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Saint Ignatius High School

Connection in Isolation

When the coronavirus canceled in-person retreats for the end of the school year, students and Campus Ministers found God where St. Ignatius Loyola did 500 years ago: in isolation.

story by Connor Walters '09

By the time they reach their junior year, Saint Ignatius students know the story of St. Ignatius Loyola. The Spanish soldier, living a life of lust and luxury, gets hit in the leg with a cannonball at the Battle of Pamplona. He is laid up for many months, alone, to recover. His only escapes from boredom are two books: one on the life of Christ, the other on the lives of the saints.
 
After immersing himself in these texts, Ignatius would never be the same.
 
Such was the inspiration for the Loyola Retreat, a first-of-its-kind offering from Campus Ministry that sought to give juniors a meaningful retreat experience after the cancellation of three in-person retreats due to the coronavirus. With the entire Campus Ministry team, five senior leaders, and 18 juniors connected via Zoom, they explored the ways that God was present in their lives, even during isolation.
 
“It really did reflect what St. Ignatius did when he converted his life from not being a good man to being the man who started the Jesuit tradition,” says retreatant Bobby Gerome ’21. “He read The Lives of the Saints; I got to learn about the lives of others.”
 
There was no template for the Campus Ministers to follow when they decided to offer this retreat option for the 80-or-so juniors whose overnight retreats were canceled. But inspired by Ignatius and his spirituality, it came together during what normally would have been Finals Week.
 
“We modeled it on the four weeks of the Spiritual Exercises and had four different student reflection talks, followed by discussion,” says Campus Minister Ed DeVenney. “For me personally it was figuring out the technology, you know, figuring out how Zoom works and all the different tricks and tools and everything that you could use. Once we figured that out we felt confident that we could do it.”
 
The retreat included four sessions over the course of three days. In the full-group setting, there were daily prayers, some icebreakers, witness talks, music and journaling. Thanks to the breakout functionality in Zoom, the senior leaders led small group discussions. Even some of the traditional evening activities that take place on Kairos were folded in to the schedule.
 
Senior Patrick Hyland served as one of the small group leaders. He was supposed to have led the inaugural Emmaus hiking retreat at the end of March. Despite that disappointment, he accepted the invitation to help guide the juniors.
 
“The more I thought about it and prayed about it, I just saw it as another opportunity to give something back, and I’m really glad I did,” he says.
 
Hyland had some previous retreat-leading experience outside of Saint Ignatius and understood what he had to do to break through the barrier of the screen.
 
“The campus ministers said, ‘Your guys’ job is to be present as much as you can for the retreatants and for each other. Be there for the retreatants and help them know that you care about them and that God cares about them infinitely more than any of us can understand. It’s still the same goal: fostering an encounter with Jesus Christ.’”
 
For the junior participants, despite the initial oddity of a screen-based retreat, the graces of the experience were quite real.
 
“There’s a retreat feeling you really get when you’ve been on one before,” says Ethan Pulice ’21. “There’s a moment where everything clicks with what they’re saying and what’s going on in your life.”
 
“Learning about others helped me learn about myself more,” says Gerome. “I said I didn’t have as much expectation…but I really became a changed man through this retreat and learned how to live my life for the greater glory of God.”
 
DeVenney and Director of Campus Ministry Augie Pacetti ’96 both said that, by the end of the four sessions, it started to feel like the screens had melted away.
 
“The students really gave themselves to the whole experience,” Pacetti says. “I felt like they really invested into the retreat and made it all the more worthwhile.”
 
“I think the students had this moment of an awareness of God’s love, and I think that they were just kind of wanting to know more,” says DeVenney. “You could kind of sense that they were paying more attention, were a little more invested and their responses to questions and reflections started to have a little bit more depth to them.”
 
Putting on a retreat in this new way required a leap of faith and patience that the Holy Spirit would guide students to deeper love of God. For Pacetti, the result was more than he expected.
 
“It was one of the best things we could do with the limitations of what we had,” he says. “I felt like with anything that you do, sometimes God will multiply some things that you offer to make something greater, like the loaves and the fishes. In the midst of that, we could still find God in all things… In the midst of this pandemic when we’re stuck at home we were still able to have a religious experience.”
 
For Hyland, who is heading to Catholic University in the fall, the Loyola Retreat was a fitting capstone on his four years at Saint Ignatius.
 
“It was just an overwhelming sense of gratitude,” he says. “Wednesday of the retreat was my last AP test, and so I was done with school for the year. This was the last thing that I did with Ignatius, so just to end my career at Ignatius with this experience was amazing.”
 
Gerome summed up the takeaways from his junior retreat nicely: “You get to learn a lot more about others. No matter what, things are going to turn out well. God’s always going to be with us; He’s always going to be on our side.”