Freshmen Participate in Fall Escape Retreat to Cape May



By: Ryan Weicht Staff Writer

While many Villanovans spent Oct. 26 through 28 watching homecoming football and dressing in extravagant Halloween costumes, a small group of student’s weekends took place away from campus. Just days back from fall break, freshman retreatants, sophomore leaders and their campus ministry interns traveled to the Marianist Family Retreat Center in Cape May for a short getaway. 

This particular getaway was Campus Ministry’s First Year Escape Retreat. The objective of the trip is to discover friendships, explore faith and values and energize oneself to make the most of the University. These goals are facilitated through the structure of the retreat. Time is generally divided between talks given by student leaders, personal reflection and small group discussion. Each of these provide students with a different way to think and interact. Talks determine the overall theme of reflection and discussion, with a variety of topics covering many aspects of college life that new students may often ponder or struggle with. Though this may sound daunting, retreatants are provided with a warm, welcoming atmosphere as soon as they arrive. Vulnerability is invited but not forced, while silence is accepted and not discouraged. As a result, students from entirely different backgrounds enjoy a common openness that only grows throughout the weekend.

Students began the fall retreat by getting acquainted with each other and the beautiful Marianist Family Retreat Center. The center is in a seaside town just minutes from the beach. It is occupied by Marianist brothers who welcome many groups seeking spiritual development year-round. Though old, the house is well-kept, spacious, and charming—perfect for a group of tired students stepping off a two-hour bus ride. Introductions and icebreakers began familiarization between retreatants, but bonds were quickly made firmer when students met their small groups. While these groups consisted of the people with which participants spent the most time, meals allowed everyone to connect with the greater body of retreatants. Although the weekend passed quickly, the escape allowed friendships to form fast.

Throughout the retreat, many topics were given to students for reflection. These included “Identity and Self,” “Relationships,” “Social Pressures,” “Faith & Prayer” and even a discussion on how to proceed when returning to campus. The retreat was grounded in Christian and Augustinian tradition, but students of all faith backgrounds—as well as those who do not identify with any religious tradition —were welcomed. Discussion was honest, inclusive and brought about many realizations and unseen similarities between students. Reflection, a quieter exercise, allowed students to peacefully sort their thoughts. One of the most impactful moments of the trip was the ‘hour of silence’ in which students could find a private spot wherever they wanted— a warm nook inside, a chair on the porch or even by the waves on the beach to journal or clear their heads. Escaping from the hectic nature of college life and taking a breather was a productive experience for all.

While much bonding took place over discussion and reflection, games and free time fun were another unforgettable part of the trip. There were dance parties, group games and many short periods of time where students could interact between talks, discussions and reflections. During these times participants not only developed friendships, but they also explored the area. Being at Cape May, it was obligatory that retreatants pay a visit to the beach. There, even the rain, crashing waves, and October chill didn’t stop some from getting wet… or even jumping in. Leaders worked hard to perfectly balance free time and game time with deeper thinking, never overwhelming the freshmen but still achieving the goals of the escape.

I would highly recommend any freshman to take part in the second semester iteration of the First Year Escape that will be offered from Feb. 1 to 3. Campus Ministry ran a well-structured and balanced retreat in one of the most enjoyable, relaxing, and welcoming locations possible.  Each student left feeling renewed and refreshed. With a host of new friends, memories and some vacation time. Leaders did an excellent job of facilitating games, discussion, bonding and making students feel comfortable. If anything can sum up the experience, it is the Saint Augustine quote printed on the retreatants’ journals: “Whenever you go out, walk together, and when you reach your destination, stay together.” This trip allowed every participating student to walk together through a short but sweet journey. Their memories will stay and keep them together on campus for years to come.