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Mothers, daughters participate in discovery-oriented retreat

| Monday, December 4, 2017

Saint Mary’s hosted a mother-daughter retreat, which allowed ten mother and daughter pairs to spend time together while discussing their relationship and vocations, over the weekend. The students were from all around the country and ranged from sophomores to seniors in high school.

Professor of communications Susan Baxter said she planned the event because she would have wanted something like it when her daughter was preparing to leave home for college.

“I thought, the one thing I would have loved to have done with my daughter before she went to college was get some time with her one on one, to talk about what interested her and her life trajectory,” Baxter said.

Baxter said she and her colleagues had been working with undecided students before the conception of the mother-daughter retreat.

“The term undecided has connotations of ‘aimless,’ which is not what undecided students are,” she said. “They’re exploring. What we thought was, wouldn’t it be cool to get mothers and daughters together for a weekend in a setting where the daughters could watch how their mothers’ vocations are still developing? Vocation isn’t a destination. It’s a journey.”

Baxter said she planned the time around December’s annual Madrigal dinners.

“We thought [the Madrigal dinners are] one of the most beautiful things Saint Mary’s does, and it would be so great to have [the retreat] the first Sunday of Advent when [the Madrigal dinners are], so mothers and daughters could … stop and take a second before things get crazy with the holidays,” she said.

Baxter said the event began Friday with an event called “Pizza with the Provost,” which included ice breakers, an introduction to the idea of vocation and a visit from President Jan Cervelli. Saturday featured a discussion on talents with director of Career Crossings Stacie Jeffirs and Carrie Lonier, a 1978 alumna who is now the director of the career center at the Art Institute of Chicago. Baxter said professor of music Nancy Menk and Madrigal singers talked to mothers and daughters over lunch.

On Saturday, several professors held panels to discuss their vocations with the mothers and daughters, Baxter said. Professor of social work Frances Kominkiewicz said in an email she had many mentors in her life who encouraged her vocation, so she wanted to do the same at the retreat.

“I was so fortunate to have many mentors in my life who guided me to find my passion and then helped me to connect that passion to a career path,” she said. “I learned to listen with a ‘third ear’ to their words of wisdom, and to take chances and seize opportunities.  I hope to assist students to find the passion that drives them, that makes them the most enthusiastic about life and that makes them the happiest.  Building that bridge that connects them in fulfilling their passion through a career and their other life activities is my wish for them.”

Baxter said concurrent sessions, dealing with topics such as growing up and maintaining a healthy mother-daughter relationship, were held on Sunday.  

“We had concurrent sessions, one for the daughters to study with Jessica Kimmet from Campus Ministry called ‘Emerging from the Cocoon,’ about how you’re going from being a young girl to an adult, and one for the moms, where [associate professor of psychology] Karen Chambers took them through from ‘Mother to Mentor,’” she said.

Kimmet said in an email she decided to become involved in the retreat because helping high-schoolers develop a mindset for learning will aid in their their growth and development.

“I was excited to spend some time with these visiting young women because, like many of the educators at Saint Mary’s, I feel that the groundwork laid in high school is such an important part of one’s ongoing journey of growth and lifelong learning,” she said. “I was able to work with the daughters on some practices to help them continue their learning mindset beyond their years in school, and really enjoyed talking with them about how to keep cultivating their hearts and minds.”

Baxter said participants also visited a presentation by Iris Giamo, director of the disabilities resource office, about living with learning disabilities.

“Iris Giamo did a session called ‘Learning Disabilities’ about how weaknesses become strengths, and how a person can view their learning disability as something terrific,” she said.

Baxter said the retreat was not meant to be a recruitment event for Saint Mary’s.

“The weekend was not to sell Saint Mary’s — it was just to explore vocation, no matter where they want to go, because they’re not really thinking about that yet, and they shouldn’t feel obligated to,” she said.  

Baxter said the purpose of the retreat was to encourage mother-daughter bonding, because mothers and daughters have a special kind of love.

“The mother-daughter relationship gets a bad [reputation]” she said. “We all know that we fight with our moms, and that we all have issues, but when my mother died in 2010, I realized no one is going to love me in the exact same way as that woman did … and I think it’s really important for mothers and daughters to make that connection.”

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