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Saint Mary’s hosts annual welcome retreat

Emilie Kefalas | Monday, September 9, 2013

This past weekend, Saint Mary’s Campus Ministry hosted a spiritual retreat for first-year students centered on faith, community and friendship,
Senior Devree Stopczynski, retreat leader and this year’s student coordinator, said the fundamental themes of the retreat were friendship and community.

“Through a series of talks, journal time, and small group discussions, the retreat explores the questions ‘Who am I?’, ‘What is friendship?’, and finally ‘How do I become part of a community?'”

The retreat took place at Camp Amigo in Sturgis, Michigan. About 30 first-years and their leaders came together for the 24-hour jouney, Stopczynski said.   

Campus Ministry Assistant Director Regina Wilson, who attended the retreat, said the retreat aims to provide students with a positive and meaningful way to begin the new year.

“We always hold this retreat as soon as possible after the school year begins because students get very busy with studies and find it hard to get away later in the year,” Wilson said.

The religious getaway aims to ease any school stress while strengthening students’ connection with Christ and their Belles community. This was accomplished through interactive activities and retreat team stories, freshman Kathryn FitzMaurice said.

“The retreat started with some get-to-know-you games,” she said. “We had about three talks throughout the retreat given by the retreat team on friendship, and community. They were all very relevant to our lives because they were given by students.  They were easy to relate to.”

For students, as well as the upperclassmen Campus Ministry Intern leaders, the retreat allowed fellow first-year students to personally connect and relate on multiple levels, Stopczynski said.

“I definitely see spiritual and communal aspects within these opportunities,” she said. “When first-years come to campus, they may be very focused on faith, but it is usually the first time they are responsible for keeping a faith life, I know that was the case for me. I think this retreat and other opportunities within Campus Ministry provide first years with an outlet to keep faith life strong and to build a community with other faith filled individuals.”

Freshman Paige Spears said a personal motivation for her included finding fellow students with faith as deep as her own.

“I was trying to find people that had a faith like mine, a stronger faith, because when you walk around school, you really don’t see thepeople who love God immediately,” she said. “It was cool to see which ones had the same faith as me [and] find those girls in the crowd.”

Companionship amongst the students enriched with her favorite exercise, which involved involving Belle-to-Belle honesty, Spears said.    

“My favorite thing we did was [an activity] where you had a booklet, and it had open-ended prompt like, ‘What I think of you is…'” Spears said. “You answer to [your partner] what you think of them […] and [the prompts] get deeper as you go.  You just read these [questions] and you just have this really deep conversation with someone.  It was awesome.”

Through time together around campfire, singing and a taking spiritual walk, the girls were able to truly experience God’s presence in their lives, Spears said.  

“It was so beautiful and we were just emerged in nature thanking God for all he has given us … It was super effective and meaningful.” she said.

Self-reflection following two weeks of hectic schedules allows for room in students’ lives for spiritual and collective exploration needed to positively impact their college experience, Stopczynski said.    

“I think the first years really enjoy knowing that they are not the only ones going through a change in terms of faith life, student life, and social life.” Stopczynski said. “They get to begin long lasting relationships with other women that have similar views, hopes, fears, and goals.”

Students always voice a very positive perception of the retreat upon returning, and they appreciate the opportunity to share a piece of themselves with others they come to call friends, Wilson said.

“The students understand and come to know Saint Mary’s is a place that is committed to nurturing faith, to building a community that is empowered by the Spirit and that they are known and valued for who they are.” Wilson said. “They come to build friendships, for many of them, that last throughout their four years.”
Spears said these friendships would be rooted in God following the retreat.

“God’s there, and we all believe in God.  These girls are there for you, and if you ever need anything, you have a solid select group of 29 friends immediately.”