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The Impact of Retreats
Rachelle Garbarine

Long after graduating from Cardinal Gibbons, memories of their retreat experience endure. Alumni remember connecting with new friends, discovering insights about themselves, recognizing their gifts as servant leaders, as well as becoming closer with each other and with God. They also recall how the experience followed them and impacted their futures.

To be sure, the retreat experience at Gibbons is as spiritual as it is educational. It is also seminal. Whether the retreat is for one day or four days, the focus for retreatants is to pray, grow, and live the story in their hearts – one that strengthens both the soul and the spirit.

Gibbons students,  now alumni, on retreat while at Gibbons.

In the past, those discoveries have taken place during retreats held in various places. Soon, however, they will occur in one place – the Cardinal Gibbons Short Journey Retreat Center in Smithville - our school’s new home away from home. Since Gibbons purchased Short Journey from the Diocese of Raleigh last winter, the center’s historic buildings, set on 12 acres, have been undergoing improvements. Completion of that work is expected this spring, dovetailing with the reopening of the center, which sat dormant for three years.

“The purchase of the center,” explains Retreat Director Tim Yelenic, “gives us opportunities to take new and existing elements of our retreat program and blend them together in our own space.” This space, he added, will also enable students to develop relationships with classmates and educators over four years, the same way they do in our school.

Many current students and educators are excited about attending retreats at the center, where they can detach from the busyness of daily life and contemplate their faith. They also are looking forward to the memories of the retreat experience itself that await them there – memories like those alumni have carried with them since they graduated years ago.

“The purchase of the center,” explains Retreat Director Tim Yelenic, “gives us opportunities to take new and existing elements of our retreat program and blend them together in our own space.”

For many Gibbons Alumni the memories are powerful reminders of the retreat experience’s impact on their lives. “Many alumni tell me how much of their retreat experience formed them as a person,” Director of Retreats Crista Anders says. “They say the experience taught them how to relate to other people, see deeper than the surface, and that everyone has a story.”

Gaby Cardeno'16 on Kairos as a student at Gibbons.

Gaby Cardeno ’16 says her Gibbons retreat experience continues to play “an integral role” in her life. “I take the advice that I heard from my peers or the wonderful educators and use it to solve any situation in my life,” notes Gaby a student at East Carolina University studying hospitality management. “Going on retreats with Gibbons also allowed me to learn how to be a leader and those skills have helped me succeed in my education so far.”

The lesson Stephen Shank ’16 says he learned about servant leadership has been inspirational. “I will always remember my experience at Kairos,” says Stephen, who is studying political science at Davidson College. “It helped me understand that everyone is vulnerable in some way and that it is important to look out for others when we think they might be in need.”

For Hunter Smith ’12, a fourth-year medical student at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, it all centers on God, faith, and his own spiritual journey. He explains: “Retreats helped me strengthen my faith. Going through high school, college, medical school, and everyday life can test your faith. Gibbons retreats provided me the foundation and resources to go back to and build upon later in life.”  Gibbons retreats, he adds, showed him the importance of being intentional in life and faith decisions.

Hunter Smith '12 on retreat while a student at Gibbons.

All three alums say their favorite take away from the retreat experience was connecting with and learning about students they didn’t necessarily spend time with and in a setting away from school. In listening to everyone’s stories they not only learned much about others, they also learned much about themselves.

Associate Director of Alumni Advancement Susan Leigh ’87 says she is grateful for her retreat experience and the lessons in friendship, leadership, service, and faith it taught her. Those lessons, she adds, have guided her through her life journey, which has led her back to Gibbons. Leigh notes that she also is appreciative that her daughter, Anne, an incoming freshman, will get to experience retreats at Short Journey, continuing a legacy of spiritual enrichment unique to Gibbons.

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