By Samuel Matthews
Three hundred and eight members of the freshman class participated in the Class of 2021 Freshman Retreat, a weekend retreat designed to bring new students closer together and help them grow in their faith. Their destination? Sandy Hill Camp and Retreat Center in North East, Maryland, about two hours from Catholic. The retreat, put on by the Office of Campus Ministry, began the morning of Friday, September 8th, and the group returned to CUA on Sunday the 10th. “What the freshman retreat affords,” said University Chaplain Rev. Jude DeAngelo, “Is the opportunity for all these different freshmen from different places throughout the country and the world to gather and to realize that there are people on our campus who share their faith and their desire to grow in Christ.”
Before they left, the students were assigned to one of the 32 small groups led by either a student minister or sophomore on the retreat team. Fitting this year’s theme of “Stride On,” each small group was named after a mountain. The small groups presented the opportunity to meet students outside of the familiar faces from dorms and LCs.
“It brought people together who might not otherwise have met,” said Tom Dompkowski, a freshman Philosophy and Media and Communications double major who attended the retreat.
Small groups met after the talks given by members of the Freshman Retreat team. Often, personal topics were explored like the role of faith in college and methods of forming healthy relationships.
“It got a lot of people to step out of their comfort zones,” Tom said.
After arriving at the retreat center, students participated in night prayer. Saturday morning, after a talk on faith journeys, the students played team building games in their small groups. Some struggled to keep a straight face during the “Pterodactyl” game, and others attempted to untangle their small group from human knots. The games were followed by a talk on new beginnings, very appropriate for the Class of 2021, and a period of free time.
Free time began with an optional Mass celebrated by Rev. Eric de la Pena. According to Associate Campus Minister for Men’s Ministry Pat Fricchione, it was attended by one third of the retreatants. Students also canoed in the Chesapeake, played basketball, and spent time with their classmates.
The variety of available experiences was one of the things appreciated most by Cassie George, small group leader, resident minister for Unanue, and junior finance major. “It has such a range in what it does for each person,” Cassie said. “You have moments of prayer and you have moments of fruitful conversations. You have moments of laughter and spending time with friends and making new friends.”
Another highlight of the retreat for many was an address by the Catholic University of America’s President John Garvey and his wife Jeanne Garvey. In an atmosphere described by Tom Dompkowski as both “lighthearted” and “dynamic,” the Garveys talked about love, marriage, relationships, life, and the story behind campus favorite, Gus the dog.
Students listened to talks on the Eucharist and Confession before participating in Eucharistic adoration. Sister Ruth Harkins led an Examination of Conscience and then there was an opportunity for Confession.
Fricchione was surprised by how many students immediately headed to the confessionals, which ended up being between 200 and 250 freshmen. “It was really impressive to see this whole group of people just get up and go,” he said.
Dompkowski was moved by seeing “all these people in one place for one purpose, to adore Jesus.”
Saturday night did not end with adoration. Retreat participants huddled around a bonfire with s’mores and joined a dance party in the gym.
Sunday Mass was celebrated by university chaplain Rev. DeAngelo and concelebrated by Rev. Albert Puliyadan. Freshmen received their retreat t-shirts because, as the explanation went, what would a Catholic University of America event be without t-shirts?
The Freshman Retreat participants stepped off the buses closer to one another than they had been just two days earlier. Many were busy talking to newfound friends when they picked up their luggage. They had, in the words of Cassie George, spent the weekend “diving into CUA as your home.”