Loyola Magazine

Finding peace within

Campus Ministry’s robust retreat programs offer students reflection and rest

In a light-filled room in a mountaintop lodge, 40 students cluster in groups around the fireplace or on the deck overlooking the Western Maryland forest. Snippets from their conversations reveal topics ranging from struggles with coursework overload to what God means to them.

Participants in one of Loyola’s popular retreat programs, these students have come together on a sunny spring weekend to take a break.

Students gather around their tables and make their plates with salad and lasagna.

After three days of community, reflection, and relaxation, they will return to campus and their often-hectic everyday routines—but with perhaps a little more peace and focus than when they arrived.

Getting away from it all

As a Jesuit university, Loyola seeks to help students find God in all things and become more compassionate individuals. As part of this mission, Campus Ministry hosts around 10 weekend retreat programs throughout the year at Loyola’s spacious Retreat Center in Flintstone, Md.

“The concept of a retreat is almost countercultural these days, in a world where we can be connected 24/7,” said Seán Bray, director of Campus Ministry.

Retreat hall with students gathering for a meal.

Loyola's retreats offer different experiences to meet different spiritual needs—from Kairos, a Christian program geared toward deepening one’s faith, to the Interfaith Retreat, aimed at students from both religious and nonreligious backgrounds to celebrate diversity and build bridges across traditions.

While each program differs in its themes and activities, they all share some features, such as a presentation for context at the beginning of the weekend, opportunities for prayer or reflection, conversations with peers, and much-needed downtime.

“Our retreats are based in St. Ignatius’ pedagogy of discernment. We must make space for people to look within at the context in which they and others live so that we may know how to move forward and take action in the world,” Bray said.

“I’ve never felt so refreshed.”

Most of the professional staff members in Campus Ministry oversee at least one retreat.

Assistant Director Megan Linz Dickinson, ’01, runs Ignite, which delves into fundamental themes of Ignatian spirituality. Ignite is designed for those with little to no knowledge of Jesuit traditions.

Retreat house with big stone chimney and great wooden porch.

“Ignite is intentional about its inclusivity because Ignatian spirituality can be applied to all faiths,” Linz Dickinson said. “This retreat is a really rich experience for everyone.”

In addition to their self-examination, students on retreats also experience a deep connection to their community and peers—an enormous benefit.

“Something magical happens when our students are surrounded by nature at the Retreat Center. They are in the mindset to dedicate their time to building their relationships with God and each other,” Linz Dickinson said. “Students don’t want it to end.”

Students sit against the wall with a crucifix above them.

One such student is Anna Dam, ’20, an elementary education major.

“During my first year, I was having a hard time,” Dam recalled. “Other than classes and one activity, I wasn’t involved in much of anything. Two of my friends came back from Ignite’s fall retreat and had such a great time. Even though I didn’t have a religious upbringing, I really liked the idea of some reflection time and getting off campus to meet new people.”

Dam participated in Ignite in the fall of her sophomore year.

Students wear name tags and stand in a circle as a retreat leader explains an activity.

“I felt completely welcome,” she said. “I didn’t know anything about Ignatian spirituality, so it was really interesting to learn about how it affects my life and other people’s lives. I felt a sense of community that I hadn’t felt yet. I’d never felt so refreshed.”

That spring, Dam signed up to be a student leader for Ignite; she led a talk during that retreat about finding God in all things.

This year, she hopes to become a volunteer student coordinator for Ignite, working behind the scenes on planning for the program.

“On a bigger level, retreats are all about finding things out about yourself,” Dam said. “I just want to keep being involved in them because I get so much out of it.”

Looking ahead

Next year Campus Ministry plans to add a women's retreat and an LGBT+ retreat to its roster. The team also continues to consider ways to offer students opportunities for connection and reflection on campus.

In April, Loyola hosted an afternoon Eco Examen, in which students participated in half-hour segments to reflect and discuss sustainability and ecology through a Jesuit lens.

Students hold a web of strings.

By experimenting with different models like this, Campus Ministry hopes to introduce people to the elements that comprise a retreat in an accessible way.

“Not everyone can take a three-day weekend, but you can find a little part of a day to devote to reflection and self-care,” Bray said. “Being able to connect that to a sense of something beyond yourself is a powerful thing, and one that we want all Loyola students to experience.”

Photos courtesy of Campus Ministry and Robert Obermair, ’22.