How a “culture of conversion” transformed a Catholic high school

“As the years went by, we really started to articulate the retreat program better and better,” he said, adding that the retreats and pilgrimages are centered around daily Mass, small group discussions, and participants sharing their faith. 

Another of Fr. Hermes’ actions, Mitchell said, was to reshape the school’s theology department where the entire staff not only teaches Catholic doctrine, but has a “zeal for souls.”

Fr. Hermes said he works to ensure that all the school’s teachers are well-credentialed, believe in God, and adhere to the Church’s Magisterium – but also seeks to ensure that they are effective at reaching teenage men. 

As president of the school, Fr. Hermes said his role is to ensure that the school has a Catholic identity. 

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“That’s what motivates us. That’s the heart of who we are and why we’re here,” he said. 

Mitchell said a key factor in the campus’ “dynamic, orthodox, authentically Catholic culture” is the availability of the sacraments. Mass is offered daily, along with regular Eucharistic adoration and, on the first Friday of each month, confession is available all day to the young men. 

The school also seeks to emphasize beauty, Mitchell said. The school’s setting in the Florida landscape is itself beautiful, he noted, but its crown jewel is the newly-renovated, $10 million Romanesque chapel. 

The chapel, dedicated in 2013, was redesigned to encourage devotion to God. The renovation featured a larger space than before, with a clearly demarcated sanctuary, a prominent tabernacle and altar, a large 19th century stained glass window, elegant wooden pews, and numerous references to the Society of Jesus.

Father Hermes told CNA at the time of the dedication that he wanted the new chapel to “bespeak the sacred. When you walk in there, you’re gonna know this is a sacred space and a holy chapel.”

“The main vision was sacred space, and nobility, and make it a place where not only Mass is celebrated, but devotions, the rosary or Stations of the Cross,” Father Hermes said. 

In addition to organizing 18 annual retreats for the students, Mitchell and his fellow ministers facilitate peer groups among the young men. Groups of eight to 10 students convene regularly during lunch periods to discuss their faith, he said, engaging in vulnerable conversations about their struggles and sharing wisdom and counsel with each other. 

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He said many upperclassmen commit to acting as “peer ministers,” attending daily Mass and weekly confession, and spearheading the discipleship groups. 

One such leader is rising senior Jackson Graham, who serves as president of the school’s peer ministry club. He told CNA that he is considering options for college, as well as discerning the priesthood through the Jesuits. 

Though Graham grew up in a Catholic household, he said he somewhat drifted from his faith early in his high school career. Graham said the experience of the pandemic in 2020 helped him realize “how much worse my life was when I was not putting God first.”

Graham committed to daily Mass and daily rosaries to help with conquering vices. He said that returning to school in-person presented him an opportunity for a “new beginning.”

Throughout the rest of his high school career and beyond, Graham said he plans to continue daily prayer and attending daily Mass, and plans to maintain a men’s group where members can discuss the faith and hold each other accountable. 

“Don’t be afraid to cast your net out and really start diving into your faith. The Lord gives you the courage you need, and it’s attractive,” Graham said. 

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