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Students Build Faith and Community at Freshman Retreat

Image courtesy of Campus Ministry

By Anna Sheehan

Adoration, volleyball, pancakes, inspirational speakers, canoeing, pranks with dead fish from the Chesapeake… Catholic University’s Freshman retreat, held annually by Campus Ministry, yet again offered a memorable weekend for the new folks on campus. With deep talks and fun summer camp-esque activities, the freshmen class grew in faith and friendship at the Sandy Hill Camp and Retreat Center in North East, Maryland.

When students weren’t playing highly competitive volleyball games or discovering fish on the beach, they listened to upperclassmen share their faith experiences and life tips. 

“I thought that the content in the talks were extremely helpful,” freshman music education major Emily Perron said. Her strongest takeaway from the weekend was “making sure you’re present in every situation and really putting your full effort into it and really enjoying the small moments.”

“I think it changed how I look at college as a whole,” freshman nursing major Anna Bergman said. Her favorite part was retreat leader Joe Accardi‘s talk on finding silent time for prayer in the midst of a busy college schedule. Bergman appreciated hearing that “it’s ok to have silence.”

In addition to the speeches, student ministers led “small groups” of about ten freshmen each. These groups represented one of the core places for reflection and faith formation. Each group discussed the speakers’ insights, shared personal faith experiences, and ate meals together. 

“I just felt this sense of belonging to my small group,” freshman architecture major Alyssa Nolan said. “Everyone has their own story, and everyone has different things that they’re going through, and that sense of community was really present there.”

“The retreat leaders were talking a lot about finding a sense of community there, and I think that was really true,” freshman exploratory student Bridget Farrell said. “It’s really just a gift to be able to go to a school where you can not only be accepted for your faith but have people celebrate it with you.”

Community stood out as a major theme of the retreat. Father Jude inspired attendees to live in faith with other people, to serve in D.C., to attend Mass with fellow students who are aiming to love God more, and to spend time with people who will help them to grow. 

“Getting to know people more personally on a deeper level is the core thing to take away from Freshman Retreat and any retreat,” Resident Minister Aidan McIntosh said. 

For many students, the pinnacle of the weekend came on the still, dark Saturday evening. Retreat leaders, student ministers, and nearly two hundred freshmen piled into the gym for adoration. Music ministry students traveled from the Catholic University campus to offer praise and worship music. A confession line the length of the Pryz stretched from the gym door to a dark field, where ten priests sat ready. Students carried lanterns to light their way. Meanwhile, warm Christmas lights lit up the gym, where students rested with blankets or curled up on the floor to be with Jesus.

According to one small group leader, this year’s retreat saw the highest percentage of freshmen going to confession of any retreat year. Several students expressed that adoration and confession made up their favorite part of the retreat. 

“You’re constantly going and going and doing things… and it’s so hard to just find time to just spend alone with God,” freshman nursing major Clara Schneider reflected. “Having those few hours of adoration to just be there in silence, just being able to worship Him and pray to Him was really, really beneficial.”

On whether students should attend Freshman Retreat in the future, Farrell and Nolan were in agreement, with a resounding yes. 

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