The Ecclesia Institute

The Ecclesia Institute ran every summer for 5 years, with its last occurrence being in 2015. Ultimately, the Ecclesia Institute gave birth to the Saint John Institute, a 2-year MBA program intent on forming young entrepreneuers for the New Evangelization.

A Contemplative Formation for the New Evangelization

We would like to thank all of those who have shown such great support of our Ecclesia Program! For 5 years, Ecclesia formed, united, and inspired over 125 young adults to dare great things in their relationship with Christ.  We give thanks for God’s blessings on this wonderful program!

The Ecclesia Institute was designed to give the participants an experience of the inner life of the Church.  The purpose of the Institute was to make the Church’s mystery present in a tangible way through the Liturgy, the fraternal communion of the participants, the classes dedicated to the pursuit of the Truth, and the culture which flows from Faith.   Through these diverse and rich experiences, and not separated from them, the saving and life-giving presence of Jesus Christ and His Wisdom come to us.

The Community of St. John believes that the New Evangelization being called for by the Church today requires contemplative evangelizers: men and women who proclaim Christ with their whole persons because they love Him with their whole hearts.

By learning how to love Christ intensely and deeply, placing Him first in their days by prayer and incarnating His love in their daily relationships, participants in Ecclesia had the solid foundation in which to effectively situate and assimilate the intellectual formation they received.  At the heart of the Church is a mystery of love:  Love feeding itself on Truth, and Truth bringing forth a deeper and deeper Love.  We wanted Ecclesia to be an experience with this love of God, shared in Community.

The Spirit of Ecclesia

At Eagle Eye Ministries, we want to bring young people into the cry of thirst of Jesus Christ – to hear that cry, to live it, and to pass it on to others. To do this, participants of the Ecclesia Institute were plunged into a month-long formation program centered on encountering the Person of Jesus and allowing His love for the Father and for men to take hold of them. This is the heart of the mystery of the Church, the unity of believers in the love of the Savior. All of the activities and the rich offerings of the program (contemplative prayer, beautiful, reverent liturgy, invigorating studies, abundant fraternal charity, debates, discussions, sports, authentic cultural experiences, etc.) sought to bring about and enhance this encounter.

Designed to give “The most of the best to the thirstiest” the Ecclesia Institute was a kind of open door to the heart of the Church. Thanks to the engaging combination of the monastic life (provided by both the Benedictine Sisters whose university hosts the program and the Brothers and Sisters of St. John who facilitate it) and the open and engaging atmosphere of a thoroughly modern university, Ecclesia was an ideal setting for the future protagonists of the Church’s efforts in the Third Millennium to meet one another, discuss the timeless truths of Catholicism, and engage the difficult and deep questions of our modern society without fear or pretension.

Through rich liturgy, intense silent Adoration, invigorating and challenging classes, and fruitful, fun experiences of Community, participants were given a true taste of the inner life of the Catholic Church – a life of love, of mercy, of joy, and of intense gift. Nothing evangelizes the world more than the life of the Church; nothing transmits the truth of Christ more faithfully than the life of the Church; nothing bears witness more to the presence of God than the life of the Church. And so, this is what the Ecclesia Institute sought to give – an authentic experience of Catholic community, rooted in the monastic life, and flowing into an intelligent dynamic encounter with the modern world.

Participants were immersed in the monastic rhythms and intensity of the Brothers and Sisters of St. John. They met other young Catholic leaders just like themselves. They drank at the source of the Wisdom of the tradition and challenged the questions of the modern world without fear. They heard the cry of thirst and passed it on. They will continue to serve the Church of the third millennium.

Daily Life at Ecclesia

6:45am          Silent Prayer

7:30am           Lauds

8:05am           Breakfast

8:45 am          Lectio Divina

9:30am           Philosophy class

10:30am         Philosophy class

11:45am          Sext

12:00pm          Holy Mass

1:00pm            Lunch

2:00pm           Free time or sports

3:30pm           Theology class

4:30pm           Theology class

5:45pm           Dinner

6:45pm           Vespers

7:15pm             Adoration

Evening Campfires, debates, free time, study groups, and more!

Evening Events

Monday            Optional Marian Consecration

Tuesday           Witness on Evangelization

Wednesday       Study Groups

Thursday          Campfire

Friday                Debate Night

Saturday           Free Evening

Sunday             Movie Night

Participants of the Ecclesia Institute stayed at the expansive, hill-top campus of the University of Mary in beautiful North Dakota. The campus has a tremendous view overlooking the Missouri River, and participants spent several days backpacking in the nearby Badlands as well as visiting nearby cultural and historical sites.

