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Freshmen explore faith and friendship on retreat

John Cameron | Monday, October 3, 2011

Coming to Notre Dame from a nonreligious high school, freshman Khayla Smith said her connection with God was not as strong as she would have liked. After this weekend’s Freshmen Retreat, though, that connection got a little bit stronger.

“It was definitely something new for me,” she said. “[The retreat] made a lot of relationships stronger, both with God and with meeting new people.”

Director of Freshmen Retreats Fr. Pete McCormick said the retreat, offered to freshmen twice each semester, gives students time to concentrate on their faith.

“The purpose of the retreat is to give freshmen the opportunity to take a break from the hectic pace of life and a little bit of time to focus on their faith,” he said. “So often, freshman year, [faith] goes out the window because there are so many other pressing things.”

McCormick said the retreat was also intended to help students establish better relationships with their peers and to support one another in facing common challenges.

“So many of these things — roommates, homesickness, loneliness — they think it’s unique to them,” he said. “When they meet together they realize it’s a shared experience.”

The first night of the retreat focused on allowing the students to get to know one another and share feelings about the freshmen year experience, McCormick said. The second day focused more on faith and included an adoration and confession.

Smith said the trip to the Grotto was the part of the weekend that had the greatest impact on her.

“My favorite part was when we went to the Grotto Friday night,” she said. “Being there with everyone, it just made me feel closer to God.”

Sophomore Dominic Romeo was one of 24 sophomores tasked with leading the retreat. He co-led a small group from the 80 freshmen who participated.

He attended the retreat last year and wanted to make sure this year’s participants had as positive an experience as he did.

“I went last year before Christmas right when everything was getting really hectic for me,” he said. “It ended up being a good escape from busy campus life.”

Even though the retreat was held at the Notre Dame Retreat House on the edge of campus, Romeo said the change of setting was important to giving students a better perspective on their experience of Notre Dame.

“Everyone thinks they’re too busy, but being forced to step out of it all gives you a chance to really look at your faith and your time at Notre Dame,” he said.

McCormick said attending the retreat in the first year of college gives freshmen the tools and relationships to make the most of their experience at the University.

“The retreat really helps them dig into the rest of the semester, and their career at Notre Dame,” he said. “It gives them an even greater sense of being home here.”