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Committing to be Present to the Spirit

Spring Semester 2023 of The Word Magazine | by Erin McCarville
The Present to the Spirit retreat is held each year in January and serves as an optional experience for members of the junior class to further develop their relationship with God. An overnight, two-day experience, the retreat was held at the Redemptorist Retreat Center in Summit, WI from Monday, January 16–Tuesday, January 17. The retreat is intentionally held at a time when the year can start to feel overwhelming for junior Dashers as academics become more rigorous with thoughts of college applications on the horizon.

The retreat concentrates on the biblical story of Mary and Martha. When the two sisters opened their home for Jesus, Martha hurries around the room to ensure preparations are ready. Her sister Mary, however, simply sits at the feet of Jesus and listens. Comparable to the busy experience of junior year, the girls examine their faith through this perspective. The scriptural theme is from Luke 10:41-42: The Lord answered, “You are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one.” The passage helps students determine the extent to which they are open to God’s daily presence in their lives. Throughout the retreat, the girls listen to witness talks from their peers, discuss faith with their small groups, and participate in individual prayer and reflection.
When Olivia Campbell, DSHA ’24, chose to sign up for the retreat, she was hoping to connect with students who were passionate about their faith, as she was feeling disconnected from hers. Camilla Chaisorn, DSHA ’24, was hoping it would provide a nice break from her studies and a time to reflect on her current relationship with God. Signing up for different reasons, the two girls were surprised to discover the retreat far exceeded their initial expectations. The retreat allowed them to focus on what was important in their lives, and rediscover and strengthen their relationship with their peers, faith, and God.

The Communal Aspect of Faith

Chaisorn had not been heavily involved with DSHA Campus Ministry when she signed up for the optional retreat. While she had attended the two previously required retreats, Set Sail her freshmen year and Through the Turbulence her sophomore year, she desired a break from school and was curious if this retreat would be helpful in further exploring her relationship with her faith. “Looking back over the two days, my favorite moment of the retreat was the first day when we were encouraged to share a meal with our small group. All of the girls in my group were people I hadn’t previously known and might not have met otherwise. Throughout the week, we engaged in group discussions about our faith and grew to have really meaningful conversations. These discussions led me to contemplate what I value and find meaningful.”

Continuing throughout the retreat, Chaisorn started to pay attention to when she felt most invigorated and involved with her faith. Quickly, she knew it was when she was sharing it with others. She explained, “It’s easy to see faith as a solitary activity but it doesn’t always have to be that way. We sang worship songs, heard witness talks, walked with others in nature, and asked ourselves difficult questions over the two days. It was like nothing I had done before, and I hadn’t realized how fun and powerful faith could be when sharing it with others.”

Similarly, Campbell was hoping to connect with people who were passionate about their faith. Feeling disconnected, she hoped the experience would help revive that important part of her life.

“My faith has always been important to me and I have been involved in some Campus Ministry activities. I serve during the all-school Masses, and I’ve been on some service projects. It can be so hard to keep your faith active throughout the school year when there is so much going on.”

Director of Campus Ministry Stephanie Monson knows how important it can be to choose to engage with your faith during this time. She shared, “to choose faith during a busy and sometimes stressful time of life can be so powerful. There is beauty in giving girls that time to refocus on where they are going and how they want to approach the remainder of their time in high school—all through the lens of their identity and worth in God.”

Leaning into the experience, and with the help from members in her small group, Campbell realized she feels connected to her faith when engaging with others. She shared, “I give to God and my faith through service work and daily actions. I absolutely love going to St. Vincent de Paul and volunteering to make meals as part of their program. It is amazing to see people there who are willing to donate their time, or food, to give to those who are struggling in Milwaukee. I feel my faith most strongly when I am giving back.”

Comparably, she also pays close attention to her daily actions. She stated, “being kind to my parents, my friends, my peers, my teachers, is something I can do to feel connected to my faith. It makes me feel as if I am living in a way that God would want me to live.”

Cultivating Relationships with God

As Campbell and Chaisorn continued through the two days of the retreat, both were asking themselves
how they could grow in their personal relationships with God. In their small groups, discussion questions were raised including, “Have you ever struggled with your faith or trust in God? Does God play a role in your daily life?”

As Chaisorn found herself contemplating these questions, and intently listening to her peers, she discovered how often and common it is to turn to God in moments of sorrow or hardship. She explained, “I noticed we pray more when we have an upcoming test or when things are not going our way,” she explained.

