Love will hold us together: Freshmen unite for first retreat as a class

Though most freshmen were a bit groggy at 8 a.m. on the morning of Monday, Nov. 22, when they were greeted by the smell of pancakes courtesy of Chris Cakes, the Monday blues immediately vanished. Students happily grabbed a paper plate and prepared to catch the buttery pancakes being flipped into the air and then devour them with friends moments later. For the rest of the day, until 7:30 p.m. that evening, the freshmen would be led through a series of talks and small group activities by their senior advisors and multiple faculty members. It proved to be a great start to the Thanksgiving break and to the freshmen’s spiritual journey at SLUH.

Freshman Max Tieber playing dodgeball on Freshman retreat. Photo: Nick Sanders.

“One of my favorite activities was when we had pancakes in the morning,” said freshman Ethan Bognar. “I liked how I got to meet up with all my friends before the day started. We were all unsure what the day would bring, and the breakfast put me a bit at ease.”

The retreat, however, started for the senior advisors long before the freshmen walked through the Dani Theatre Lobby doors Monday morning. On Nov. 8, they spent their day off up at SLUH reflecting on the task at hand of leading the freshmen on their very first retreat at SLUH. Determined to make a deep and positive impact on the freshmen, each senior advisor chose a personal topic for the talks he would deliver to his group. Some, such as senior Daniel Munie, were chosen to give a larger talk to the whole class on the freshmen’s future at SLUH. 

“It was an honor to be in that kind of position, standing up in front of the entire freshman class,” said Munie. “I remember looking up to the seniors who led that same talk when I was a freshman three years ago. That being said, I’m glad that I was able to play a part in helping them grow closer as a class and start building that brotherhood.”

The next and final step in preparing for the retreat involved the seniors decorating the homerooms that their groups were assigned to by bringing in furniture and decor to help the freshmen feel welcomed and comfortable. While many of the seniors stuck to bringing in some lawn chairs or bean bags with Christmas lights to illuminate the room for their group, other seniors went the extra mile, such as senior Gus Tettamble, who seemingly transported his group of freshmen to the North Pole by setting up an inflatable igloo in his room. 

“I was digging through my basement for some old Christmas decorations with my mom when we stumbled onto this inflatable igloo,” said Tettamble. “She told me that it would be perfect for letting Christ come down and touch the souls of my freshman. I knew my mom was onto something so I wiped the dust off, packed it up, and brought it to my classroom.” 

The senior advisors made sure to arrive at school early Monday morning to be able to greet the freshmen and to join with them in feasting on Chris’ Cakes slapjacks. After an array of speeches and feature appearances of CLERPIS, the monster looming in the halls (also known as Director of the Learning Center Tim Curdt), the freshmen, along with their senior advisors, ventured into their homeroom for small groups for some icebreakers and team building exercises, such as everyone trying to throw Q-tips into a SOLO cup. The freshmen and senior advisors also each received a section of a jigsaw puzzle and customized it to make it their own to finally complete the puzzle.

Subsequent to the introductions, the Class of ’25 gathered in the chapel to listen to a multitude of speeches from senior advisors about how they started to finally fit into the brotherhood of St. Louis U. High and their own personal experiences on reaching this place.

“I think it gave a good perspective from the older students on how we should build a brotherhood as a class,” said freshman Danny Auliffe. “Our teachers talk about it all the time, but when we see the seniors talk about their brotherhood, we realize that it takes time and it inspires us to get more involved in actually developing it.”

One of the most loved activities of the Freshmen Retreat then ensued with recess taking place in the Danis Field House. Freshmen worked out their energy in games of dodgeball, agility in Four-Square, speed in Steal the Bacon, and smarts in both chess, Jenga, and UNO! battles taking place all throughout the gymnasium.  This was a time where everyone could mingle with other groups as well as form friendships with classmates.

Freshman Andrew Mortiz said, “The recess was a lot of fun and a great chance to get to know some of my classmates I had never really talked to so far this school year. The dodgeball and Four-Square games were a great way to bond with a lot of people in our class and interact with others”

After a lunch consisting of delicious cheeseburgers, chips, and sugar cookies, freshmen gathered in small groups once again to write their own Letters-To-Self. These letters reflect on what life is like now for the freshmen and how they want to improve upon in the future at SLUH. It is a longtime tradition that the students will open these letters the following year on their Sophomore Retreat, which is usually held in the Spring. On top of this, the freshmen also wrote a letter to their school counselors about how their experience at SLUH is going so far as they wrap up their first semester. 

Following this quiet reflection time, students with their senior advisors had a teacher come in to talk about how they found faith in God throughout their own unique experiences and how they see Him in day-to-day life. These personal talks truly added to the connections being built by the retreat from the unity and trust being built.

It was really helpful to hear experiences from your teachers who have taught here for a while and your senior advisors to see where they find God in their daily lives here,” said freshman Rowan Lemp.

Freshmen doing arts and crafts on retreat. Photo: Nick Sanders. 

One of the most loved parts of the Freshmen Retreat was when nearing the end of the retreat, a guided prayer took place. After a long and exhausting day, it was definitely exactly what the freshmen needed to help relax and reflect on the day that they had.

“My favorite part of the day was definitely the guided prayer. I’d never prayed that way before and it felt very peaceful especially after all the things that we had done,” said freshman Alex Bendaña.

After finishing the guided prayer, the group walked down to the Commons to enjoy a final meal together for the day: Papa John’s Pizza. As the boys feasted on pizza, some students couldn’t help but stare in awe at the beautiful sunset to the West while looking out the windows of the Commons. The transcendental beauty of the vista helped conclude the fruitful day the freshmen had spent in prayer and in unity with their classmates.  

Rejuvenated by the delicious Papa John’s, the boys went on to conclude their day with Mass in the chapel led by Fr. Ralph Houlihan. To celebrate the success of the retreat, and a semester of leading freshmen, the senior advisors joined together in a heartfelt moment to sing, in unison, “Love Will Hold Us Together” in the front of the chapel. 

“As a bunch of guys, I feel like we don’t talk about loving each other a whole lot,” said senior Ben Harmon. “So to be able to get together and spend the whole day just simply focusing on loving each other as brothers is just an awesome thing and makes everyone on the retreat feel united like no other retreat here at SLUH.”

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