About the University of Mary

Founded to prepare leaders in the service of truth, the University of Mary is distinctive in our education and formation of servant leaders with moral courage, global understanding, and commitment to the common good. As America’s Leadership University, we are deeply devoted to our mission:

The University of Mary exists to serve the religious, academic and cultural needs of the people in this region and beyond. It takes its tone from the commitment of the Sisters of Annunciation Monastery. These Sisters founded the University in 1959 and continue to sponsor it today. It is Christian, it is Catholic, and it is Benedictine.

We cherish our Christian, Catholic, Benedictine identity; we welcome and serve persons of all faiths.

For more information about the University of Mary, please visit

Present in 22 countries on 5 continents and numbering nearly 1,000 Brothers and Sisters, the family of St. John desires to be for Jesus in today’s Church what John was for Jesus in the Gospels. By placing the spirit of the Beloved Disciple in the context of the New Evangelization, the Congregation of St. John reaches out to young people by providing the milieu for their authentic personal growth and formation in our Catholic Faith.

The members of the Community of Saint John seek to fully live the evangelical counsels of poverty, virginity, and obedience in a spirit rooted in the Gospel of St. John. Their spirit flows from three of the salient features of St. John’s holiness found in his Gospel.

First, St. John’s personal covenant with Jesus in the Eucharist is at the source of the Community’s silent adoration and liturgical prayer. This liturgy follows the monastic spirit, but its celebration is lightened because of the demands of the apostolic life, so that more time might be given to silent prayer in common.

Secondly, St. John’s personal covenant with Mary, mother and guardian of the growth of the divine life of Faith, Hope, and Charity in its members, and the divine milieu of contemplative life. Just as “the disciple took her into his home,” (John 19:27) this covenant is the foundation for the unity of fraternal charity lived in communal life.

Third, St. John’s personal covenant with St. Peter, found today in the person of the Holy Father: filial obedience to the Successor of Peter and to the Bishops in order to live the Church’s Tradition most faithfully and profoundly.

The members of the Family of St. John seek to give themselves to God without reserve for the salvation of souls. Such a total consecration of oneself to the Blessed Trinity can only be realized fully through the sacrifice of Christ, our High Priest, who offers himself as a holocaust victim of love of the Father on the Cross. For this reason, each member of the Family of St. John has at heart to strive to share in the mystery of the priesthood of Christ as profoundly as possible. This priesthood, which is the most precious gift given by Christ to His Church, is brought to completion (cf. Col. 1:24) in two ways: the royal priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial priesthood. By their religious life, all of the members of the Family of St. John seek to follow St. John’s example: they seek to follow the Lamb wherever he goes (Rev. 14), even to the Cross where he accomplishes his sacerdotal work as Beloved Son. This contemplative priesthood calls the members of the Family of St. John to constantly seek the Face of Christ so as to communicate his light and love to those to whom they have been sent. In and through this, the Community strives to glorify the Father with Christ and help today’s world rediscover a sense of adoration and fraternal charity.

Another key dimension of the spirit of the Family of St. John is found in their call to constantly seek to know and live in the truth as fully as possible. To accomplish this, members strive above all else to know and love the Word of God as found in the living Tradition of the Church (especially the Fathers of the church and St. Thomas Aquinas) and presented by the Church’s Magisterium. This desire to receive God’s revelation both for its own sake, and in a way that will enable them to dialogue with others, opens the members of the Community to engage in a genuinely philosophical inquiry, centered on the human person. This philosophical formation, done in the footsteps of Aristotle and with reference to St. Thomas Aquinas, does not neglect the major modern-day problems that confront Christians today, especially the various forms of atheism. And yet, this rigorous formation in Theology and Philosophy is firstly undertaken with a view to communicating the mystery of our Divine Savior in its fullness to a world in desperate need of his saving truth. In this way, each member of the Community seeks to respond to Christ’s mission to “present the patrimony of the faith to men of our time… in an understandable and persuasive fashion” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 3).

Adventure with a Purpose

The Ecclesia Institute began with a 4-day hiking trip through the historic and rugged Badlands of North Dakota. This adventure consisted in three nights of camping outside in tents, and two full days of hiking. During this time, barriers were broken down and participants began to bond as a community as they encountered the power of God’s Word in His creation.

