A Student Reflects on Freshman Girls Retreats at Kellenberg

May 12 2015

Article by Ismenia Ginebra, class of 2018:

At Kellenberg, we are offered many opportunities to grow closer to God, one of which is the retreats. A retreat is special privilege to go on, for you get the chance to step back from your ongoing busy life and reflect on your personal relationship with God. It allows you the necessary time needed to take a break from all the distractions and focus on Jesus. It is a very strong reminder to us that God is present in our lives. This year, however, for the freshman retreats, things have been changed up a bit. “Pope Francis’ declaration for the Year of Consecrated Life was the impetus for the ARK to separate men and women on their Freshman Retreats. This was the first time that a divisional retreat has been separated in such a way, and since nearly all of the events at Kellenberg are co-ed, we knew that it would be quite eye opening,” says Mrs. Harnisch. Since the retreats are lead by the Junior Retreat Staff, it was important for them to learn how to run a retreat with all girls/all boys.

“From the start, when we trained our Juniors Responding Spiritually (JRS), we ran their retreat at Founders Hollow separately as well, giving them the comfortability and flexibility to have honest, genuine conversations with their peers that they would then be able to replicated when on retreat with the freshmen,” explains Mrs. Harnisch. “On the Freshman Retreats, we are able to continue conversations that need to be had, as well as have deeper conversations on vocations in this Year of Consecrated Life.”

We were first led up to the Emmanuel Retreat House where we decorated a nametag, which we wore throughout the day. Then, the Junior Retreat Staff introduced themselves, saying their name, clubs and activities they were involved in, and their favorite color. After that, our first activity of the day was viewing a clip from the Passion of Christ. In this movie, we watched the scene where Jesus falls for the first time and Mary rushes out to help Him up. This scene is very powerful, for it must have been unimaginable for Mary to see her son suffer so much. What is admirable about Mary is how she accepted God’s will without any hesitation and drew herself continuously near to God, even to the point of Jesus’ death. Once the scene commenced, we then made our way to the chapel, where Mrs. Strauss spoke to us about her admiration of Mary and of her strength when her beloved son is being killed. Being a mom herself, Mrs. Strauss says that she is able to relate to how Mary felt; Mary is someone that she prays to, and we should all pray to Mary, asking her to draw us near to Jesus.

Our last activity in the chapel was an exercise presented by Mrs. Harnisch. Using just a piece of rope, she was able to portray the idea of Jesus’ forgiveness on us. She started by having two girls come up and play the role of God and the sinner (this represents all us humans). The rope held by God and the sinner, represented the relationship they have. This relationship, however, can become broken. With the sins that we commit, this breaks off the bond that we have with God, from copying off of someone’s homework when we forget to do our own to cheating on the tests by looking at the person next to us. Mrs. Harnisch demonstrated this “breaking” by cutting the rope every time the sinner sinned. After each sin, the relationship is broken, but by the awesome grace and mercy of God, we are able to still maintain that relationship we have with Him by going to God and asking for forgiveness of our sins. Our actions of repentance and feeling sorry for our sins is what mends the bond between us and God; the “mending” is seen when the piece that has been cut off is tied back to the existing piece, becoming one piece again. However, we humans make mistakes and sin some more. Once again, our relationship is broken and has some pieces that have gone because of our sins. But, as demonstrated in the exercise, once we run to God and feel sorry for what we have done, our relationship is healed. Through the exercise, we notice that the “bond” (rope) is closer to God; it’s not spanning a long distance, but rather the “sinner” is actually closer to God than it was at the beginning. That is one of the important lessons to learn from the demonstration: by asking God for His forgiveness, we are coming to God closer than we have, and this enables our relationship to become stronger and more closely bonded than it will.

To end the presentation, Mrs. Harnisch reminds us that when we do sin, all we have to do is get up, dust ourselves off, ask for forgiveness, and try harder next time. We shouldn’t focus on how wrongly we have sinned or allow the regret to overshadow our hope; rather, we should focus on the amazing mercy and forgiveness our God has to offer for us and the opportunity to draw closer to God when we have fallen. Onto our next activity, we headed out of the chapel into the living room. When we got there, the furniture was all pushed to one side, giving a huge space for all us girls to gather around in one circle along with the Junior Retreat Staff to play one last game. With a ball of yarn, we played the well-known game this or that. How it works is one girl would answer the given question, and whoever chose the same answer as her would participate in that round. One girl would explain why she chose that answer; once she finished explaining, she would then toss the ball of yarn to another girl who chose the same answer. The round concluded until all the girls got a chance to hold the yarn. With questions such as Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks/Chipotle or Moe’s, this exercise was a fun way to get to know and familiarize ourselves with who liked what.

