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The Focus 11 Program was first introduced in the Archdiocese of Detroit in 1989. It was based on several studies that showed that most priest and religious first thought about ministry at about age eleven and then had that thought reinforced during their junior year in high school. It was funded by a grant from the Lilly Endowment and tried to make a systematic program of vocation awareness and invitation for age eleven and grade eleven called “Focus Eleven.” It consisted of lesson plans, exercises and prayer services geared for the appropriate ages. It was developed for different formats so that it could be used in schools, religious education programs, youth ministry, and high school retreats. One of the things originally envisioned by the Detroit Focus Eleven was a centralized day of reflection for those who showed interest after the implementation of these resources to the various classes.
In 2000, the Diocese of St. Petersburg decided to adapt the Focus 11 concept and take it in a new direction. It was decided to have a centralized event for the 6th Graders (11 year olds) and Juniors (11th Grade). Because of the number of students involved and the facilities needed, it was determined that this should be a three-day event. Thus the High School Juniors would come one day and the 6th graders (split into two groups) would come the other days. An important significant change was made when it was decided that this event would be for ALL 6th grade and 11th grade students enrolled in Catholic Elementary or Catholic High School. While there are some similarities between the 11th Grade day and the 6th Grade days, there are significant differences. Religious communities were invited to participate by setting up exhibits and serving on panels.
Over the years, the program has changed and grown. In order to get it kick started, the bishop mandated participation by all the diocesan schools. The independent Catholic schools were invited and encouraged to participate as well. By the third year 100% participation by all the Catholic schools were participating (with the exception of one who sent a small contingency). While there were some initial misgivings by some teachers, parents, and administrators, it has been so successful that it has actually sold itself. In essence it is a “Vocations Field Trip” which is of benefit to everyone regardless of what his or her calling in life may be. Getting feedback and evaluations has enabled us to make it even better.
Compliments of the Diocese of St. Petersburg
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