Freshmen Retreat Makes Meaningful Connections

The freshmen class may have been together since the school year began, but they never had an opportunity to really bond as a class. That was remedied on Saturday during the day-long retreat held at SVPHS.

Bleary-eyed, they arrived with snacks, coffee, and some trepidation about the experience, which required them to be in the building at 8:30. Groups of approximately 10 students, divided by gender, met in various classrooms around the building, being greeted by  Union leaders.

“The union leaders and service team demonstrated excellent leadership.  My freshmen students look up to them and admire and appreciate their mentorship,” said Michael Tenney who co-directed the event.

The Union leaders transformed classrooms into comfortable, relaxed environments complete with snacks, streamers, low-lighting, and in many cases blankets. One went so far as to give each of their girls matching wraps.

Freshman Madison Montague arrived hearing that the day would involve a lot of crying. “It was intense and there were a lot of revelations. Several told me we’d all cry and more than half of us did cry by the end,” she said.

There were icebreaker activities before everyone gathered in the cafeteria for the first of several all-class activities centered around the spiritual side of life at Pallotti. A mass was also conducted by Father Phil Ilg.

But, it wasn’t all prayer. Instead, there were competitive games in the gym as the service team — volunteers from all grades — helped them form pyramids, toss volleyballs, and move freshmen along a human conveyor belt.

There were additional sessions where the group talked about friendship and what it means to be friends with people of the opposite sex. In those discussions, male and female students volunteered to address the opposite sexes on the topic of relationships.

The dinner hour included parent volunteers joining the groups to talk about school, friendships, and family from an adult perspective. Junior Monica Wang was on the service team and said serving this meal was the hardest part of the day, especially when the boys kept asking for more pasta.

“The freshmen were energetic and willing to engage. The upperclassmen on retreat team rose to the occasion and showed great leadership skills, leading discussions, running activities, giving talks, and helping with music. My favorite part of retreat is always when we have an opportunity to come together in prayer. This retreat was no exception. I loved the opportunities that we had to pray during prayer rallies, in adoration, and Mass. It was a long, exhausting day, but ultimately worth it!” Jessica Haning, director of Campus Ministry said. 

The final gathering was in the gym, with low lights, and an altar as Father Anthony Lickteige led everyone through prayer then made himself available for confession. As he tended to the long line of students, the union leaders met one-on-one with their charges for a final debriefing. Among candlelit bleachers, you could see pairs hugging, or crying, or in deep conversation.

“It was great coming back to freshman retreat as a leader,” said Tracy Pham ’19. “I enjoyed getting to know the freshman and welcoming them to the Pallotti community with advice. They were very cooperative and I think it was a wonderful experience for them as well. “

“I was especially happy that so many students embraced the experience of Eucharistic adoration and confession.  I think it was a powerful spiritual moment for many of them,” Tenney said.

By 8:30, everyone was invited into the cafeteria for a cookie party with music and dancing. Despite the twelve-plus hour day, many lingered, not ready to end the experience.   

Montague complained that it was unfair the practice of including a sleepover had been ended two years earlier. She did, though, like the prayerful songs with Mr. Tenney and Ms. Haning before dinner. 

“I’m excited to see them take these lessons and live them out.  I think this class will make Pallotti even more of a family,” Tenney said.

“The retreat day was a big success.  This freshmen class impressed me with their openness to the message of the retreat and their willingness to be transparent with each other and with God.