The overall lesson from this activity was to see that even though we don’t know each other very well, seeing how many things we have in common show that we are all connected to each other. There shouldn’t be any discrimination among any of us. After that, we walked towards the dining area where we got seated to eat breakfast. We treated ourselves to what each girl brought, from bagels to munchkins, to cookies and brownies. We got a chance to get to know some girls we don’t get a chance to talk to and reflect on the retreat so far.

Once we finished eating, we made our way back to the living room to watch Grace Unplugged, a Christian movie. The story of this movie is about a girl named Grace. Musically gifted, she performs in her father’s band at their church, but she wants to do more than just sing at her church. She wants pop stardom, but being that her dad was a former performer, he knows that fame comes with a high price. He encourages her that using her voice to serve God is more fulfilling. Determined to attain her dream of singing for crowds just like her father did, she goes to LA without telling her family and tries to make her dream happen on her own. Along the way, she encounters some obstacles and goes away from God, but through the experiences she goes through, Grace is able to find her way back to God. Once the movie concluded, we broke up into small discussion groups; the Junior Retreat Staff led us into discussions about the movie with some questions, such as events in the movie, how we felt about them, and the character’s actions.

Afterwards, we all gathered into the dining room to eat lunch, which consisted of pizza and our treats. During lunch, we were given the opportunity to write down any questions we had about what it means to be a Catholic woman. Once we ate, a presentation from the Little Sisters of took place in the living room. Two Sisters came and spoke about their experiences and what drove them to make the decision to live the consecrated life. Along with their talks, we watched a video about their order; in the video, we got to see what life is like at their order, with many testimonies by many women. This presentation, as one of the sisters said, was for us to see another vocation we could live; we aren’t that exposed to seeing or hearing about sisters, so it was interesting to see something new we don’t often get to learn about. The sisters left us with a parting gift: a keychain with a picture of Joseph on it.

After that, Mrs. Strauss came up to the front of the room; she had chosen a couple of the questions we wrote down during lunch. From modesty to having a lack of self-confidence to dating, Mrs. Strauss answered our questions, giving us real, truthful, wholesome advice. This I feel was one of the great parts about the retreat. With all the conflicting views our world seems to have, I think that it was really beneficial to us girls who are growing up and experiencing the events of life, and we could feel very lost and not understand where to turn next. I think hearing advice from someone who has been through experiences that have helped shape someone into a Catholic woman. After hearing words of wisdom from Mrs. Strauss, we then made our way to the chapel once again, for it was nearing the end of retreat. In the chapel, Mrs. Harnisch wrapped up the retreat with an opportunity for a couple minutes in adoration. Guiding us through it, she encouraged us to out ourselves in the presence of God and pray to Him, reflecting on what we learned and got to experience throughout the day; I think it was a great way to gather up our thoughts and make personal requests and prayers to God to help us become the woman God wants and calls us to be.

Once our time in adoration was completed, Mrs. Harnisch came to the front with a pile of papers in her hand. In her hand, she explained, were letters from our “Brothers in Christ.” The men from our homerooms wrote these letters on their retreat. Mrs. Harnisch said that the purpose of these letters was for us to see what they really think about beauty. Written anonymously, each girl received a letter for her to keep, and we read our letters while we were in the chapel, allowing ourselves to focus on the words we read. What is so compelling about the letters is that they are written without any guidelines. No one told them what to write, they weren’t given an example to follow. These were written solely from themselves, their opinion, and were written from the heart. Each letter also was uniquely different from one another: no two were alike, and this further emphasizes the fact that each letter relayed a different perspective but all tied to the same message. With a few minutes left, we girls mingled with each other, talking about what we learned and saw today.

This retreat had a lot of important lessons embedded in the various activities we took part in that day. I know that I ended my day feeling spiritually renewed and had a much greater, deeper understanding of God’s calling of us young ladies to be wonderful Catholic women. Beautifully run under the direction of Mrs. Harnisch, Mrs. Strauss, and the JRS, this was quite an unique experience for the freshmen ladies, bringing with them the truth that God loves each and everyone of us with an immense amount of love and wants only the best in our lives.