Junior Retreat: a sacred sanctuary

by Jack Sloan (’23) | April 8, 2022

Photography by Grace Cargill (’23)

Even with the best organization, mindfulness practices, support systems, and good habits, no student is immune to fatigue and burnout. Sometimes, the best way to overcome the influx of daily stressors is to escape them. Junior Retreat, the shorter and more verbal precursor to the renowned silent Senior Retreat, brought a needed vacation to students and impacted many in ways they never expected.

The mysterious reputation of the retreats contributes to their success, clouding attendees’ expectations and allowing for an authentic experience. “I was going in with nothing, but when I got there, I was pleasantly surprised, and I was happy that it was kept a secret. Otherwise, I don’t think we would have formed the bonds that we did,” remarked Ellie Britt (’23). 

The juniors who attended were under the expert supervision of teachers and faculty members who led activities and offered their wisdom, such as Mr. Philip Pompei (’08), Mrs. Liz Franco (’93), Mr. Baron Cannon, Ms. Carly Deale (’16), and numerous others. They played a vital role in creating the experience. “The ‘teacher leaders’ created an environment of vulnerability that students were able to partake in, which made everyone more comfortable,” said Kate Kalcic (’23). “Without the guidance of the adults, especially adults that had done retreats before, it would not have been as enjoyable and I’m glad they were there.”

On retreats, “teacher leaders” participated in activities along with the students, many of whom are alumni and attended Junior Retreat as students themselves. They shared their different perspectives on the importance of mindfulness and personal connection to the juniors on retreat. “It helped us gain really valuable perspective, just that act of removing ourselves from the mixer of normal life at school. It gives us a new environment to reflect and share and talk and learn,” Mr. Pompei recounted. “I think that’s important at any age in life, but especially in those formative high school years when you’re learning about yourself and the type of person you want to become.”

Themes of personal exploration, self-care, mindfulness, and genuine relationships were at the forefront of the retreat’s discussions and activities. Especially after the isolation of the pandemic, it can be easy for students to feel distant from many of their peers. However, Junior Retreat tackled this often harmful mindset of seclusion by mixing around friend groups, encouraging meaningful connections, and rewarding vulnerability. Terence O’Donnell (’23) reflected on the added depth that the retreat gave to his relationships: “I got to know everybody that I already knew but in a new way. It’s like meeting people you already know.” 

Not only did the retreat strengthen friendships, but its experiences often led to long-lasting realizations. Grace Cargill (’23) commented, “My biggest takeaway was that there’s always going to be a community wherever you go, especially at Saint Francis.”

With the large class sizes and hectic schedules at Saint Francis, it is often convenient to categorize people by one aspect of their personality such as “nerd” or “jock” without genuinely knowing them beforehand. However, the retreat combatted this detrimental labeling by enlightening attendees on their fellow Lancers’ personal experiences. “I interacted with a lot of people that I don’t usually talk to and got to hear their stories, which definitely taught me to be more empathetic with people and be less judgmental,” shared Emerson Sawyer (’23).  

In line with the social themes of the activities, one of the most important aspects of Junior Retreat is taking the time to understand the downfalls of shallow judgments, and realizing the value that each person can have when given the opportunity. Bella Ereno (’23) concluded: “It would be fun if more people did the retreat, because everyone at retreat comes together.”

Categories: Features

1 reply »

  1. Nicely done, Jack. I would say the retreat was successful if the participants came away with even a little bit of insight as to how the mind is always quick to form a judgment on others. How to remain open…there’s a lifelong practice.

    Big hug, Granpa


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