When the word “community” and “Jesuit” are in the same sentence, it is safe to say that it involves service of some form or fashion. However, the three days the Class of 2020 spent in Glen Rose, TX, from October 1 through October 3, focused on something completely different.
Compared to other retreats, Community Days is less formal and restricted, while keeping a central emphasis on brotherhood. It grants 72 hours for both personal and communal growth by the senior class.
So without spoiling the specifics for the underclassmen, let’s reflect on and observe the transformation of the Class of 2020.
Class of 2020 Reflections
Looking back on the transformative days in Glen Rose, many seniors found the experience fulfilling and unique.
Jacob Phillips ’20 noted, “I really enjoyed community days. It was one of the best experiences so far at Jesuit. Being able to be away from schoolwork and athletics for a few days and focus on community really helped our class grow together in a meaningful way. Also, it was a really good way to catch up with people I haven’t talked to in a while and meet people I otherwise wouldn’t have. The trip helped me to refocus myself and allowed me space and time to reflect on our community and other things in my life.”
Liam Leahy ’20 also reflected on the experience, adding that “Community Days was a great opportunity to solidify the bond I have been developing with my classmates for the last couple of years. I strengthened a lot of connections with peers who I don’t usually interact with.” He continued, saying, “this retreat provided an opportunity for me to reflect on my relationship with my brothers and remember why we are brothers. It reminded me how much love dwells in our hearts. I’m grateful for the experience and even more thankful for the guys I got to experience it with.”
Will Kelton ’20 talked about his mindset going into Community Days: “I walked into Community Days with enthusiasm and invested myself into all the activities and exercises.” He added that “to grow as a person from an event like community days, I recognized I needed to invest myself in such a way.” Having the experience now, he realizes “Community days enabled me to grow upon ongoing relationships but also get to know people I’ve only had surface-level interactions with. Through this experience, I realized how many nice people in our class that I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting yet.”
While the retreat gears towards the students, the faculty actively shapes the class throughout the experience. From taking part in small group conversations to observing the seniors interact with one another, the retreat plays a profound roll in all who bear witness.
One of the teachers on the retreat, Mr. TJ Howard, reflected on the opportunities presented on Community Days, saying, “I always love going on community days because it is such a unique experience that allows the seniors to grow as a class.” Having been on many senior retreats, he added, “it is always a different experience for each class, and I like that have the opportunity to see how each senior class embraces the opportunity and brings what they have learned back to campus.”
Dr. McFarland also voiced her experience: “I enjoy Community Days in large part because each one is different – each Community Days is an intersection [of] collective class and individual experiences.” Also recalling her past involvement in Community Days, she added, “I have gone most years I have taught – and while some of the activities are the same, each year differs. I enjoyed my small group a lot this year – although I only knew one of them from teaching them.” She concluded by recalling how her group members actively engaged in the conversation.
Dr. Riemer also appreciates what the retreat does for both students and faculty alike, saying that “as a Jesuit graduate, Community Days is always a meaningful time. Unfortunately, I often fail to remember so much about my own Jesuit experience, so being a part of these three days is an interesting way to be reminded of some of what I love about this place.” He went on to explain that “on a personal level its nice to have a brief rest from the office, the phone calls and all the emails – and in exchange get to know students away from campus, with our mutual guards down.” He concluded by describing how the experience still impacts him today: “I’m reminded that we are all much more alike than we are different, even though we are separated from a couple of decades of time.”
Having been on three previous retreats at Jesuit, I can say that Community Days has had the most profound effect on me. To be clear, I am not saying the other three were “bad” by any means. Each retreat has a different theme and atmosphere, and Community Days fit my personality the best.
Taking three days to be with my senior brothers, 100 miles away from Jesuit in a rural Texas town, was indeed a blessing that I will never forget. I grew both as an individual as a member of a unique community.
In those three days, I finally attached names to faces and faces to names. I renewed relationships that I had failed to maintain and learned new things about myself through the eyes of others. I interacted with good friends in a reflective, personal atmosphere rather than an academic one.
But above all, the thing I truly valued was what Dr. Knize called the “gift of time.” In my experience, past retreats have tried to foster a sense of community directly through interactive and communal activities. While these planted the seeds of community, we rarely had time to reflect individually or with someone in an intimate, informal way (probably because we had to get back to campus by a specific time). Community Days, however, offered that gift, and I accepted it with open arms as did many of my classmates.
During those two and a half hours on a breezy Wednesday night, where we received the “gift of time,” I had one of the most fulfilling, honest, and personally deep conversations in my life. Anyone who knows me might say that I do not talk about my feelings all that often. But something about the setting and the atmosphere of that retreat center in Glen Rose, Texas, allowed me to let go and truly reflect on who I am as a person.
To say that our class had a rough start would be an understatement. From expulsions to tragedies, we have been on a roller coaster ride over the past three and (almost) a half years.
But from those moments of anger to those moments of melancholy, we emerged stronger and closer together. Community Days revealed just that. From locking arms and singing the alma mater to coaching each other up on the final morning of the retreat, my class’s change was evident.
Whether I interacted with friends or guys I only nodded at in the hallways, I felt a special connection, something that transcended friendship and felt like a family bond: a brotherhood. Sometimes it seemed the term “brotherhood” was simply a synonym for friendship; however, Community Days proved brotherhood is much more.
While our bond has continued to grow in strength since the first day of school back in August of 2016, the three days all 265 of us spent together showed just how powerful that brotherhood had become.
Check back into The Roundup for more on Jesuit retreats.