All true evangelization is done through the communion of believers in the Church.  At Ecclesia, participants learned the art of sharing faith and sharing life with one another. From eating together to playing together to studying and praying together, the Ecclesia experience was an experience of the Church’s communion from within.  Participants were helped to know that they are not alone in their faith walk, but have the help and support of one another as they make their way to Heaven beyond the Ecclesia experience.

These classes continue to be offered through the Saint John Institute.

Theology – The New Evangelization

The New Evangelization called for from within the Church needs to be understood in the perspective of Jesus Christ.  This course will help Christians as they live out the apostolic vocation inherent to their lives by focusing upon what is revealed, especially in Holy Scripture, as regards the nature of their mission.  The Holy Spirit also teaches us through the Church’s Tradition and her Doctors so, after looking at key texts of Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas, this course will turn to more recent documents such as Gaudium et Spes, Lumen Gentium, Ad Gentes (1965) and Evangelii Nuntiandi (1975).  The course will look to face challenging questions like: What is the Church’s mission of Evangelization?  What light does Holy Scripture shine upon the mystery of the spreading of the Good News?  Are there certain tools and methods that have been revealed to us and that we can then wisely include in our efforts of evangelization?

  • Complexity of Evangelizing action
  • Renewal of humanity
  • Evangelization of cultures
  • Witness of life
  • Explicit proclamation
  • Methods of evangelization

Topics to be covered in this course:

  • Mystery of Revelation
  • Fullness of Revelation in the Person of Jesus Christ
  • Nature of mission
  • Jesus Christ the Evangelizer
  • The Evangelizing Church
  • the “Spirit of Evangelization”

Course Outcomes

  • Understand the importance of Revelation, especially Holy Scripture, in a specifically Christian reflection.
  • Know where to find in Holy Scripture, and analyze, the key texts revealing the mysteries of Christian evangelization.
  • Discuss, through a selected few of their writings, theological contributions to this specific search for truth made by Church Doctors such as Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas.
  • Analyze key ideas about the course subjects as taught in Vatican II documents and encyclical letters.
  • Discuss through an analysis of Evangelii Nuntiandi what the Church calls the “Spirit of Evangelization” and relate the fundamental importance of a number of methods.

Philosophy of Culture

In order to respond to the needs of the New Evangelization called for by the Successor of Peter, this course explores the philosophical questions surrounding the nature and experience of human culture. Students examine the major philosophical currents that influence Western culture as well as their presence and impact on modern American culture. All courses finish with an analysis of these currents of thought in the light of Aristotelian-Thomistic realism and the demands intrinsic to the Word of God for the New Evangelization.

Instruction in the Philosophy of Culture focuses on a particular subject each year. While the emphasis is placed upon evangelization, students will investigate the works of modern philosophers who have shaped our current cultural context. This year’s class will focus on the impact of individualism in our American culture. In particular the thought of John Stuart Mill and Friedrich Nietzsche will be analyzed. After throughly considering the thought of each philosopher, students each summer will study Aristotle, Saint Thomas Aquinas, papal encyclicals and speeches, as well as other philosophers and Catholic voices.

This course seeks to answer questions such as:

  • What role does culture play in shaping morality?
  • How do thoughts and ideas shape culture?
  • What is the relationship between culture, law, and morality?
  • What is Aristotelian realism, and what is its importance for the evangelization called for by the Catholic Church?
  • What is the relationship between radical materialism and political secularism?

Course Objectives

  • Analyze the basic content of various philosophical thoughts and the power of these philosophies present in our contemporary American society.
  • Understand the relationship between culture and human acts, and its importance for moral judgments.
  • Discuss the importance of philosophical reflection for the shaping of culture.
  • Apply the basic philosophical approach of Aristotle to the question of the human person.
  • Relate the place and importance of a realistic philosophy to the Catholic Church’s evangelization efforts.

The Second Vatican Council teaches us: “The liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows.”  At Ecclesia, liturgy became a part of participants’ daily life.  The rhythm of the monastic prayer schedule of the Community of St. John structures the participant’s day — from silent Eucharistic Adoration to chanted offices to the Holy Mass participants went forth to offering themselves to God in service, sports, study, and time together.  Participants thus learned the liturgy “from the inside” as well as came to a deeper understanding of its proper celebration.

During the Ecclesia Institute, participants participated in the liturgy and prayer through:

  • Daily Mass
  • Adoration
  • Chanted offices (Liturgy of the Hours)
  • Lectio Divina
  • The Rosary
  • A silent retreat
  • Daily Recitation of the Angelus
  • The sacrament of confession
  • and more!

