Franciscan LEAD: What is it, and why is it worth advocating?

I first witnessed Jesus, present in the Eucharist, at Steubenville Atlanta as a 14-year-old girl. I saw Him in His glory and I knew there was no going back. Over the years, my relationship with Him wavered; I didn’t know how to relate to Him, except with my hands in the air and, of course, bawling my eyes out. But, I just knew that the Jesus I experienced in that conference center was true and real. So, I kept seeking…

It was three years later in a side chapel at a “normal” parish in Rochester, Minnesota that I met Him for the first time in relationship. God didn’t speak loud or clear, I received no apparitions or healing, but I truly encountered God in every aspect of my day – at meals, through the people, through prayer, Mass, conversation, service of one another. He was so present; He was so tangible. It was that week that I realized God is not meant to be “fit” neatly into my day but rather I need to make my life all about Him. Every. Single. Aspect.

I’d love to tell you that I discovered God in relationship miraculously one day on my own, but that would be a big lie. I was on a retreat. And what the people on this retreat had to teach me was transforming. God spoke so beautifully through them. This retreat (at the time) was called Young Apostles, which is now called LEAD. You may have heard of it.

What is LEAD?

LEAD is a weeklong retreat experience for teenagers prior to any one of the dozens of Steubenville Conferences held around the United States and Canada in the summertime. LEAD stands for Leadership, Evangelization, and Discipleship and is geared toward teens who have exemplified or acknowledged a desire to lead within their own parishes. But, LEAD is truly designed to teach teens that you cannot lead or evangelize without being first a disciple of Christ. That it is more than just doing good and acting good, it is about living in Christ’s love daily, seeking Him in the Sacraments, and living every aspect of life for Him, authentically.

LEAD is Worth Investing In

This past summer (2015) was my last summer with LEAD. And in the 10 weeks I served, God has taught me an incredible amount about His love for the youth, as well as His love for me, but it is the knowledge of what most of these teens needed to hear and know to strip-away lies that was so fascinating.

So, I share the following points of thought with you first, to glorify God for all that He has done – He showed up in big ways during each and every week of LEAD I served. And second, to advocate for LEAD: I won’t lie, it is truly one of the best retreat experiences I’ve ever been a part of. Please consider recommending your teens to participate in LEAD this summer (especially at West, East, Atlanta, NYC, and Lonestar – we would love to see your parishes at our Life Teen sponsored Steubenvilles!).

What LEAD teaches teens (that they really need to hear)

  1. It is “cool” to be Catholic
    • Many teens just simply have not encountered Catholics who are “normal” – aka not “old,” “socially awkward,” or their parents. Yes, some have, but for the majority it is unreal to them that they could meet a young adult who both loves Jesus and also have an extensive knowledge of popular culture. But, beyond that, teens are changed when they meet other teens who have the same drive and desire for Christ.
  2. Being a disciple is hard work, but attainable
    • This one is two-fold: Teens don’t really know how hard it is to be a disciple and this knowledge is really important for them to possess. But, they also don’t recognize that it is okay to put in a little hard work. This is a mind-boggler for them: Catholicism isn’t easy, nor should it be. A life of comfort is not a call from Jesus. But, rather a life of meaning comes with some discomfort. Blood, sweat, and tears are worth it.
  3. Knowing Christ means encountering Him in a true relationship
    • My favorite tip to give teens right away at the begging of the week is this: “it is okay to be angry at God.” When they recognize that a relationship with Christ operates in a similar way that a relationship with a friend or family member does (except God is perfect, but that’s beside the point), it’s a game changer. That prayer is a conversation, and a life with Christ means getting to know Him and allowing Him to get to know you – through every single emotion. A good friend stands by you in all situations with a helping hand and good advice. Christ is no different.
  4. Answers to questions they’ve been afraid to ask
    • Usually the emotional and physical fatigue hits me at the end of a LEAD week, but during some weeks, a third type of fatigue catches on by Thursday: Intellectual. Early on, I learned to never assume a teen doesn’t care about understanding their faith. They question because they care. Praise Jesus for fellow facilitators that can fill in the gaps where I failed over my LEAD weeks. And Praise Jesus for the Catechism.
  5. It is “okay to be myself”
    • Honestly, I think this is the most important take-away for many teens. They just simply do not understand themselves, why their individual gifts are so important, and where they fit in in this really large world. But, when they encounter Jesus and allow the Holy Spirit to enliven their gifts, it is like watching flowers bloom. So, so beautiful. The opportunities to really engrain this understanding into their minds and hearts makes a world of a difference to them – that despite their insecurities and imperfections, they have a place in the Kingdom. And they matter.

No retreat experience is perfect, but the beauty of LEAD is not only the programming and content but the individualized approach. Facilitators are intentional every week to make sure each and every single teen is met with authenticity and love. Franciscan LEAD understands that the Holy Spirit doesn’t fit into a cookie cutter box, and they give Him the freedom to move how He sees fit.

I have never met more beautiful adults or teenagers as I have on LEAD nor has my heart been moved in such monumental ways. I pray your teenagers may have the opportunity to experience that same joy.


For more information on Franciscan LEAD as well as testimonies and the application process, check out

Applications for summer 2016 are due on Friday, April 1st.

About the Author

Rachel Penate

I am a Wisconsin girl at heart who has a slight obsession with the band Switchfoot. When I was little I dreamed of becoming a professional figure skater, but instead found myself studying Education. Currently I reside in the great, yet terribly hot state of Arizona, and serve as Assistant to the Executive Vice President of Life Teen. I love most: my job, the ocean, running half-marathons, my sweet daughter Cecilia, husband Robbie, and above all — my Lord. Follow me on Instagram @r_penate and Twitter @LT_rachelp.