FRONT ROYAL, Va. — Following her sophomore year at a public high school, Britany Smith, a Catholic, felt distanced from her faith.

“My parents encouraged me toward the faith,” she said, “but I was not receptive to it.”

Her life changed considerably, however, after she attended a summer program at Christendom College in Front Royal, Va.

“Midway through the two-week summer program, I felt I was inspired by God,” Smith explained. “In some manner, the Catholic faith was made manifest to me through the lives of the faculty and staff at the college. This was the element that had been missing in my life up to that point. I decided that I needed to be at Christendom College and as soon as possible.”

Smith is not alone. When the heat of summer rolls in, high school students across the nation pack their bags and board buses, trains, planes and cars and head to Catholic summer youth programs, hoping for a taste of college campus life, a new look at their faith and, of course, summer fun.

Students invariably return home energized and enthusiastic.

Michelle Bowe, a youth minister at a parish in Polver, Wis., who trekked to Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, last year with three busloads of students, tells a tale of the return trip home. To her amazement, students infused with enthusiasm about what they had learned pleaded for an opportunity to lead a retreat for their parents.

“Summer conferences, if they are good ones, will show students how very much their faith is an answer to difficulties they are having and that their faith is a way for them to shine and really be who they are as kids,” said Father Joseph O'Hara, a chaplain for Pacelli High School in the Diocese of LaCrosse, Wis.

Father O'Hara attended the Steubenville program last year. “The highlight of Steubenville youth programs is the Eucharistic procession,” he said. “When the Lord comes out in that procession, he's got [the students'] attention.”

Several Catholic colleges offer ways for students to grow closer to God during the summer while experiencing a balanced life of study, play and prayer.

Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, Calif., offers a great books summer program for high school students from July 27 to Aug. 8. Students who have completed at least three years of high school by the summer of 2003 will join members of the faculty on the campus for two weeks. They will discuss works selected from the masters of the Western intellectual tradition such as Plato, Euclid, Sophocles, Shakespeare, St. Thomas Aquinas and Pascal, to name a few.

John Boyer, a senior at San Joaquin Memorial High School in Fresno, Calif., applied for admission to Thomas Aquinas after attending this summer program last year. He enjoyed the organized recreation and off-campus outings, but most of all, he relished the lively classroom discussions that occurred daily.

“It wasn't just the teacher asking questions and then waiting with awkward silence for someone to speak up,” Boyer said. ”Everybody jumped right in. It got me interested in philosophy.”

Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, will host 13 conferences from June 20 to Aug. 3. The theme of this year's youth conferences is “Just Live It.” They are scheduled to be in Arizona, Cali fornia, Colorado, Georgia, Louis iana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and South Carolina.

Those interested are encouraged to sign up soon — several conferences are already sold out. And it's no wonder — among the presenters are Catholic rap artist Franciscan Friar of the Renewal Father Stan Fortuna, Christian vaudeville act ApeX, regional Life Teen director Caroline Gambale, comedians Bob Rice and Bob Lesnefsky, and Matt Smith, former cast member of MTV's “Real World New Orleans.”

Magdalen College in Warner, N.H., provides youth between the ages of 14 and 18 a two-week experience of living on a Catholic college campus for study, prayer, sports and recreation. Session I is from June 22 to July 5; Session II is from July 12 to July 19 (for returning students only, see below); and Session III is from July 27 to Aug. 9.

Participants attend Mass each day in the chapel, eat meals in the dining room, study catechism, ethics, music and enjoy daily sports, drama classes and sing-alongs.

Several day trips are planned for hiking in the White Mountains, swimming in the Atlantic Ocean, canoeing on the Merrimack River and touring historical sites in Boston.

Its second session, the St. John the Apostle Program, is a one-week program for those who have previously attended a summer youth program at Magdalen College and wish to return.

“Magdalen Colelge is like a family, and the spiritual life is incredible,” said Tahsia Garcia of the Galveston-Houston Diocese, who attended the program last year. “After I attended the summer program I was stronger in my faith and definitely closer to Christ.”

Christendom College in Front Royal, Va., offers a program where high school juniors and seniors can participate in courses taught by full-time faculty. Session I is from June 22 to July 4 and Session II is from July 13-25.

Courses include Faith and Reason, Ethics, The Moral Imagination in Literature and American Political Thought. Students also paddle down the Shenandoah River and explore the Blue Ridge Mountain trails. They visit the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the John Paul II Cultural Center and other national museums, such as the Museum of Natural History, in Washington, D.C.

Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, N.H., has offered its Collegiate Summer Program for high school students for 28 years. This year, Session I runs from July 13-26 and Session II from July 27 to Aug. 9.

Each session includes about 30 students from across the nation and a handful from Italy and Israel. They experience college life and the liberal arts, becoming familiar with literature, philosophy, American political tradition and apologetics. Students also go on trips to Boston, visit beaches, climb a mountain, participate in a decathlon and swim daily in a nearby lake.

Joanne Geiger, assistant director of admission at Thomas More, attended a summer program in 1994 and became hooked. She admitted that, like herself, many high school students who spend time on the campus during the summer apply for admission to the college in the following months.

The school offers scholarships and financial aid for its summer program.

“If a student wants to come, we'll try to make it possible,” Geiger said.

There's also another perk — if a student decides to enroll at the college after attending a summer program, Geiger said, the school will give him a $4,000 scholarship.

Mary Ann Sullivan writes from

New Durham, New Hampshire.