Charis Seekers’ Retreat building UMD’s campus ministry roots

By Becky Aubut, Anchor Staff

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WAREHAM, Mass. — The Sacred Hearts Retreat and Spirituality Center in Wareham recently hosted a weekend Charis Seekers’ Retreat, a Jesuit ministry for young adults in their 20s and 30s that strives to help individuals to see the grace of the Catholic faith in his or her life. Each retreat offers young adults the opportunities to find grace in the faith through talks, prayer and reflection.

“Seekers is for a young person looking and trying to figure out where they’re going or [for those who] may not have a strong background in faith,” explained Deacon Frank Lucca, campus minister at UMass Dartmouth. “So when you’re looking at the Seekers’ retreat, we look at knowing ourselves, naming what’s important, prayer, suffering, healing and our deepest desires. Those are the topics we cover there.”

Licensed through the Charis ministries, the Diocese of Fall River Campus Ministry organized the Seeker’s retreat, the second one held in the diocese. Each Seekers’ retreat has a team guiding those attending the retreat; for the second Seekers’ retreat, the team was made up of three college-age students, one 20-something and one 30-something team member. 

Deacon Lucca credited the first Seekers’ retreat as helping build not only a peer ministry at UMass Dartmouth, but as being the foundation for choosing the team that helped lead during the second Seekers’ retreat. 

For 20-year-old Nakita Guerrouxo, a sophomore at Rhode Island College in Providence, her experience during the first Seekers’ retreat saw her happily attending the second Seekers’ retreat as a team member to share her story with attendees.

“I actually did not grow up Catholic; I grew up kind of without a religion, really,” said the Somerset native. “I went to Bishop Stang High School, and I found my love of Catholicism and decided that I wanted to become Catholic.”

Guerrouxo’s love of the Catholic faith was initiated by Bishop Stang and its teachers, “but I think once I was introduced to it, just how real it felt and how much it made sense, just really drew me in,” she said. “Just learning about Jesus and His immense love for us; it just clicked into place.”

She had gone on retreats in high school, mainly in-school retreats, but heard about the Seekers’ retreat from the director of Campus Ministry at Bishop Stang, Amanda Tarantelli, who told Guerrouxo about the retreat and wondered if she’d be interested in it: “I thought about how in college it’s really hard to connect with my Catholicism,” said Guerrouxo, “so I wanted to be a part of it and find a little community.” 

While at the first Seekers’ retreat, Guerrouxo admitted she was nervous because she didn’t know anyone and didn’t know what to expect “but I just kind of surrendered myself,” she said, and found a renewed strength and confidence in her religion and also within herself.

“I found a tremendous family through UMass,” she said, “and I keep in contact with them on a weekly basis.”

When asked to be on team for the second Seekers’ retreat, there was no hesitation on her part: “It was a no-brainer,” said Guerrouxo, who shared the story of her journey to becoming a Catholic. “Other than the fact that I love to talk about my religion, they’re a family to me. Seekers really helped me find my niche.”

Keegan LaRue, a sophomore at UMass Dartmouth and attendee of the first Seekers’ retreat, was also a team member for the second Seekers, and said her experience during the first Seekers’ retreat was “a very positive one” and that her time on the retreat allowed her “to take a step back and look at which road we’re on at the moment.” 

LaRue said her second time attending the retreat, this time as one of the team leaders, “was definitely a different experience compared to simply being on the retreat,” she said. “Last year, the talks and questions presented to me made me think about myself, but left me without really thinking too hard, since I wasn’t the one who was in any of these situations. Being on the team was much more influential on my thoughts, since I was able to see the talks and reflections from a different point of view; instead of being the one attending the retreat, I was doing my best at giving examples to others, rather than the other way around.”

Each Seekers’ retreat offers five talks, each roughly 30-40 minutes; longer than youth retreats, said Deacon Lucca, adding that after each talk there’s an hour of personal reflection, a “Sacred silence” where individuals are given reflection questions, and he or she goes off alone, and later discusses in small groups.

Deacon Lucca cited that the Church is doing a great job with the youth, and there are resources available for older adults, but the young adults just out of high school and moving their way into adulthood are often left to find their own faith connections: “We do an OK job with the youth with Yes! and CLI, but when students go off to college, they’re a group of young people who have a hard time connecting,” he said. “This [retreat] is allowing young adults to look at enhancing their faith in different ways.”

Guerrouxo agreed with Deacon Lucca, stating that the young adult demographic needs these types of retreats and resources to stay connected to their faith at a time of flux. In high school, religion is a part of daily life, she said, especially if one is attending a Catholic high school, “but when you get to college, you’re kind of on your own — partly because, maybe, people are scared to admit they’re Catholic. I feel it’s harder, but not impossible, to find resources. You have to search. I feel that retreats like this are important because for me, it helped me to find my Spiritual community that I did not have in college.”

As a resident assistant in her dorm building at Rhode Island College, Guerrouxo said after the Seekers’ retreat, “I brought a piece of that [retreat] back to my campus, which doesn’t have its own campus ministry. A lot of the residents who have been active in their faith in high school — I live in a freshmen dorm — the freshmen who were active but now feel lost, now come to me and talk to me about it. I’m known as the religious RA, and it’s nice to have that reputation because I can be open and honest about my faith.”

That’s the kind of results that Deacon Lucca, along with the UMass Dartmouth Catholic chaplain, Father David Frederici, wants to keep fostering through campus ministries, including retreats. They have built up on online resource: www.UMassCatholics.com, and will continue to schedule retreats catering to the young adult demographic, including an upcoming retreat entitled, “The Jesus Retreat — Who do you say that I am?” to be held in February 2015 at the Sacred Hearts Retreat House in Wareham. 

The Jesus Retreat is a sequel of sorts to the Seekers’ retreat, though it can also be appreciated as a stand-alone retreat as well, said Deacon Lucca: “The Jesus Retreat is designed to expose the candidates more to illuminate the reality of Who Jesus is — those topics are like: Jesus is my invitation; Jesus is my mercy; Jesus is my mystery; Jesus is my Lord and God. One [retreat] isn’t a precursor for the other, but the Jesus Retreat will be at a different level.”

The idea is to continue to build a strong campus ministry resource to keep young adults connected, especially while attending college, said Deacon Lucca.

For any young adult on the fence about attending a retreat, Guerrouxo said, “Just do it,” adding that it was a wonderful experience for her.  

LaRue added: “My advice to anyone considering a retreat is to simply give it a chance. There’s no harm in spending a weekend away from your normal life and taking a chance to breath in a different air. Whether it ends up being right or not for anyone is something can only be truly discovered by attending one personally.”

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