Freshmen on fire for Christ

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The Genesis Retreat allowed for freshmen and transfer students to join in fellowship and faith. Photo courtesy of Becca Leonard.

The success of the 2023 Genesis Retreat

From Sept. 22 to Sept. 24, Campus Ministry held its annual Genesis Retreat for freshmen and transfer students at Camp Copass in Denton. Led by a joint force of upperclassmen volunteers, Deacon Ryan Sales and the Campus Ministry team, the weekend comprised a wide variety of events that balanced a steady flow of prayer with fun icebreaker activities for retreatants. Being UD’s inaugural retreat for the year, Genesis sets the foundation for what students can expect from subsequent retreats such as Crusader Awakening in February.

The university continues to advocate for college retreats because of their many benefits. One of these, as explained by Father James Martin Nobles, chaplain of the University of Dallas, is to give students a chance to reorient their relationship with God in their college lives.

“The idea of a retreat is to retreat with the Lord, to take some time to change our pace in a very deliberate and conscious way – in order for us to take a breath and ask the fundamental questions that God’s inviting us to ask about ourselves and our lives,” said Nobles.

This year’s Genesis Retreat was the most organized thus far. Rebecca Leonard, a junior theology and psychology major, and Clare Shrake, senior English major, were the retreat’s co-leaders. Accompanying them were other upperclassmen, who gave talks and then led small group discussions.

According to Sales, the retreat’s attendance tripled this year. Shrake, who also co-led last year’s retreat, attributed this success to Campus Ministry’s increased focus on bringing news directly onto campus.

“We did a lot more marketing this year: trying to talk to people at Orientation Week, hang up posters and make announcements at Mass,” Shrake said. Campus Ministry as a whole came out in full force to ensure an organized and well-attended event.

The retreat weekend balanced prayer with levity, with friendly competitions and party games interspersed with prayer and talks.

“We did this thing called the Small Group Olympics, and you get to see the different small groups perform in various ways and show off their talents – whether that’s trying to get an Oreo into their mouth, or performing an Irish step routine without music,” Shrake said.

Each retreatant joined a small group, which met several times over the course of the weekend to discuss the relevant implications of the speakers’ talks.

“We had some more practical talks about how to succeed as a student, and then also some more spiritually based talks that asked how you can grow into your relationship with God. The hope is that with those talks, everyone can get something out of at least one of them,” Shrake said.

Prayer-wise, the retreat offered two Masses, reconciliation, rosaries by the lake (one of which was multilingual), liturgy of the hours and spiritual guidance.

Shrake continued, “This was the first year that we’ve been able to have Mass on Saturday as well as Sunday. And then also the liturgy of the hours, I loved [having] communal prayer with fifty people. That was wonderful.”

All of these improvements elicited a positive reaction among those who attended. Michael Johnson, a freshman philosophy major, appreciated the camaraderie that formed between students over the weekend, as well as the focus on creating intimate prayer settings for retreatants.

“The most moving prayer activity for me was the hour of silent meditation; to experience that with my classmates was deeply reverent and powerful,” Johnson said.

In spite of the explicit effort made to ensure that the retreat was successful, the core reason for its success was the spiritual openness of the current freshman class.

“This group of freshmen and transfer students that came in: they’re hungry for opportunities to celebrate their faith, to grow deeper in their relationship with Jesus Christ – to come together as a community. There is something special about this group of freshmen,” Sales explained.

“I think the primary objective of a retreat like Genesis is to take people from different backgrounds, even different understandings of Catholicism, and put them all in one room and form a new community,” said Nobles in corroboration.

The freshman body’s desire for enriching spiritual experiences, as well as major improvements made by the event staff, contributed to the success of this year’s Genesis Retreat and set the groundwork for what to expect from Campus Ministry, and from the freshman class of 2027, in the coming months.

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