Retreatants played games on Mendel Field as part of the retreat.

Freshman year, a crucial transition period from high school to college, has featured unprecedented difficulties for students in the Class of 2024, who are also adjusting to college life amidst a pandemic. To provide support for first-year students, Campus Ministry hosted its semi-annual “First Year Escape Retreat,” an exclusive opportunity for freshmen seeking to discover new friendships, explore their faith and values and make the most out of their next four years at the University. 

From Oct. 23-25, more than 20 students experienced a modified, COVID-friendly retreat experience. Instead of being off-campus, like in years past, the retreat was held primarily in-person on Mendel Field for communal activities. Zoom was utilized for the opening and closing ceremonies, but students were able to spend time meeting with small group members in Tolentine Hall. In these classrooms, freshmen watched pre-recorded talks about relevant topics including “Identity and Self,” “Relationships” and “Social Pressures.” Journaling time provided an opportunity to personally reflect, and students were paired with one another throughout the day to share their experiences. 

“COVID-19 has changed how everyone is experiencing college, and that includes our social interactions,” Carly Cohen, one of the Campus Ministry Interns (CMIs) leading the retreat, said. “Providing retreat opportunities this semester has been only one of the many ways Campus Ministry has continued our mission of ‘Searching together’ — our programming may look different, but the core of the community remains the same.”

In the final stretch of classes before finals, many students signed up searching for an outlet to refresh their minds and take a break from the challenging semester.

“I decided to go on Escape to have a weekend of reflection and connection,” retreatant Moira Horan said. “I thought it would be nice to take a step back and meet some new people through conversation.” 

The Campus Ministry staff worked with the Events Management Committee to ensure that the retreat would happen safely, providing an opportunity for freshmen to interact with one another in ways that adhered to The CARITAS Commitment. 

Since August, the Escape student leaders and CMIs have worked tirelessly to adapt the structure of the retreat. 

“I hope the retreatants had an opportunity to create new friendships and establish meaningful relationships with some of their peers,” Emily Holland, a retreat leader, said. “I hope they get the opportunity to reflect on who they are and what they want out of their college experience as well as have a chance to relax and rewind in the midst of this hectic semester.”

The retreat also provided an opportunity for freshmen to interact with sophomores involved in Campus Ministry. 

“Building connections was an important goal of mine last October, and Escape was a great outlet for me to do that,” sophomore Nick Devine said. “I wanted to lead a small group this year because it was so much fun and helped me reflect on my freshman year. Escape is a way for me to give back to the freshmen just as my leaders did to me.”

Despite the untraditional retreat format, Escape remained an invaluable experience for freshmen who attended. Leaving Escape, retreatants were encouraged to continue pursuing new relationships. 

“We’ve all taken great care to physically distance ourselves to keep others safe,” Cohen said. “We also must take great care to continue making intentional connections.”

The Escape Retreat will also be offered in the Spring for students interested in a similar experience.