This is the second of a series of articles run by the campus section this semester highlighting the ways in which the charism of the Congregation of Holy Cross is lived out at Notre Dame.
We are incomplete. The humble, frank phrase gracing the front of the newest Freshman Retreat T-shirts also serves as the retreat’s theme; it is a message echoing throughout Campus Ministry this year.
This motto is a fitting choice for a retreat that is undergoing some refocusing and restructuring of its own. This year, Freshman Retreat seeks to build upon the strengths of an already well-loved and wide-reaching freshman faith encounter to create even more of an impact on first-year students, specifically by introducing them to the centrality of Holy Cross spirituality in their Notre Dame experiences.
In the past, Notre Dame’s various class retreats (Freshman Retreat, Sophomore Road Trip, and Senior Retreat) as well as the Notre Dame Encounter (NDE) have all been part of the Office of Campus Ministry, but were directed by different people and conducted as largely independent events. This school year, however, John Paul Lichon became the first director of all undergraduate retreats in the Office of Campus Ministry, and the evolution of the Freshman Retreat reflects his hope to cultivate an integrated experience among all Notre Dame retreats.
“I have been given the opportunity to think about [all undergraduate] retreats in a holistic manner,” Lichon said, “how they stand on their own but are also able to build upon each other.”
The Freshman Retreat holds a unique position within that comprehensive vision.
Fr. Pete McCormick, CSC, former director of Freshman Retreat and current chaplain to all undergraduate retreats, described Freshman Retreat as a “doorway” for students into Campus Ministry.
“More often than not, students who come to Freshman Retreat and have a good experience come back to [participate in] other retreats,” Fr. McCormick said. “It gives people insight into what we try to do in Campus Ministry.” That is, insight into an office that uses “a combination of wisdom and care to create a safe place for students to learn and feel at home,” Fr. McCormick explained.
Freshman Retreat has always included a significant social component – a chance to create and foster relationships rooted in common faith. As the retreat grows and develops this year, Lichon emphasized that this component will not be lost. Instead, he wishes to enhance Freshman Retreat by “infusing it with the wisdom of Holy Cross.”
“I think Freshman Retreat should be deeply impactful – nurturing but also challenging,” he said. “We are looking to give good theological context to the things Freshman Retreat already does well. [At the end of the retreat], I hope freshmen will be fired up about meeting people but also about meeting Christ.”
Yet the question remains: How does the theme of “being incomplete” facilitate an encounter with Christ?
Both Lichon and Fr. McCormick pointed back to the educational philosophy of Blessed Basil Moreau, founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross, which has been adopted by Fr. Jim King as Campus Ministry’s guiding theme this year. “Education is the art of helping young people to completeness,” Fr. Moreau wrote in Christian Pedagogy, and Freshman Retreat seeks to serve as an introduction for students to the educational journey to completeness of both knowledge and wisdom at Notre Dame.
“A student’s whole time at Notre Dame is about striving for completeness,” Lichon said. “It is more than learning formulas or history, how to write a paper, or how to find a job. It is about developing good, healthy, Christian friendships, developing [his/her] faith life, making time for prayer, learning and growing in a trusting relationship with God, and through that reaching out to serve others.”
At a competitive research university, “…it can be easy to feel alone in weakness or struggle,” Fr. McCormick noted. By emphasizing completeness rather than perfection the Freshman Retreat hopes to teach students a few lessons. It is okay to learn by making mistakes, and no matter where students seek success, they simply cannot achieve completeness except through Christ.
The Holy Cross spirituality woven throughout the retreat only strengthens its objective to help first-year students relax, make friends, and learn about opportunities to grow in their faith at Notre Dame. This parallels the ways in which the underlying charism of Holy Cross is the foundation of so many of Notre Dame’s objectives and traditions as a university.
“[Notre Dame] is built upon an assumed knowledge of Holy Cross,” McCormick explained. “From the dorms to the way we look at the world and challenge students to grow – it all comes through the prism of Holy Cross. Though that spiritual underpinning was long unarticulated, it doesn’t mean that it wasn’t there,” he said.
In a recent movement by Campus Ministry to bring Holy Cross spirituality to the forefront, Notre Dame as a whole and the Freshman Retreat in particular are able to “connect this lived reality with the engine that drives it,” McCormick said.
“We believe that [Holy Cross] spirituality has an impact on students not only on campus but also in the communities into which they will go forth,” said Fr. McCormick. “It is incumbent upon [Notre Dame] to teach students how to build community, sacrifice for the greater good, and develop their gifts and talents to serve the world so they can do those things even when they leave.” He likened intentional instruction of Holy Cross spirituality to giving students the “recipe” for replicating the most significant and special aspects of Notre Dame wherever they go.
Fr. McCormick said his hope for students by the end of Freshman Retreat is threefold: “[I hope] they realize that this is their community, and that they are an important part of it. That this journey they’re on takes four years; it is a process to come to completeness. And that it’s okay to fail. It’s okay to experience the cross and to face it with the sense that even in the cross we can find hope.”
Yuko Gruber is a junior Biological Sciences major and Peace Studies minor who is co-coordinating the first Freshman Retreat of the 2012-2013 school year with Mike Mercurio this weekend. Contact her at email@example.com.