At Ecclesia, the Mass is the high point. The rest of Ecclesia’s rhythm took shape around it.


“The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art. The main reason for this pre-eminence is that, as sacred song united to the words, it forms a necessary or integral part of the solemn liturgy.”

-Sacrosanctum Concilium ¶ 112

The liturgies of the Ecclesia institute formed an important and vital part of participants’ growth in faith. Participants turned to our mother, the Church, at whose feet they would sit to learn to pray, through Her liturgical traditions. Sacred music plays a vital role in these liturgies, for it clothes the Word of God with splendor and beauty, and enables all to better worship God and grow in holiness.

The liturgies drew on the Church’s vast treasury of sacred music as a means of drawing the hearts of all deeper into the mystery of God. Whether it was Gregorian chant, chant in English, choral music, or sacred organ music, the liturgical music at Ecclesia strove to cultivate singers’ talents in creating sublimely beautiful music in order to convey the reality of the earthly liturgy as a reflection of the Divine liturgy taking place continuously in heaven. The music, though varied, reflected a fidelity to the Church’s liturgical texts.

There were two levels of participation available to those who would wished to take part in the music program at the Ecclesia Institute:

  • Rehearsal 5 days/week for 45 minutes, singing at most of the institute’s liturgies
  • Rehearsal 2 days/week for 45 minutes, joining with the above group, singing at Sunday and feast day liturgies

Part of the summer’s institute for all participants included a celebration of the extraordinary form of the Roman rite throughout the institute. All other liturgies were in the ordinary form of the Roman rite.

“The singing of the Church comes ultimately out of love. It is the utter depth of love that produces the singing. ‘Cantare amantis est,’ says St. Augustine, singing is a lover’s thing. In so saying, we come again to the trinitarian interpretation of Church music. The Holy Spirit is love, and it is he who produces the singing. He is the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit who draws us into love for Christ and so leads to the Father.”

– Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, The Spirit of the Liturgy, p. 142

“Every form of catechesis would do well to attend to the “way of beauty” (via pulchritudinis). Proclaiming Christ means showing that to believe in and to follow him is not only something right and true, but also something beautiful, capable of filling life with new splendour and profound joy, even in the midst of difficulties. Every expression of true beauty can thus be acknowledged as a path leading to an encounter with the Lord Jesus. This has nothing to do with fostering an aesthetic relativism which would downplay the inseparable bond between truth, goodness and beauty, but rather a renewed esteem for beauty as a means of touching the human heart and enabling the truth and goodness of the Risen Christ to radiate within it. If, as Saint Augustine says, we love only that which is beautiful, the incarnate Son, as the revelation of infinite beauty, is supremely lovable and draws us to himself with bonds of love. So a formation in the via pulchritudinis ought to be part of our effort to pass on the faith.” (167)

-Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium 167

Via Pulchritudinis

Beauty opens the soul to truth and the heart to goodness.  It plays an integral part in the transmission of the Faith, because it presents the full dimension of truth:  truth does not just address the mind, but attracts the heart.  At Ecclesia, the arts were cultivated and given an important place in expressing the human quest for fulfillment and in helping pass along the heritage of western culture.  Ecclesia was the not only informative, but inspirational!

During Ecclesia, participants benefited from:

  • The opportunity to interact with and learn from professional artists who sought to inspire evangelization through beauty
  • Watching and discussing various films related to our culture
  • Participating in or watching a theatre production
  • Being given the opportunity to participate in the choir
  • Being given the opportunity to share poetry, stories, songs, and talents
  • Participating in special offerings with a professional artist

The Ecclesia Institute was consecrated completely to Mary, and drew participants deeper into relationship with Jesus through her.

 Participants at the Ecclesia Institute had the opportunity to make the consecration for the first time, or renew it! Every participant…

  • Received a copy of the book Totus Tuus
  • Had the option of attending weekly talks by the brothers and sisters of the Community of Saint John on St. Louis De Montfort’s consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary
  • Had the option of being enrolled in the Confraternity of the Brown Scapular
  • Went on a foot pilgrimage in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary

In addition to the formation that was shared by the entire community, individuals had the opportunity to exercise their gifts for the good of the community in a variety of other ways. Some of these included:

Choir – Participants at Ecclesia had the opportunity to share their musical talent for the glory of the Lord in the liturgies. 

