Catholic School Retreats
Donna Power from Experience Wellbeing creates and facilitates Catholic School Retreats in Brisbane and wider Queensland for both primary and secondary schools.
Here she has posted a helpful article that explains what Catholic School Retreats are and how to optimise yours (from the Cardinal Clancy Centre for Research in the Spiritual, Moral, Religious and Pastoral Dimensions of Education).
REFLECTIONS ON CATHOLIC SCHOOL RETREATS IN CATHOLIC SECONDARY SCHOOLS
Graham Rossiter, School of Religious Education Australian Catholic University Sydney
Following these introductory remarks there are three contributions from teachers, reflecting on different aspects of Catholic School Retreats.
The retreat has been one of the most successful components of religious education in Catholic schools in Australia. Complementing their extensive tradition in Catholic spirituality generally (especially within religious orders), catholic school retreats have had a long history in Catholic schooling. Students who attended Catholic schools in the 1950s would remember retreat days consisting of lectures from a priest, spiritual reading, time for reflection, prayer sessions and benediction. While retaining their prominent spiritual focus, catholic school retreats have evolved into a variety of forms since that time.
Successful Catholic School Retreats
The success of retreats is not just a matter of having the right techniques and activities. The retreat experience provides possibilities for enhancing young people’s spirituality that are different from, but complementary to, those of the classroom and general school context. Valuing the retreat’s distinctiveness is one thing; but also important is its integration within the school’s total program for religious education.
Some important questions about catholic school retreats that will be considered here are:-
– The emotional/personal dimension of catholic school retreats:
– The relevance of therapeutic and counselling models for understanding the personal dynamics of retreats and for structuring retreat experiences.
– To extent to which it is appropriate to try to generate emotion and euphoria in a retreat.
– The extent to which the retreat experience meets the personal needs of the adults who are conducting the retreats.
Whether the retreat is optional or compulsory, retreat teams need to spell out clearly what expectations they have. This will often focus on personal contributions from the students. Care needs to be taken that the invitation to an increased personalism during the retreat is not forced or manipulative. The retreat team also needs to know what the students expect; there needs to be dialogue and clarification.
So, different expectations go with different retreat formats — all of which have potential to enhance the spirituality of students. In some instances, effective catholic school retreats have been conducted for a whole year level group, numbering about 120, while smaller optional groups of about 25 would be easier to manage with simpler logistics at the retreat site, but with perhaps more complicated organisation needed back at school to cover the absences of teachers and pupils.
For retreat leaders, an understanding of group dynamics and of the types of personal contributions that individuals make to group discussions is important; skill and sensitivity in fostering personal discussions are invaluable. The approach is naturally more relaxed and open ended than that of the classroom.
There remains a natural tendency for teachers who conduct catholic school retreats (and also to some extent for classroom religious education) to think that what proves interesting and exciting for them personally, emotionally or spiritually will have relevance to their catholic school retreats. Their own emotional and spiritual inclinations inform what they think is appropriate for their students. This is normal and healthy as long as there is balance and a readiness not to presume that ones’ own emotional needs correspond exactly with those of the students. Today there is more interest in the application of ideas from Myers Briggs, eneagrams, massage, journalling, relaxation therapy, aromatherapy etc. All have a useful contribution to make to retreat work. Where the emphasis is exaggerated, the students will be quick to recognise when a staff member is on a particular ‘hobby horse’. One recent example involved a retreat team member who told the students his purpose in retreats was ’emotional therapy’ — “for whom?” the students asked.
The retreat as an experience that fosters spiritual and personal growth in young people will almost inevitably draw on psychology and on psychological techniques. But if the psychological emphasis is excessive, and if techniques are employed that would make an experienced psychotherapist cringe, then the spiritual and personal value of the catholic school retreats will be compromised.
There is no doubt that personalism is a central and invaluable component of the retreat. Articulating what is a healthy personalism on a retreat is therefore important for both students and participating staff.
Maturity and balance are required of school retreat staff because their efforts to promote the emotional/personal dimension of catholic school retreats need to be authentic, enjoyable and educational — and not artificial or manipulative.
A key focus of interest of retreat teams, but not the only one, is often the emotion and general feeling of well being (euphoria) generated in the students during the retreat — it may be talked about as if it were a barometer of success. This is natural enough because the retreat can have much personal significance for students and staff — like what Maslow called a ‘peak experience’. Just as was the case in the 1970s, there is still the need for retreat leaders to review carefully what they see as appropriate as regards the emotionality of their catholic school retreats.
