MASHPEE — After a two-year delay caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, ECHO of Cape Cod, a retreat program for high school youth, is finally celebrating a major milestone: 50 years. A special Mass and dinner will take place on Friday, June 17 in Mashpee to recognize and celebrate what may be the longest running retreat program in the United States.
Father Thomas Mayhew founded the ECHO program in 1968 at the request of Bishop James L. Connolly, former Bishop of the Fall River Diocese. ECHO, which stands for “Encountering Christ in Others,” was first active in the Fall River and Taunton areas of Massachusetts. Father Francis B. Connors and Father Edward E. Correia brought it to Cape Cod in 1970. The acronym was a suggestion from Msgr. John J. Oliveira who was inspired by a quote from Benedictine spiritual writer Don Marmion who said, “Joy is the echo of God’s life in us.” Today, ECHO still operates under the auspices of the Fall River Diocese.
ECHO is focused around a number of three-day retreats held annually for high school youth. The retreats are led by adults, teen-agers who have previously been on an ECHO, and Catholic spiritual directors. The weekends give young people the opportunity to reflect on their lives, develop lasting friendships, and discover and/or grow their faith. The ECHO experience, centered on the message of the Paschal Mystery, provides young people with the faith they need to live in a world sometimes hostile to Christian values. Following the retreats, all members of the ECHO community are invited to weekly reunions across the Cape that truly sustain the program and further develop a deep sense of community. In addition to the retreats and reunions, members of the ECHO community participate in a number of service projects on Cape Cod and host fellowship events throughout the year.
In the last 50 years, approximately 15,000 people have participated in an ECHO weekend on Cape Cod. More than 100 priests have served on an ECHO weekend, which doesn’t include the vast number of deacons and Sisters who have also taken part. Sixty-two adults have been facilitators of retreat weekends, which have taken place at St. Francis Parish Center in Hyannis, the La Salette House in Brewster (now Ocean Edge), Briarwood Retreat Center in Monument Beach, and the Craigville Conference Center in Centerville.
Although Covid-19 stopped retreats from happening for some time, the pause gave leaders of the program needed time to reflect on the past 50 years, form task forces to lay the groundwork for the future, and ultimately start to implement positive changes to ensure ECHO will be around for another 50 years or more. One-day co-ed retreats will return in the fall with the hope for multi-day retreats in 2023.
Cheryl and David Ryan from Christ the King Parish in Mashpee have been involved with ECHO for many of the 50 years. “As high school students we both lived ECHO retreat weekends as candidates and student team,” Cheryl told The Anchor. “We participated in weekly reunions in Falmouth with Josie and Mel Gonsalves and in Centerville with Dick and Bobbi Paradise. The retreats and weekly followup helped to fully incorporate while personalizing our deep connection to our loving God.”
“Soon after college and entering careers and with 2 young children and a third on the way, we felt the calling to begin to host weekly ECHO reunions at Christ the King Parish in Mashpee,” added David. “We were blessed to participate in and help provide this weekly meeting for many years. Our room at the parish hall became a safe place where people could come for love and support, to learn more about their faith, and to pray. It certainly was a benefit to us as a married couple to help keep faith an important and vibrant part of our lives.
“It was amazing for so many years to have the opportunity to watch families including grandparents, parents, and children all share their faith through this program at the same time.”
The couple shared, “The 50th anniversary of a program that so many of thousands of people participated in is certainly a little bittersweet. Even before the interruption caused by covid, Echo faced the challenge of decreased participation that is consistent with church attendance and commitment in general. While the future of what the program may look like in the future is unknown, there is no uncertainty in what a special multi generational program ECHO has been for so many years in our diocese.”
The ECHO 50th anniversary Mass will be Friday, June 17 at 6 p.m. at Christ the King Church in Mashpee. A dinner will immediately follow in the parish hall. Suggested donation is $30 for dinner tickets. All are welcome. To purchase tickets, visit https://echoofcapecod.square.site
Visit www.echoofcapecod.org for more information about upcoming retreats, service opportunities, and more. ECHO of Cape Cod is a youth-driven faith community inviting all to discover and nurture a personal relationship with our loving Jesus Christ. Follow them on Facebook and Instagram for updates.