Retreat Yourself: Examining BC’s Reflective Culture

Last week I was sitting in my English seminar when a Boston College alumna gave the class a piece of advice that reflects an aspect of BC culture that I believe is too often undervalued: “When BC gives you a place to stop and think, take advantage of that,” she said.

As I listened to her talk about how retreats and her time at BC shaped her interest in higher education, I couldn’t help but think about the question I’ve struggled to answer after getting back from a retreat: What happens when the “high” fades away? A string bracelet or necklace can serve as a fond reminder of a meaningful weekend experience, but how do we continue to “Live the Fourth” once we return to the daily grind of being a BC student?

After nearly three years at this school, I have come to recognize the importance of taking brief moments to reflect at BC. For me, this usually means taking the occasional trip into Boston for a change of scenery, but I’ve found that some of my most valuable experiences here have unexpectedly come from retreats away from campus—and the common message I’ve taken away from them.

Although I was someone who was intimidated by the Jesuit, Catholic tag attached to BC coming in as a freshman, I have come to appreciate how retreats are a distinctive aspect of BC. I am not Catholic, nor had I ever taken a philosophy or theology class before coming to BC. I had never been on an official retreat before arriving in Chestnut Hill, and all of the misconceptions I had surrounding the word “retreat,” including listening to copious amounts of The Fray while journaling and praying for hours, deterred me from wanting to sign up for one during my first semester of freshman year. I remember listening to a presentation about 48 Hours during orientation and how the University advertised the weekend as an “experience” rather than a retreat, and was slightly interested about the possibility of visiting Cape Cod, though I still was hesitant to sign up. It wasn’t until second semester, when I was feeling like the weekends at BC were beginning to follow a monotonous pattern, that I decided to try something new.

I’ve realized that these retreats are a characteristic of BC that separates the University from the likes of Boston University or Harvard. Nearly 30 percent of BC undergraduates participate in some form of an off-campus retreat each year. Many of these retreats are not explicitly religious, but rather are centered on leadership, issues of transition, finding a vocation, or service. And I found it surprising that over 1,300 students participate in retreats focused on reflection and prayer every year.

Since freshmen year, I have been on a number of retreats ranging from Freshmen League to Kairos, but what I’ve taken away from each experience is the ability to reflect. The Jesuits like to use the term “Examen” to refer to a brief reflection of what has happened over the previous day—or a daily meditation. Similarly in Freshmen League, we use the “Examenito” to take a few moments to think more deeply about our lives at least once a week and share with others in the group.

I am not advocating for every BC student to go on a retreat to think more deeply about his or her life. But I believe this ability to take a moment to reflect—whether at the end of the day or sometime during the week—has been the one aspect I’ve embraced from retreats that I never imagined I would appreciate as a freshman frightened by BC’s spirituality.

As I listened to that BC graduate talk about retreat culture to our English class, I realized that the “high” so many of us feel after getting back from a retreat will inevitably fade away over time. But I have found it is important to at least take away something from the experience—and try to incorporate it into our lives.

And if BC gives you an opportunity to stop and think, take advantage of it.

Featured Image by Kelsey McGee / Heights Editor

Maddie Phelps

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