Theatre – The Theatre group exposed the participants (both the actors and those viewing) to the power of theatre as a form of expression, truth, and culture. It allowed an opportunity to receive artistic tradition and knowledge, and to pass it on to a culture that is starved of the basics!

Lector/Altar Servers/Sacristy – Participants were given the opportunity to serve in the liturgy as altar servers (men), lectors (men and women) and sacristy (men and women). Participants were trained by the religious brothers and sisters on how to perform these offices with reverence and joy.

Environment Team – During Ecclesia, the living, eating, praying, and learning spaces were enriched with beautiful and edifying decorations by the “Environment Team.” This team created spaces of silence and focus in the rooms to heighten the participants’ sense of prayer and purpose, providing the setting for Ecclesia’s culture of excellence. It gave examples of ways  to use decoration to highlight and serve prayer to future evangelizers.

Disputatio – Ecclesia was a place where the leaders of tomorrow were formed.  An essential component to their formation was their hope-filled conviction that Christ’s word could be effectively brought to bear against the questions and dilemmas of our modern world. Every Friday, Ecclesia brought two teams of participants together to engage debates on topics that the modern world is facing.

What else? You tell us! We encourage participants to be creative and free in sharing their gifts with the community. In the past, participants have shared their talents of leather-working, wood-working, rosary making, “Soul Core” exercises, painting and more!

The rigorous formation of Ecclesia was balanced with a healthy dose of recreation and social activity. During Ecclesia, participants were given the chance to bond deeply with their brothers and sisters in Christ, and create life-long friendships. Some of the recreational activities participants enjoyed were:

  • Bonfires
  • Group Sports
  • Daily free-time
  • Movie nights
  • “Family Time” on Sundays

Is there an age limit for Ecclesia?

Yes, you must be between the age of 18-35 to attend the Ecclesia Institute. However, this restriction does not apply to priests or religious. Possible exceptions can be made, depending on the circumstances.

Do I have to be an experienced hiker/camper to attend Ecclesia?

No you do not! Every year we have participants from a wide variety of backgrounds ranging from those who have never hiked in their life, to those who regularly take backpacking trips. If this is your first time hiking, we are very excited to share it with you! If you are an expert, you will have a great time exploring the Badlands!

While the hike is available to all, it is physically demanding and includes:

  • Sleeping 3 consecutive nights outside in tents, on the ground.
  • Hiking up to 10 miles/day for two consecutive days
  • The hikes will be in moderate terrain, with portions up steep hills.
  • Temperatures during the hike will most likely range from 70-100 degrees fahrenheit.

If you have any concerns about meeting these challenges, please indicate this in the appropriate section of your application, or contact us for more information.

Do I have to be discerning a religious vocation to come?

Absolutely not! Ecclesia is designed to prepare the leaders of the New Evangelization, of which the laity is an integral and irreplaceable part. Ecclesia is about preparing you to witness to Christ, no matter what your state in life may be.

Is Ecclesia a good place to discern a vocation to the priesthood or religious life?

While it is not a requirement to be discerning your vocation to come to Ecclesia, it is a great place for that discernment to take place! Several vocations to the various religious orders, diocesan priesthood, and the married life have all been received from God by participants at the Ecclesia Institute.

I am a priest or religious, can I come to Ecclesia?

Absolutely! The Ecclesia Institute is proud to offer formation for the laity, religious, and priests. If you are a religious or priest and are interested in personally attending Ecclesia, please contact us for more information.

Is Ecclesia a good place to send my team to be formed for ministry?

Ecclesia is specially designed to offer formation for ministry positions such as catechists, missionaries (local and international), teachers, parish staff, and more! Please see our overview of formation page for more information, and reach out to us to let us know if you would like to send a group.

Do I have to be Catholic to come?

The formation provided at the Ecclesia Institute flows from the heart of the Catholic Church, but that does not mean that you have to be Catholic to come! You just have to be willing to participate in the program as much as you are able. Our staff is happy to speak with you personally to discern if this is the best opportunity for you, so if you are not Catholic but feel that the Lord is inviting you to this program, please contact us

How much does it cost?

Ecclesia costs  $4,046 for room, board, academic credits, transportation during the program, camping, and more. Please see our Cost page for more information.

I want to come to Ecclesia, but I can’t…

If you cannot come to Ecclesia for any reason, but would like to, please consider some of the other programs offered by Eagle Eye Ministries. Other programs offered by Eagle Eye Ministries include:

  • Weekend Retreats
  • 8-Day Summer Institutes
  • Excursions
  • Pilgrimages
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