“But I think it is also important to take time to realize God is also there for you in times that are good. For example, if you’re having a good moment with your friend or someone you love, that is a gift from Him. Taking time at that moment to stop, pause, and realize He is there with you is so incredibly important.”

Recognizing that God is actively present in the small moments throughout her day, Chaisorn compared the
relationship to a newly discovered friendship. “He should be someone I share all my moments with. My best friend that I get to celebrate and enjoy my life with.”

During the retreat, Chaisorn took some quiet moments alone to foster her friendship with God. She described a trail she often walked throughout the retreat stating, “there was this trail you could walk that had the Stations of the Cross. I thought it was nice to be out in nature and experience the beauty of nature while leaning into prayer. It was so quiet and peaceful and allowed me to take those deep breaths and invite God into my daily life.”

Campbell, in a different small group, was quickly recognizing that she hadn’t been giving the individual time to her relationship with God that she desired. While He had always been an important part of her life, it had been a while since she engaged with God outside of community activities. Over the two days, she found new ways to connect with God that she hadn’t considered before. She shared, “during my small group discussions, I learned how my peers often find and connect with God by doing things they love.”

Leaning into that notion, one of Campbell’s favorite moments during the retreat was engaging in activities she enjoys. The girls gathered into their small groups and read from the bible to find passages that were impactful to them. Once they had chosen a passage, they were given the option to paint the words onto a canvas. Wanting to try  a new way to connect with God, she decided to take part in the activity.

“I absolutely love art. Getting to share a simple activity like this with God was one of my favorite moments during the retreat.” Similar to Martha, Campbell realized she didn’t need to be busy or doing much to feel close and connected to God.

Looking Ahead, Leading for Others

Arriving back to DSHA that Tuesday afternoon, the girls reflected on their experiences during a closing Mass. Committing themselves to prioritize their faith lives, the two didn’t hesitate before jumping into several Campus Ministry opportunities.

Chaisorn shared, “after optional junior retreat, I really committed myself to getting involved with Campus
Ministry. I signed up to be a small group Lenten Leader and spent each Monday during Lent discussing faith, reading scripture, and praying with a small group of freshmen.” In addition, Chaisorn was also selected to serve as one of the Small Group Leaders for the Set Sail freshman retreat for the 2023-24 school year. She shares, “I really want to show these younger girls, especially freshmen, that their faith life at DSHA can be impactful and fun at the same time. If I can provide that example to them, maybe they’ll get involved sooner than I did.”

Campbell will serve as one of the Present to the Spirit junior retreat coordinators. She shared, “I want to ensure that other juniors will have the same experience that I had. The retreat really reaffirmed how important my faith is to me. Knowing how easily it can be lost throughout the year, I want to be someone who can help remind others how important it is to keep God at the forefront.”

As the two move forward in their respective leadership roles, they will continue to dedicate themselves to sharing their faith with others, prioritizing this aspect of their lives, and growing in closeness with God and


Present to the Spirit Retreat Itinerary
Monday, January 17 
  • Opening session and journaling prompts
  • Mary & Martha activity and prayer
  • Witness talks
  • Small group discussion questions
  • Examining values activity
  • Art activity
  • Prayer, poetry, and small group discussions
  • Relationship with God examination activity
  • Witness talks
  • Eucharistic Adoration
  • Night prayer

Tuesday, January 17
  • Morning gratitude prayer
  • Witness talks
  • Small group discussions
  • Mary & Martha activity
  • Closing prayer
  • Mass at DSHA

DSHA Retreat Schedule 

Early Fall of Freshmen–Senior Year | DSHA Campus Ministry Optional Opening Retreat
Fall of Freshmen Year | Set Sail
Fall of Sophomore Year | Through the Turbulence
Spring of Junior Year | Be Present, Optional Junior Retreat
Spring of Senior Year | The Road to Emmaus: Past, Present, and Future
    • Dashers participated in an afternoon retreat activity.

    • Pictured left to right is Abby Quesnell, DSHA ’24; Olivia Campbell, DSHA ’24; and Abby Jens, DSHA ’24, at the Redemptorist Retreat Center.

    • Dashers were able to enjoy each other’s company after completing an evening retreat activity. Pictured left to right: Lilia Graves, DSHA ’24; Syniah Lee, DSHA ’24; Meli Sanchez, DSHA ’24; Stacy Ramirez, DSHA ’24; Samiyah Heaston, DSHA ’24; Jocelyn Frain, DSHA ’24; Neve Hammel, DSHA ’24; Camilla Chaisorn, DSHA ’24, and Meghan Finerty, DSHA ’24.


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