It is important to highlight the possibility and the value of personal discussions without forcing this onto the students. The leaders need to recognise that the students will respond to this naturally and easily. In some instances students will not do this and will resist attempts to try to get them to be personal. This is where a sensitivity on the part of the leaders to the students’ privacy and freedom is crucial.
Emotion and euphoria — related to community experience and personal interactions — are important ingredients in the retreat. The feelings of well being and enjoyment often have a spiritual dimension — “where two or three are gathered in my name. . . ” This is particularly relevant to the sacramental celebrations of Reconciliation and Eucharist.
Emotion should not be sought just for emotion’s sake. Some retreat leaders seem to think that having students shed real or virtual tears in their group is proof they have been successful. Or, they will have a go for the marathon record for length of Reconciliation service and Eucharist (with ever more varied add-on activities) — which may leave students both physically and emotionally drained. If the catholic school retreats get too extravagant in this regard, they become manipulative, having a long term negative effect even though students may feel they liked the emotional experience at the time. Staff need to weigh up what sort of emotion a particular activity is likely to generate. They need to judge: Is this being done with the education of young people in mind and not just to stimulate them towards an emotional high?
Re-emphasising the point made above: balance is essential.
An important factor in the emotionality of catholic school retreats is the level of intimacy in discussions. Learning how to relate to others at a personal level is an important developmental task for adolescents. Often at school and in other social settings all sorts of stereotypes and restrictions inhibit relaxed friendly relations. The retreat can be an experience where these problems are minimised and students can enjoy the thrill of being able to relate in a friendly and relaxed way in discussing personal matters — something they find so difficult in other contexts.
On the other hand, there may be problems where school staff who like relating personally to students use the retreat more for meeting their emotional needs than those of their students. Alarm bells sound for me when I hear an overemphasis of the counselling language of ‘risk’, ‘openness’, ‘giving of yourself’ and ‘vulnerability’ etc. inviting personal interactions and confidences from students. Questions need to be answered as to what are appropriate procedures for promoting personal contributions from students; and when are emotion and euphoria natural, healthy components of the retreat, and how are they to be handled so that the students will benefit from the experience without feeling at some later stage that their responses and emotions had been ‘engineered’.
The above topics are not always discussed amongst retreat team members as much as they should be. However, because they are often important threads running through the fabric of the retreat experience they warrant thoughtful consideration.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *Retreat centres across the Archdiocese of Brisbane provide a quiet place for prayer and reflection for Catholic School Retreats.
Within the Archdiocese of Brisbane there are a number of retreat centres that provide a quiet place for prayer and reflection. Some of these centres organise a program of retreats and make available spiritual direction for retreatants. You need to contact the retreat centre directly for costs, programs, availability and bookings.
Santa Teresa Spirituality Centre
267 Wellington St Ormiston
This picturesque centre for retreats and spiritual formation overlooks Moreton Bay and North Stradbroke Island. Formerly known as ‘The Cenacle’, a major refurbishment and the building of new facilities in 2009 now provides accommodation for 30 retreatants. This centre is owned and run by the Archdiocese of Brisbane through its Evangelisation Brisbane Agency.
371 Simpsons Rd Bardon
Nestled on the foothills close to Mt Coot-tha about 6km from the City Centre with large, peaceful grounds, this centre has facilities suitable for residential courses, conferences and retreats for groups. Private retreatants are welcome. Spiritual direction is not available. This centre is a ministry of the Sisters of Mercy.
Beechmont Road, Canungra (Gold Coast hinterland)
St. Joseph’s Hermitage Retreat Centre at the Shrine of Our Lady Help of Christians, located in a serene, naturally beautiful setting, provides an opportunity for extended solitude, prayer and spiritual renewal. Accommodations (self-contained) is available for small groups, couples, families and individuals. This centre is a ministry of the Pauline Fathers.
For enquiries and bookings contact:
Ph: 07 5533 3378
104 Robinson Road South Ocean View (near Dayboro)
Earth Link encourages connectedness of people and the earth through education, spirituality, promoting biodiversity and sustainability through action for justice for the earth. Located on 43 acres of open forest on the edges of the D’Aguilar Range, the centre focuses on an “earth-sensitive” spirituality. This centre is a ministry of the Sisters of Mercy.
Faber Centre of Ignatian Spirituality
111 Sir Samuel Griffith Drive, Bardon
The Faber centre facilitates a range of retreats, formation experiences (including the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius) and spiritual direction opportunities within the Ignatian tradition. This centre is a ministry of the Jesuits.