Fr. Jack leads students into wilderness of Wyoming
"The love of spiritual beauty can be of such a nature that in it I do not envy others. Rather, I wish to multiply its lovers so that they may aspire to it with me, search for it with me, possess it with me, and enjoy it with me. They will be so much more friends for me insofar as our beloved is more fully shared by all of us"- Saint Augustine (Soliloquies 1, 13, 22)
By Fr. Jack Tierney, O.S.A.
In July of 2022, I served as the Chaplain for the PEAK Program of Wyoming Catholic College. PEAK offers rising High School Juniors and Seniors the opportunity to experience life at the College through outdoor programming and experiential learning. The program also exposed the students to the Catholic intellectual tradition as they studies philosophy and theology.
Each day in the afternoon, we had time for fun outdoor activities. Excursions included rappelling off a mountain face in Sinks Canyon, mountain climbing, horsemanship, dancing, or exploring the town of Lander, Wyoming. Students were exposed to challenging obstacles and formed friendships with people from all over the country.
My responsibilities as Chaplain included traditional activities celebrating Mass each day, leading prayers, and hearing confessions. I was privileged to also enjoy the many wilderness excursions that the PEAK program provided. I joined the students in rappelling and rock climbing. I shared in the joy of students who rode horses for the first time. But most of all, we got to go backpacking the Bridger-Teton National Forest.
We were accompanied by college students who were certified guides and instructors for the Backcountry. They taught us all the survival essentials - how to pack food, how to properly weight a backpack, how to prevent bear intrusions, how to pitch a tent, and yes … how to address bathroom needs in the wilderness. The program emphasized the “Leave No Trace” principle of hiking and to be aware of our impact on the environment. The College provided all the gear that we needed, and we headed off to God’s country.
I was blessed to travel with the women’s group. The instructors gave wise advice for a comfortable and backpacking experience. We were fortunate to enjoy delicious meals like macaroni and cheese and deserts like cheesecake and apple crumble!
We spent 4 days and three nights in the Backcountry. We encountered beautiful vistas, rivers, meadows, and mountain peaks. The most stunning views were of the Grand Teton Mountain range. We hiked to the top of a parallel ridge, and had lunch. Then we stacked the girls’ backpacks into a makeshift altar and celebrated Mass with time afterwards for Eucharistic Adoration. With the majestic backdrop, we shared in the timeless sacrifice of Christ on the altar. Together as fellow travelers, we received strength and nourishment by sharing Christ’s Body and Blood. I spoke about the beauty of Creation in the Book of Genesis, and how Saint Augustine encountered God in the true, the beautiful, and the good. It was truly a “mountaintop” experience – where we encountered God in the natural wonder of His Creation.
Wyoming Catholic College offers this outdoor experience to help expose the faithful to the beauty of Creation. An inspirational figure is Blessed Pier Giogio Frassati. He encountered Christ in the beauty of Nature, and evangelized his companions through his mountain climbing and outdoor travels. He was named a patron of young adults in the Church. I highly recommend joining Wyoming Catholic College for one of their High School programs. They also offer additional programming through the affiliated organization Catholic Outdoor Renewal. God transforms out hearts through new experiences – so if you haven’t recently – go outside! God is there.