young leaders have not yet emerged in traditional roles.

The nominated students complete specialized peer ministry training that invites them to practice inclusive, collaborative leadership and affirms their spirituality. These peer leaders are critical to the TORCH model as they lead small group discussions, navigate their peers through the retreat sessions and become a resource for post-retreat school projects. Sr. Jacquie stresses that the program does not train students to be future leaders. “They are not leaders in the future, they are leaders in the now.”

There are four sequential TORCH levels, each for a specific age group and intent, led by the trained peer leaders. TORCH 1 for young people ages 12 to 14 affirms and nurtures the participants’ inherent leadership through large and small group interaction. The next step, TORCH 2, invites participants ages 15 and older to begin assessing their leadership qualities and puts them to work in a community-building context. In the third and fourth levels, those 16 years and older practice their leadership skills, develop concrete action plans and respond to needs in their community.

The TORCH series is flexible and can incorporate unique elements as needed. For example, a school district that had a Six Nations educational program featured indigenous culture including drumming and dancing in the retreat.

The Secret of Success

“There are no adults in our small groups,” Br. Bill said. “It’s the main feature of TORCH. Teachers and principals sometimes have a problem with that.” He recounts a teacher who insisted on participating in the small groups, but had to step away to take a call. “When he came back and heard the group’s discussion led by the peer leader, he backed away and said ‘They’re doing it better than I could.’ He was moved to tears in his humility.” Sr. Jacquie agreed. “We underestimate the power of the Spirit in confirmation. Leadership starts in school, comes to Jericho to be enhanced, then goes back to the community where we see young leaders bearing much fruit.”

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Serving where needed since 1874

Founded in Poland in 1855, the Felician Sisters are a congregation of women religious inspired by the spiritual ideals of their foundress, Blessed Mary Angela Truszkowska, and Saints Francis of Assisi, Clare of Assisi and Felix of Cantalice. Arriving in North America in 1874 following Blessed Mary Angela’s directive “to serve where needed,” they helped to weave the social service system. Today, the Felician Sisters founded, sponsor or support through the presence of our sisters, more than 40 ministries – all continuing to evolve to meet the needs of the people they serve.

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