Retreating

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I have been hearing about KAIROS since the year I regularly subbed at St. Vincent Pallotti High School. Three times a year, one-third of the juniors are whisked away to a retreat center, and when each gaggle returns, I hear how transformative it was for them.

Finally, late last school year, I asked our Director of Campus Ministry if I could be a chaperone to see what it was all about. I hadn’t asked earlier because I recognize it as an intensely spiritual time for the students, and I am not at all spiritual. Our director, who had invited me on the Belize Mision Trip in 2019 while knowing this, agreed. Then she left. I waited for our new director, who had previously served with the school, to settle in before asking. She was initially hesitant, but we had a long talk, and she decided that I was at Pallotti for a reason and could attend.

We were taken to a retreat center north of Baltimore, and I was one of five faculty members to assist her. There would be a mix of large group ptrayer, small group discussion, and each senior spoke on a specific topic. Some faculty spoke, too. There was a mass and other times for prayer and reflection. But it was run by the seniors, with one as the team lead.

I had taught most of the seniors once or twice and therefore knew most of them, and it was nice to see how they have grown and matured, rising to the occasion. Similarly, many of the juniors were ones I taught during the hybrid year of 2020-21, which was, in retrospect, more failure than success. Masked heads on screen, or mere voices, were now full-bodied people, and it was gratifying to reconnect with several in my small group.

I had previously used the number of students receiving communion during the monthly masses as a barometer of their religion. This trip proved to me how wrong that assumption was. Students fought to lead grace at meals and opened up about when they prayed and their connection with God. Some were reluctant to speak or pray on day one, but I watched my leader coax and cajole them into opening up, making things easier.

On Thursday, an hour was set aside for the students to read letters written in advance by their parents, teachers, and seniors. I walked the grounds and the building, and while no one sought me out, I saw many in tears, some reading and rereading their lettebuilding was the cathartic moment I always heard about tears as a chance to read and reflect with the leaders and faculty on hand should anyone wish to talk.

There was fun and games, with the teams preparing a skit based on randomly assigned religious prompts. Our principal always pays a visit at this time and loves to judge these and I have to say, they also rose to the occasion with many wonderfully funny ones that got the message across.

On the final day, the groups met one last time, and each spoke about their experience as every member shared something they learned or observed about the others. We went nearly half an hour over our allotted time as one after another came up and spoke, often in tears, more often receiving group hugs in support. And when we returned to school, they gathered in the chapel, and as one, they were offered to share their feelings with the entire group.

I went to learn more about my students as people, to support the seniors, and to lend a hand. It was reveltatory about them, not so much about myself. It was a wonderful experience and I would certainly do it again if invited.

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