King’s College Encounters Christ Retreat
Roughly 40 eager students packed their bags and boarded a traditional yellow school bus, not fully knowing what to expect over the three day weekend that made up King’s College’s yearly Christian Retreat, the King’s College Encounter. The retreat gives students the opportunity to reflect on their faith, way of life, and beliefs.
Fr. Dan Issing, C.S.C. and Deacon Chase Pepper, C.S.C accompanied the students on their spiritual retreat experience.
This year’s retreat took place Jan. 30 to Feb. 1 and marks the sixth year of the retreat. It was revived after a hiatus by Issing, who said organizing the retreat is a privilege and a highly collaborative effort.
“I work closely with Tammy Singer of the Shoval Center to assure the theological vision of the retreat, provide pastoral support, and form the team for excellence,” Issing said. “Year after year, the miracle unfolds, and student-participants describe this as one of the best – if not the best – of their experiences at King’s. It’s truly a blessed experience for someone who is serious about life and wants to have a lifelong and flourishing relationship with God.”
Student coordinators Ryan Boyle and Michelle LaMaire, along with other staff members and student leaders, greeted the students as they arrived at St. Gabriel’s after a 40 minute bus ride.
Issing had nothing but praise for the student leaders and campus ministers, who spent six weeks faith sharing, praying together, leading prayer and small groups and being virtuous members of the community, all basics of the Christian community, in order to prepare for the event.
“This year’s team, led by Ryan Boyle, was brilliant,” Issing said. “They rallied an amazing group of young Christians who gave of themselves throughout the weekend in beautiful ways. I cannot to begin to thank the team for all of their generosity and hard work.”
The retreat provides students with the opportunity to share with others, learn about themselves and their Christian faith, according to organizer Ryan Boyle, who said the environment of the retreat allows for a memorable experience.
“The purpose of the retreat is to foster an environment in which one encounters Christ in a profound way,” Boyle said. “On the retreat, students challenge their faith, purpose in life, and their overall big picture beliefs. It is an incredible experience that every student at King’s should take part in. For me personally, the King’s College Encounters Christ Retreat is by far the greatest experience I have had at King’s and perhaps even in my whole life.”
“The encounter retreat has been one of the most impactful experiences of my life,” Jean-Jacques said. “I have never grown so much personally and spiritually as I have through that short weekend. I have learned so much about being Christian and what that means through not only priests and other religious people, but through the other members of the King’s College student body.”
As the students went to find their rooms and get settled in, a process that included meeting a roommate, they wasted no time in kindly introducing themselves to one another and sharing laughs as they unpacked, taking advantage of some free time to get to know one another.
The retreat “officially” began when the students were asked to copy down various words or phrases that were read aloud, including challenge, love, courage, soul equals true self and sacramental vision. Over the course of the retreat the students developed a deeper understanding of the importance of these words or phrases and how to better apply them to their everyday lives.
Student leaders shared their experiences and faith, and the students broke off into smaller groups to discuss their thoughts and feelings on the subject matter in a more private setting. During this time, students were allowed to open up and share their own personal struggles or relate the discussion topic to their life circumstances.
Students also had the option to sit down with Issing, Fr. Thomas Looney, C.S.C., Fr. Brent Kruger, C.S.C and Fr. Eric Schimmel, C.S.C., or any other individual they wished to seek spiritual guidance from privately and discuss whatever issues that may have been bothering them.
Prayer was a large part of the encounter retreat and included prayers before meals and formal prayer services such as Taize and Sunday Mass, with extended time being devoted to mediation and reflection.
Meals were a communal event, cooked by the retreat staff and eaten together, with students randomly choosing a number at each meal which determined where they would sit. This provided students with an opportunity to talk with people they hadn’t introduced themselves to yet in addition to socializing with those they had already made connections with.
All of these events gave students opportunities to develop deeper understandings of themselves and their faith, which student leader Tim Mike said is one of the most important aspects of the retreat.
“The King’s College Encounters Christ retreat was a profound weekend, different from anything I have experienced throughout my four years at Kings, and it has affected me in ways that I cannot readily explain,” Mike said. “I recommend this retreat for anyone and everyone who is a Christian and wants to get to know himself or herself more intimately through the lens of their Christian faith.”
The weekend was full of spiritual development, surprises and blessings. In order to fully understand and appreciate the experience, it is highly encouraged that you attend a retreat before graduating.
“We never talk about the specifics of the weekend – for there is an element of surprise in all of this – but the setting is a relaxed atmosphere to meditate upon and deepen one’s relationship to self, others, and God,” Issing said. “It’s a remarkable and fun human experience.”
The hard work of the student leaders and coordinators and campus ministers certainly paid off.
“Surely, the faith-filled risks of the team stirred goodness among all of us: the freedom to be our true ‘blue’ selves,” Issing said. “Jesus once said, ‘Whenever two or three gather in my name, there am I in their midst.’ This was surely true on the weekend of Jan. 30-Feb. 1, 2015. I encourage students to think seriously about joining us next February!”