Cardinal Stritch University will offer a San Damiano Encounter from July 24-29. (Submitted photo)

A few years ago, Cardinal Stritch University received a grant from the Lilly Foundation to put together a theological institute for high school students. The San Damiano Encounter is named for a 12th Century church and monastery near Assisi, where St. Clare built her community. Realizing that vocations do not grow overnight, this program aims to plant the seeds of a life in ministry before students head to college through a week-long retreat and leadership training.

Grace Dow, who attended the program in 2018, said, “You will make those lifelong friends you never thought you would have, and you’ll grow closer to Christ, whether you thought you would or you wouldn’t.”

This year’s retreat will take place from July 24-29 and walk students through the life of St. Francis and St. Clare.

The journey to Assisi is not attainable for everyone. Time, travel and expenses make for a true sacrifice for any potential pilgrim. Bringing the Assisi experience to Milwaukee, staff at Stritch’s St. Clare center uses the Franciscan story as its focus to integrate our faith and how students think about ministry into leadership developments.

Gino Grivetti, Stritch’s director of university ministry, said they “are looking for students who I would describe as spiritual seekers. And by that, I mean, these are not the students who would normally be going on your average parish’s mission trip.”

The goal of this program is to help create future leaders in lay ministry, but their real hope in the short term is that these teens go back to their parishes and get involved again — that the encounter could be something that kind of ignites a faith commitment, that they can take back and perhaps start something at their home parish.

This program is for high school students who will have finished 10th, 11th or 12th grade and will explore connections between your questions and concerns, current issues, and the theological tradition of the Catholic Church.

The staff is excited to be able to conduct this year’s program in person, on campus, and to offer overnight stays in Stritch’s dorms. They are working with the school and the local health department to implement all necessary safety protocols.

Financial aid is available, and the cost to students will only be $50. Transportation may be available. There is room for 24 students.

To learn more about the pilgrimage, visit or contact Gino Grivetti at or 414-410-4722.