OSHKOSH — Youth 2000, a national weekend retreat program for youth ages 13 to 25, will be held in Oshkosh Sept. 28-30, led by the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal.
The weekend offers lively music, faith and fellowship, and is centered around eucharistic adoration, said Jean Keliher, who is organizing the event with her husband, Brian, with the assistance of their son, James, 15, and many volunteers from the three Oshkosh parishes.
St. Jude the Apostle, St. Raphael the Archangel and Most Blessed Sacrament parishes are hosting the retreat. The event aims to deepen relationships with Jesus Christ through talks, music, adoration, prayer, workshops, fellowship, the sacrament of reconciliation and the celebration of the Mass.
The Kelihers organized the event in honor of their daughter, Kendra, who suffered from a genetic disorder all of her life and died of cancer in 2016 at the age of 16.
When Kendra was 8 years old, she and James, then 5, first became acquainted with one of the friars who run the retreats, Fr. Terry Messer.
Fr. Messer maintained a relationship with the family and prayed for them daily, said Brian. Throughout her medical journey, which started at the age of 5, Kendra had longed to attend a Youth 2000 retreat, said Jean. When Kendra was 12, still a little too young to attend on her own, Messer invited her to attend a retreat in Illinois if a parent would accompany her. Her father went with her.
“It was a beautiful experience,” Brian said. “Kendra, during a beautiful portion of the Youth 2000, just started weeping. It became more and more intense. It wasn’t a crying that she was in pain or upset. It was just a beautiful connection.”
Fr. Messer explained to him that it was the “gift of tears,” an overflow of an intense, spiritual experience of God, and that Kendra was in a moment of grace.
“It was beautiful,” Brian said. “She was beaming but exhausted at the same time.” He said that while Kendra constantly suffered from chronic pain, she was in no pain at that time.
“It was very healing and life-giving. She was an incredible witness, and she affected many other people who witnessed it,” he said. “God gifted her this genetic disorder, not to tear her down, but to be a witness to other people.”
Jean said that encouragement from their son, James, and the desire to honor Kendra’s experience led them to organize the retreat in Oshkosh Sept. 28-30. They had received several prompts from the Holy Spirit to organize the retreat, she said, and the final one came after a St. Jude holy hour on the one-year anniversary of Kendra’s funeral.
“A young lady who had attended Youth 2000 about 10 years ago approached me saying, ‘We really need a Youth 2000,’” Jean said. “It was clear that the Lord wanted this retreat.”
She said the Keliher family has heartfelt gratitude for the support they received during Kendra’s health battles. Because of the profound experience she had during Youth 2000, “we thought we wanted the share the opportunity with others,” Jean said.
“We are doing this (retreat) in Kendra’s honor and to give everybody the hope and experience of God’s grace,” she said. “So many teens and young adults are seeking the true light of Christ. As parents, we grieve the loss of our daughter while finding hope in helping bring Jesus, the true light, to shine his light in a place where there is such darkness.”
They expect about 150 young people from around the diocese and other states to attend to seek healing of whatever type they need and a deeper relationship with the Lord.
“It’s very powerful when combined with eucharistic adoration,” Jean said. “No matter the burden, no matter the cross, nothing is too much for our Lord to handle. Spending a weekend with him will give more peace, more joy and more love than anything else the world can give.
“Our hope is that each person will have a powerful and personal encounter with Jesus Christ. They will get to know and love Jesus as their friend and know how much he loves them,” she added. “The hope is their lives will be forever changed by this encounter, and they will be open to follow his call each and every day — to spend time with him in prayer and to be courageous evangelizers in this world, which is so much in need of Christ’s message of mercy and love.”