Billy Foshay / Gavel Media

Manresa Retreat Encourages Self-Discovery in Silence

In the tradition of Ignatian spirituality, Boston College’s Campus Ministry provides about a dozen retreat opportunities for students to reflect and take a step back from campus life. Freshmen often choose to embark on the 48 Hours retreat and upperclassmen opt for Halftime, while the highly-coveted Kairos seems to be everyone’s ultimate retreat experience.

However, there is one retreat in particular at BC that stands out from the rest. The Manresa Retreat, though less well known, is a retreat available to BC undergraduate and graduate students each January. Different from any other BC retreat, students participating in Manresa take a vow of silence for the entire five day event. Students are asked to give up their cell phones and other electronic devices for a time of peace.

Five days of silence undoubtedly sounds daunting, as Lindsay Schrier, MCAS '18, explains, “I went on Manresa for the first time as a freshman and then went again this past January. I remember the first time I was worried, wondering what it really means to not speak for five days.”

This concept of complete silence is what makes Manresa different from Campus Ministry’s other retreats, but Schrier explains that it was this aspect that made it so great: “Manresa has been the only time in my life when I’ve truly felt at peace. Even when you go on vacation somewhere, you aren’t really at peace. But Manresa took away all those distractions.”

Lior Torenberg, LSOE '18, also went on Manresa for the second time this past January. She explains how the silence felt in the company of others: “On Manresa, we all agree to be silent together. If you are alone in your room, you would be silent anyway. So we’re doing things together, but silently. You may not talk to people, but when you’re all together you’re still connecting.”

The retreat takes place at Boston College’s Connors Family Retreat Center in Dover, MA. Students have time to rest, explore the grounds, pray, and reflect without the pressures of school or daily routine. Schrier says she spent a lot of her time in the art studio, reading, and hiking, as the Charles River was nearby.

Students on the Manresa retreat meet with a spiritual director each day for casual, individual meetings to discuss faith and life. “The meetings with my spiritual director were more related to the way in which God touches all aspects of our lives,” says Schrier. “My director worked with me to figure out what works for me in my spiritual life—something I personally don’t think enough people develop.” 

Although the retreat focuses on Christianity in the Roman Catholic tradition, there is no faith requirement for the retreat. “It is a religious retreat, but I didn’t necessarily go on it for religious reasons," says Torenberg. "For me, it was more spiritual.” Both students and directors come from a variety of faith- or spirituality-based perspectives.

The mediation emphasized in Manresa allows the students to come into their second semester having reevaluated their goals, friendships, and passions. Both Torenberg and Schrier explained how upon returning from Manresa, they felt as if their friendships improved.

“It helped me come back to BC and value my friendships more,” says Torenberg. “Although your friends have no idea, your friendships are going to be so much stronger when you get back, and it’s so nice going into the school year with that.”

The college experience teaches the importance of being social—keeping doors open as freshmen, eating in dining halls full of peers, sleeping a mere five feet away from roommates. However, as college students, it is also necessary to realize that time spent in solitude is just as important, if not more important, than time spent socializing.

The Manresa retreat, like other BC Campus Ministry retreats, asks students to explore questions about identity, intentions, and the future. However, the emphasis on solitude in the Manresa retreat provides time for students to think about these “big questions” while fostering a deeper connection with the self.

While it is important to form relationships with others and experience the world, it is equally as important to learn about oneself and commit to internal exploration to grow as a student and a human being.

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