Busy college students find time for prayer at retreat

FORT SMITH — The Busy Person’s Retreat held at the Catholic Campus Ministry house at the University of Arkansas Fort Smith during the week of Sept. 28 might be considered a spiritual orientation.

Its purpose — “to learn the ways in which God is part of your daily life and to develop personal patterns of prayer” — is imperative for students trying to orient or re-orient themselves to juggling school, work and social life in a new environment.

According to campus ministry director Jennifer Briselden, students became interested in this retreat last year after Sister Theresa Sullivan, SC, who has directed these retreats on campuses in Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Alabama, gave a presentation to the group.

“Many students are interested in making a retreat but often they aren’t sure what a retreat is or don’t have time to get away for a retreat.”
Sister Theresa Sullivan, SC

“Many students are interested in making a retreat but often they aren’t sure what a retreat is or don’t have time to get away for a retreat,” Sister Theresa said. “This brings the retreat right to where they are. It provides an opportunity to grow in prayer and their relationship with God.”

The retreat started with Mass on Sunday night. At the regular Tuesday meeting, Sister Theresa spoke to students on “Pope Francis: The Joy of the Gospel: The Call of Love — Reaching Out To Our Brothers and Sisters.” Daily work was up to each student.

The keys to its success were prayer and individual spiritual direction, scheduled at the student’s convenience.

“The students found daily prayer to be most important and having someone to listen to them and hear them out,” Sister Stephanie Schroeder, OSB, one of three directors at the retreat, said.

The daily prayer sessions were Scripture-based, and students were encouraged to let God’s word lead them into contemplation and meditation, finding which parts of the passage connected most deeply to their own personal stories.

Each of the four days had a theme: “Who Is God? Who am I,” “Call to Transformation,” “Call to Reconciliation” and “Responding to God’s Call.” Several suggested Scripture readings, a contemporary parable and questions.

The second tool students were given was a daily review to help them discern where God was present in their daily lives, to thank him not only for their accomplishments but also for their challenges and to ask forgiveness for their failures and omissions. They were encouraged to keep a journal to record the graces they received as well as the patterns of behavior they discerned and to review the journal each month to see how they responded to God’s invitations and to experience his love.

At the closing service Thursday night, the 11 student participants indicated that their prayer life had deepened and said they would like to begin each school year with another Busy Person’s Retreat. Several decided to meet with a spiritual director once a month.

“It was a really good experience this week, good to have daily Scripture,” student Cesar Lopez said, “to be able to start off the day with God’s word, to reflect on it throughout the day and to discuss it with Sister Alice (O’Brien, OSB), my director.”

Sister Theresa said once prayer becomes part of busy students’ lives, they find it easy to continue the habits they’ve established.

“At the end of retreat many students tell me, ‘Wow, this week I found time to pray every day. This has reinforced that I can and want to make room for prayer in my daily life,’ ” she said.

Maryanne Meyerriecks

Maryanne Meyerriecks joined Arkansas Catholic in 2006 as the River Valley correspondent. She is a member of Christ the King Church in Fort Smith, a Benedictine oblate and volunteer at St. Scholastica Monastery.

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