Faith-Filled Trip Accomplishes Far More Than Practicalities

In Big Sky Country in Montana, fathers and sons from out of town help others in need — and better themselves for a lifetime

by Fr. Michael Sliney, LC | Updated 24 Jan 2018 at 9:00 AM

The Lumen Institute is a national business network that focuses on the character, faith, and leadership skills of today’s business and cultural leaders through guided training and education. And thanks to the help of Michael Stabolepszy, one of our members in Washington, D.C., a group of the faithful have been traveling to a reservation in Montana and serving Native Americans in the Crow Nation for the past five summers — a unique father-son mission trip.

The boys hail from Catholic grammar schools and high schools in the D.C. area, along with others from New York and other cities. The families pay their own way for this experience; its practical tasks include improving the grounds and maintenance of Pretty Eagle Catholic School by installing college-level goal posts and building bleachers on the football field.

Efforts have also included repairing and painting fences, offering football clinics to the children, and spending time with the local pastor and his community members. But the other intangible benefit, beyond the important physical improvements and the positive relationships we develop with the residents, is the incredible bonding and growth of the relationships of the fathers and sons who make this trip.

Participants share a rustic cabin. They build fires, go fly fishing, pray together, and discover insights about each other as they work to help others — all in just a few days.

I asked Eric Gies, a Lumen member and resident of Rye, New York, to share his perspective on the meaningful trip. His words spoke volumes.

“My 15-year-old and I had been fortunate to go on a father-son mission trip to El Salvador three years ago,” he recounted. “We had an amazing experience together, one we talk about often. So when the opportunity came up to take my youngest of four children on this father-son trip to Montana, I jumped at it.”

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“We traveled from New York, so the trip was not difficult, but it was substantial. You could not ask for a better setting than ‘Big Sky Montana’ — and the joy of being with like-minded fathers and sons quickly reduced any lingering anxiety either my son or I had about any aspects of the trip. The days were filled with hard work in honor of those less fortunate; spiritual development through Mass, reflection and discussion with the Legionary priests and brothers; and downright fun. Regardless of what we were actually doing, being with my son in a part of the country with virtually no cellphone coverage was transformative.”

“The days were filled with hard work in honor of those less fortunate; spiritual development through Mass, reflection and discussion with the Legionary priests and brothers; and downright fun.”

Gies also said how hard it was “to put into words the profound impact of a four-day trip like this on a father and son’s relationship. I believe our culture has evolved in such a way that meaningful time to just ‘be’ with our children has been eroded, to the detriment of both parent and child. To have time to focus on and cultivate a relationship that, while already just fine, was enriched by a much deeper connection, was a treasure I will not soon forget. We had such a wonderful and faith-filled experience in June that we are going back again this year.”

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Added Gies, “My older son has decided to join us this year, too.”

Giving back to others concretely in an organized and faith-based environment — stepping out of one’s routine and comfort zone — can leave a profound mark. It can transmit a value system that kids carry with them well into their adulthoods, no matter what specific faith they embrace or to what church or parish they belong.

 (photo credit, homepage image: Bowman Lake, CC 0, by Max Pixel; photo credit, article image: Lake Mcdonald Landscape Panorama Scenic Reflection, CC 0, by Max Pixel)

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