By EmmaLee Italia | Correspondent
Donovan Catholic seniors recently took a break from academic rigors to participate in their annual class retreat, themed “The Body of Christ Prays, Serves and Celebrates.”
“[The retreat] gives our young people an opportunity to step away from their routine and reflect on their lives and their relationship with God,” said Mary Beth Deblasio, teacher and coordinator of campus ministry for the Toms River high school. “The seniors are amid the college application process, and this retreat reminded them of the importance of nurturing one’s faith life – especially when life is exceptionally busy.”
The day, held Oct. 25, began with breakfast in the school cafeteria, followed by community-building exercises in the gym and three workshops focusing on prayer, service and celebration. Matthew Greeley, associate director for the diocesan Office of Communications and coordinator for Spanish-language communications, led the workshop focused on prayer.
“In talking about how we, as a community, pray together, my hope was to express that praying to God was about being in relationship with God, and that being in relationship takes work and can be messy,” Greeley explained. “[I hoped that] students might realize that they can turn to God and build a real relationship that can last, that can be leaned on, and that can help them grow as people.”
Greeley used story, song and guided reflection questions to teach the seniors discernment practices.
“We attempted to broaden the idea of prayer from phrases we memorize and repeat, to being a conversation involving give and take with the Lord,” he said. “They shared some profound thoughts, such as, ‘being in relationship with God can be unsettling and create anxiety because it’s hard to feel like we really know God.’ What great food for thought!”
For the service workshop, Donovan Catholic teachers Kait Ryan and Doreen Ferraro guided students in making Sacred Heart Rosary chaplets and prayer cards. The items will be sent to Sacred Heart School in Rockport, Texas – an elementary school devastated by Hurricane Harvey. The school’s principal will give her students the chaplets when the school reopens Jan. 4.
During the celebration workshop, Deblasio and fellow teacher Tom Ball read Dr. Seuss’s “Oh the Places You Will Go,” stopping occasionally to ask guided questions that students reflected on in small groups. The retreat closed with prayer and a class picture.
“By exploring topics of prayer, service and celebration, we were able to delve into ourselves and reflect on the person we are and the person we want to become,” senior Sean Finnegan said.
He remarked that many high school seniors are in a state of confusion and stress about the future and impending decisions it entails. But the retreat afforded a new perspective.
“Talking about Dr. Seuss’s book with my peers and faith leaders gave me a refreshing reassurance and confidence about the future,” Finnegan said. “I have learned to lean on God when in doubt and distress, and he will always lead me on the right path.”
Fellow senior Emily Ostermann agreed.
“Senior year can feel stressful and fast-paced for some, and much too slow for others,” she said. “A retreat allows us to savor the moment, come together as a faith family and refocus on making the most of each day.”
Ostermann said she especially liked the service workshop, where the teens watched a slideshow with pictures of the Sacred Heart School children playing and participating in class.
“It is fulfilling to make a gift for children in need, especially when you have seen their smiles and can feel connected to them,” she said.
Greeley called the day a gift, with time to reflect on his own prayer life and share some of that with the students.
“They are being bombarded with information and schedules and pressures,” Greeley noted. “Being in prayer as community offers them a chance to breathe. Our faith gives us so many tools to lean on as we move along building the Kingdom.”
He also appreciated the chance to collaborate with Deblasio and Ball, saying, “They help to connect the dots so Donovan Catholic students see God in their everyday lives. Being with them for this retreat was refreshing.”
Deblasio noted how the retreat themes encourage a Catholic Christian to remain rooted in his or her baptismal call.
“For many, the senior retreat is the last time they will have to take a significant portion of a day and reflect on what it means to be the Body of Christ on earth,” she explained. “Jesus prayed, served and celebrated, and we are called to do the same.”