The Catholic University of America

Sept. 22, 2014

Freshman Retreat Inspires Students and Leaders

  Students play volleyball during the Freshman Retreat.

Over the weekend of Sept. 12 to 14, approximately 270 first-year students took part in the Office of Campus Ministry’s Freshman Retreat at Sandy Hill Camp in North East, Md. The weekend featured talks, fellowship, prayer, and games. Freshman Retreat Team Leader Angela Fragale, a sophomore international business major and Spanish minor from the Bronx, N.Y., and freshmen Mary Margaret Olohan, an English major from Warrenton, Va., Christa Nuno, a nursing major from San Gabriel, Calif., and David Fisher, a marketing and politics major from Highland, Md., reflect on their experiences at the retreat.

Angela Fragale

What kind of preparation goes into Freshman Retreat?
When [fellow Freshman Retreat Team Leader] Joe Vidal and I found out we were chosen to lead the retreat, our first task was to think of a team of eight additional members to help us give talks and lead small groups during retreat. After a lot of prayer, we chose our team and an awesome support staff of sophomores, led by two juniors, to help with the retreat planning. While the support staff dealt more with logistics and ensuring everything ran smoothly, as retreat leaders, we spent most of our time forming our talks and praying for the freshmen. We also redesigned the schedule of the actual retreat, and spent a lot of time thinking of ways to advertise for it.

What was the schedule like for the weekend?
Upon arriving at Sandy Hill on Friday night, the freshmen listened to the first two talks and met in small groups. Afterward Brother Jim Moore (associate campus minister for justice and missions) and Pamela Tremblay (associate campus minister for women's ministry and pro-life ministry) led a night reflection. In the morning, we gathered for a prayer and then listened to a “faith journey” talk. After lunch, some students played volleyball, soccer, Frisbee, and basketball, others swam in the pool, or canoed on the Chesapeake Bay. Others decorated bags for the Halloween on Campus event and learned more about CUA service opportunities.

We gathered again in the gym for a chastity talk and Rev. Jude DeAngelo, O.F.M. Conv., University chaplain and director of Campus Ministry, answered questions that had been asked anonymously during lunch. After dinner, we were joined by Mike Allen, vice president for student affairs, and President and Mrs. Garvey, who gave advice to the freshmen. Later, many of the students participated in their first adoration. Since it rained, we had to cancel our bonfire, but we ate uncooked s’mores in the cafeteria and had a huge dance party in the gym. In the morning, we listened to the closing talk and then went to Mass. After taking a group picture, we ate brunch and waved goodbye to Sandy Hill.


How do you tailor the program to address the unique issues freshmen are facing?
Each retreat leader spent months working on a talk focused on issues that most freshmen experience, whether that be the obvious new beginning, developing a prayer life, the “awkward” chastity talk, or learning how to accept your past and allowing it to positively influence your future. In addition to these personal testimonies, each freshman was part of a small group, which allowed them to form closer relationships with people and open up more easily.

What is the most rewarding part of being a retreat team leader?
The most rewarding part was definitely getting to meet so many freshmen! The class of 2018 is filled with so many well-rounded young men and women who are genuinely excited for their time at CUA. It’s easy to do any job when you feel appreciated and respected by the people around you, and I was lucky to connect with so many of these amazing students.

What lessons did you take away from the weekend?
I learned that there’s no way to prepare for every obstacle, but it’s extremely important to have faith in the people around you. It’s impossible to do everything on your own and therefore delegating responsibility is necessary. Luckily, the retreat team had the awesome help of the pastoral staff, the support staff, and the student ministers. With a team as strong as that, it’s hard to stress over the little things!

Do you have special memories from your own Freshman Retreat?
This may sound cliché, but the freshmen retreat changed the way I viewed my college experience. At the beginning of last year, I was too caught up with trying to be someone else in order to please others. After retreat, though, I understood that the atmosphere at Catholic University provides the perfect opportunity for me to truly be myself. Also, on that Saturday night during adoration, I finally learned what it meant to see God through not only the Eucharist, but in other people as well. The retreat changed my life for the better and that’s exactly what motivated me to be so passionate about leading it for others.

Freshmen Mary Margaret Olohan, Christa Nuno, and David Fisher

What made you want to participate in Freshman Retreat?
Olohan: I had heard from some of the sophomores about what a great time they had last year at Freshman Retreat. They told me it really influenced their spiritual and social lives at CUA. I thought it would be a good break from my first few weeks of college and a great time with my new friends.

Nuno: I went because I thought it would be a good start to the school year and would help me remember that God is always an important part of my life no matter what. Being from the West Coast, coming to CUA is an especially huge change for me, and I wanted to prepare myself for adjusting to a new life.

Fisher: I was walking through the Edward J. Pryzbyla University Center and Andrew Watts, who was my Honors overnight host, ambushed me and said, "You need to sign up for freshman retreat!" So I talked to some people about it, thought I would love it, and immediately signed up. It just seemed like such an amazing and unique opportunity to grow closer to God with my fellow classmates.

  Students played a muddy game of ga-ga ball.

What was your favorite activity of the weekend?
Olohan: Probably playing ga-ga ball (a variant of dodgeball) out in the rain with some of the other freshmen and retreat leaders. You haven’t played ga-ga ball until you play in the rain.

Nuno: The best activity for me was definitely adoration and confession. It was really refreshing to have that time put aside for prayer and meditation. It’s hard to dedicate time to do that in the midst of all the crazy things you have to do every day, so it was nice to spend quiet time focusing in prayer.

Fisher: My favorite activity by far was adoration and confession. I had only been to one short adoration before, and to experience something of that magnitude and be surrounded by people dedicated to their faith was very emotional. I heard God clearer than ever that night.

Was there a moment that particularly inspired you?
Olohan: I was particularly moved at one point during adoration when I got up to go to confession. I wasn’t looking around and thought the confession line ended after a few students, but when I looked up, I realized that the confession line curved around the walls of the gymnasium and toward the exit. As I made my way toward the end, I saw the faces of many (if not all) of my new friends in line. The room was darkly lit, the choir sounded so beautiful, and the Blessed Sacrament was illuminated so strikingly. I went and stood at the end of the line and was just overcome by the beauty of the moment and the reverence and respect every freshman and retreat leader showed. It was a moment I found really rare and inspiring.

Nuno: I was inspired by the faith and personal stories of the speakers and some members of my small group (go Team Flounder!). It was really interesting to see how people from different backgrounds are seeking a closer relationship with God, even if they’ve fallen on some difficulties.

Fisher: I think in particular, hearing the talk about faith rejuvenated and inspired me. Being able to hear other people talk about their experiences in life and be able to learn from their faith journey strengthened my understanding of my relationship with God immensely.

What did you learn from Freshman Retreat?
Olohan: I was very impressed by the talks the retreat leaders gave, not only by the content, but also by how organized and well presented the talks were. They were obviously topics significantly important to them. Also, my friends and I couldn't believe the level of joy that the retreat leaders had. They were constantly cheerful and excited about their faith, and those are attitudes I’d really like to imitate.

Nuno: I learned that I am not alone at CUA when it comes to struggling with many things at once. There are plenty of people who love the faith and strive to grow closer to God while trying to be good students and define themselves as adults.

Fisher: Freshman Retreat taught me one very important thing, and that is to always remember my faith is my anchor. Even when the seas are trying and I am facing stormy times, my faith will be there to keep me safe and get me through the waves. God's love is so strong and unconditional ... with faith and courage, everything will be alright.




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