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Holy Cross Students Reflect, Find Tranquility Through Off-Campus Retreats

Over 700 students each academic year travel to the Thomas P. Joyce '59 Contemplative Center to unwind and ask big questions
March 3rd, 2020 by 

Four students sit in chairs with books and computers
Students read and reflect on the Manresa Retreat at the Joyce Contemplative Center. Photo by Avanell Brock

A group of students gather around a computer
A group of students talk on the Manresa Retreat. Photo by Avanell Brock

A student reads in a chair
A student takes a quiet moment to read. Photo by Avanell Brock

A group of students sit at a table and do arts and crafts
Students on the Manresa Retreat do arts and crafts. Photo by Avanell Brock

Students walk on a wooded trail
Students walk on the trails surrounding the Joyce Contemplative Center. Photo by Avanell Brock

When Christine Church ’20 told her friends last spring that she was taking part in a five-day silent retreat, the reaction was anything but quiet.

“They said, ‘oh, I could never do that. I could never be silent for five days.’”

But Church, a philosophy and psychology double major, is one of over 700 students — nearly 25 percent of the student body — who participate in a retreat at some point during their four years at College of the Holy Cross.

Held at the Thomas P. Joyce ’59 Contemplative Center, just minutes from campus, students can choose from a variety of inspiring retreats to unwind and reflect during the academic year — from class-year specific outings, such as the Ignite Retreat for first-year students and the Sophomore Retreat, to a study retreat during finals season.

“Our retreat program is open to all students, wherever they are on their journey of faith,” says Megan Fox-Kelly, associate chaplain and director of retreats.

“Students attend a retreat for a variety of reasons and for various lengths of time. Some retreats are for one night, others for an entire weekend and we even offer a five-day adaptation of the Spiritual Exercises four times during the academic year. The Joyce Contemplative Center offers a beautiful atmosphere to slow down and to notice all that is often missed in the busyness of life.”

Led by College chaplains, retreats at the Joyce Contemplative Center give students the space to dive into deeper questions than they may have time to thoroughly think about on campus.

“The whole atmosphere and environment of the center really let me sink into it all,” Church says. “The entire retreat experience creates an environment where you have the time and the desire to begin asking yourself those deeper questions that you may have thought of briefly in class or with friends, but never had the time to truly explore.”

For Richard Cabral ’22, an Italian and political science double major who went on the first-year Escape retreat and has now helped lead other retreats, the experience was different than anything he’d done before.

“Instead of talks mixed in with group reflections, after a few talks, we were split up into smaller groups where we began deep, meaningful conversations,” he says. “The most rewarding part of the whole experience was that moment when the walls we have up when we meet someone come down. There’s such a profound sense of realism.”

Retreats are an integral part of a Holy Cross education, says Fox-Kelly.

“We ask our students to work hard, to push themselves academically and to consider who they are and what they can do for our world. Students leave their time on retreat with a deeper sense of gratitude and a deeper awareness of the importance of quiet, reflection and prayer.”

Church says that at the end of the day, the most rewarding part of her retreat experience was the chance for stillness.

“As students, especially toward the end of the semester, we lose conscious presence of our everyday experiences. We’re constantly rushing from class to work to group presentation meeting to practice to rehearsal that, by the end of the day, we go to bed without giving ourselves the necessary time to reflect and recharge our batteries before the next day begins. Each day on my retreat gave me the opportunity to just be present in my immediate experiences, to have gratitude for everything I was learning and to properly explore the implications that what I was learning could have on who I wanted to become.”

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