(SLU) -- At Saint Louis University, each Campus Ministry retreat is a new experience.
Last January, for instance, freshman Serena Sandoval and her friends had a snowball fight during a surprise snowstorm at the Fresh Look Retreat 40 minutes west of campus at the LaSalle retreat center.
The retreat helps first-year students to form relationships while offering plenty of down time for hanging out. There are also times for prayer and reflection.
Fresh Look is just one of the many retreats SLU’s Campus Ministry offers students who want to better understand their relationship with God. Catholics and non-Catholics alike are welcome at these retreats, regardless of their faith background.
Julie McCourt, campus minister at Reinert Hall, echoed the sentiment. “All those from all walks of life are very much welcome to retreats,” she said.
The number of students who attend retreats usually ranges from 10 to 30, with certain ones attracting as many as 50.
Sarah Waninger, a Campus Ministry intern and senior at SLU, has attended numerous retreats and she said a couple stood out. When asked about the Nature Retreat, for instance, she sighed and replied, “So awesome! It’s a great way for people to step outside of the standard city with trees in straight lines and concrete sidewalks.” In this retreat, students immerse themselves in nature while in a group setting.
Another popular choice for SLU students is the Encounter Retreat. Held twice a year, Encounter is an energetic and fast-paced retreat, similar to Kairos, a popular high school retreat. The Rev. Patrick Quinn, Griesedieck Campus Minister, said, “Encounter is a high-energy environment with interactive sharing.”
For those wishing to experience God in a more personal way, Campus Ministry offers the Magis Retreat, which introduces students to a wide variety of prayer forms.
“This retreat definitely gives you different images of God and what the Holy Spirit can do through prayers,” Waninger said.
The Magis Retreat can act as a lead-in to the Ignatian Silent Retreat, where those who attend remain silent for the majority of the four-day retreat.
Quinn said, “It’s not silence in the absence of sound; it’s taking away the distractions so I can be with God.”
Students do still have discussions while meeting on the first night. Additionally, students can speak with their spiritual director periodically throughout the weekend.
Campus Ministry offers many other retreats periodically throughout the year, including a Graduate Student Retreat and the Urban Plunge.
According to Waninger, retreats are about “finding God in our everyday lives and how we can make our faith our own.”
Many retreats also offer an opportunity for students who would like to be leaders. Often, leaders are students who have been on a retreat and feel they can relate their own experiences by connecting with others.
Waninger believes that prospective leaders “don’t have to have all their stuff together before leading a retreat. It is OK to not be fully engaged in your faith life. The most important thing is to be on the journey of growing a deeper relationship with God.”
Students of all grade levels may explore the opportunity of participating in retreats. Waninger said that juniors and seniors should not be apprehensive about going on their first retreat; there is no right or wrong time to develop yourself spiritually, she said.
Whether being alone with God in nature or experiencing faith through interaction with others, Campus Ministry presents students with a unique way to take time out from college life to build their faith.
McCourt summed it up best: “Retreats offer a very unique experience to hear testimonials from others and offer a refreshing time to reconnect with faith life.”
Rick Sadowski and Lizzy Martin are Journalism students at Saint Louis University