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A Transformative Experience
Rachelle Garbarine

During a Gibbons retreat, educators and students eat, play, and pray together, as well as grow in their love for God and for one another. By the end of the retreat, they also experience a transformation.

Educators say being at a retreat, away from the hustle and bustle of school and daily life, affords them the chance not only to contemplate their faith, but also to witness a change - however subtle or unexpected – that takes place in themselves, in the students, or in both. Those experiences, at those moments, at a place of reverence and reflection outside of school, they acknowledge, fill them with joy.

Cardinal Gibbons Short Journey Retreat Center Banner

Soon that place will be the Short Journey Retreat Center, nestled on 12 acres in Smithfield. While the center is just a 60-minute drive from campus those who have been there say it still feels like a different world. Gibbons purchased Short Journey in March from the Diocese of Raleigh, which owned the center for three decades before closing it three years ago.

"My own time with students and colleagues on Gibbons retreats has been so important to me personally, and to know that we have secured a home for our retreats and will continue to provide these experiences truly fills my heart,” notes Principal Jason Curtis.

Today, the center is undergoing a renovation and boasts a new feature: a banner reintroducing it as The Cardinal Gibbons Short Journey Retreat Center. It is expected to reopen in 2019.

Director of Retreats Tim Yelenic notes that owning the center also has given the school the opportunity to revitalize some of its retreat programs. “We are meeting and continue to meet with educators and students, past and present, collecting insights to make retreats more personal, more Gibbons,” he explains.

Educators say they are looking forward to attending retreats at Short Journey, which they see as both a bridge to the history of the diocese and a springboard to the spiritual growth of future generations of Gibbons students. But it is what will take place within the center, which essentially will become a home away from home, that excites them the most.

That is because many educators can point to a transformative experience that they have had on a school retreat – whether it is for one day or four, or has a spiritual, or mission-driven focus. For Science Educator Joleen Smith, a retreat encompasses three overriding themes: forgiveness, gratitude, and love. “Being at a retreat enables me to focus on what is important – my spiritual life and my relationships –and to connect with and see God in my students,” she notes, adding that from the experience, “my heart gets a little bigger and more exposed and I hope it stays that way.”

Inspired is how Math Educator Will Catterson says he feels after a Gibbons retreat. He explains: “Director of Retreats Crista Anders and other leaders create an open and safe environment for students to share their worries, fears, and joys. Watching the students engage in the process while treating each other with such respect and kindness is truly inspiring.”

World Languages Educator Georgia Lackey says during retreats she has seen not only “a shift in students’ faith to their seeking out God and wanting a personal relationship with him, but also a renewed compassion among students when they discover they are on this journey together.”  Personally, she adds, her relationship with her students, becomes “more meaningful, purposeful, and intentional.”

For Theology Educator Kim Dandurand, “retreats refresh the soul and awaken within you a feeling of peace that can be lost in ordinary day-to-day life.”  As for students, retreats allow them “to open their hearts and be themselves,” she notes and adds, “I have seen students truly embrace themselves as children of God and become confident in the person God created them to be.”

Dandurand says her favorite take away from the retreat experience is the relationships she develops with students and colleagues. “You bond with these students on a level that you just can’t achieve in the classroom … and develop relationships with fellow educators that you are not able to form during the year,” she explains. “You become family and then you bring those relationships back to the halls of Gibbons.”

Others, like Math Educator Chris Poisella, say the transformative power of a retreat hits them at unexpected moments. “I love the organized aspects of a retreat,” he notes, “but it is during break times, playing games, sharing meals, or informally hanging out with students that common interests surface.” These are “positive surprises,” he explains and adds, “I always come back wanting to be more open, genuine, and understanding with students.”

Such experiences, Principal Jason Curtis says, will continue to occur for educators and students within the walls of the Cardinal Gibbons Short Journey Retreat Center. “My own time with students and colleagues on Gibbons retreats has been so important to me personally, and to know that we have secured a home for our retreats and will continue to provide these experiences truly fills my heart!”

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