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Campus Ministry gets creative with retreats

Matthew Smedberg | Friday, February 6, 2004

It begins at Freshman Orientation, with posters on residence hall bulletin boards advertising the Freshman Retreat. It continues with the Notre Dame Encounter and the Sophomore Road Trip. If you are a senior, man, woman, Asian, black, Latino, MBA student, gay, lesbian or bisexual, Campus Ministry has a retreat for you.Campus Ministries offers retreats throughout the year attracting about 3,200 students, or more than a third of the undergraduate population. Each retreat is unique, according to Father Kevin Russeau, director of freshman retreats. Russeau said that the retreats do not contain a set format, though certain elements appear in all, such as presentations by the retreat director and his or her assistant leaders, as well as icebreakers and small group discussions.The retreats vary widely in length, size and scope. A freshman retreat, offered six times a year, lasts 26 hours and can accommodate up to 90 participants. The Man’s Weekend, Campus Ministry’s newest offering, lasts nearly two days.The Man’s Weekend is a unique event in many ways. The first one, which took place last October, included a pig roast – but it is still geared towards developing the spiritual life of each participant. Students who attended the retreat spoke very highly of the experience.”It was an awesome experience,” said junior DJ DiDonna. “There was a good blend of spirituality and time to be alone, to pray, to relax. It was great to have the leaders give talks about what it means to be a man in the Church today, to have a chance to think about vocations, not necessarily as a priest, but just as a man. It was a very refreshing experience.”Russeau said that student response coming out of retreats is overwhelmingly positive. He said that freshmen wish that their retreat could be longer, while seniors attending their first retreat wish they had done one sooner. Nevertheless, there is a certain amount of salesmanship involved in getting students to sign up. Russeau said that his colleagues have had to essentially reinvent the women’s retreat, because so few students signed up for it in previous years that several had to be cancelled.Students from all religious backgrounds are invited to participate, he said. “While the spirituality we offer in retreats is unavoidably Christian in nature, we do not concentrate on doctrinal issues, but on relationship.”In the retreats he has led, students whom he knew were not Catholic “asked some of the best questions” out of all students; he has had non-Catholics as leaders and presenters.DiDonna said that, coming from a Catholic high school, he had been to many retreats before, but the voluntary nature of Notre Dame retreats meant that “a different crowd” participated. He said that, for someone who is serious about deepening their relationship with God, whether Catholic or not, a Notre Dame retreat is ideal.”Not every student will go on a retreat,” said Russeau. “However, we like to think of those who do as acting as a kind of ‘leaven’ for the campus. We hope that they will be better equipped to make good decisions.”