• Faith
Upper School Retreats Prepare Girls for Life Mission
Brenda Funk, Contributing Staff Writer
Freshman on retreat.

Faith in Upper School

Imagine spending one to three days away from your busy schedule to focus solely on your interiority—returning with a profound sense of gratitude, feeling closer to God, an awareness of the benefits of living in the here and now, and feeling seen, valued, and more connected with your peers. Students at Stone Ridge share these experiences and more while on their yearly retreats. Thanks to recent modifications in retreat curriculum and structure, Upper School girls are better prepared to continue their spiritual journey beyond high school.

Inspired by the charism of St. Madeleine Sophie Barat and grounded in the Goals and Criteria, the retreat program helps guide students in Goal I, developing a personal and active faith in God. Retreats allow the time and space for girls to step out of their busy lives to slow down, learn and practice some forms of prayer, meditation, and contemplation, and to hear from members of the community or guest speakers who are witnesses to faith and who model the attitudes of Christ’s heart. Jean Plummer, Upper School Campus Minister explains, “In spending time in prayer, listening, journaling, and in conversation, students are invited to reflect on their lives and their relationships with God, self, and others, and to be open to new insights and growth—even transformation—as we try to allow the Spirit to inspire us.”

Building on work previously done by Upper School Theology Department members and Director of Formation to Mission, Kathryn Heetderks, changes to First and Second Academic retreats were made to more intentionally focus the Upper School students in the history and spirituality of the Society of the Sacred Heart. These retreats, which are one day and typically located at a nearby church, now provide an introduction for new students as well as a review and deepening of this history and spirituality for students who attended Lower and Middle School. Through studying St. Madeleine Sophie Barat’s life, the First Academic retreat, entitled “The Fire of God’s Love: A Retreat with Sophie,” helps girls reflect on their lives thus far, identify the blessings and challenges that have been present, and receive affirmation from others for their gifts and potential. The Second Academic retreat, entitled “Nourishment: Fed by God, Food for Others,” explores the Christian idea of agape love, a love that is divine in its self-giving nature. Also sometimes referred to as the “Agape Retreat,” it is themed around the idea of how we are nourished by God and others, and how we are in turn called to nourish others. Ms. Plummer explains, “St. Madeleine Sophie said, ‘A person who is long nourished in prayer and union with God has great resources, especially if there is a loving heart.’ The Second Academic retreat invites students to explore how the love of God and the people in their lives feed them in such a way that they can learn to love others by their actions.”

Seniors on retreat.

“I think this retreat was an amazing experience and I really appreciate all the teachers who made it happen."

Once girls have reached their Third and Fourth Academic years, they are prepared for a longer, deeper dive into their relationships with God and others and an understanding of how they can use these relationships to further their spiritual mission. Third Academic girls attend a three-day, two-night “Kairos” retreat off campus, usually at a rural retreat center or camp in Maryland or West Virginia. Now, Kairos elements previously taught to Fourth Academics are introduced in the Third Academic retreat to better prepare the girls for their spiritual future. As one junior put it, “I hope my class continues to feel a sense of awe of love and appreciation I felt at the retreat.” This critical self-reflection and relationship-building allow the Fourth Academic “Cor Unum” retreat to focus on deepening students’ connections to the Sacred Heart mission. At this one-night, two-day encapsulating retreat, faculty guide students in exploring living as an example of a Sacred Heart graduate. Students consider the ways they are called to transform themselves, their community, and the world.

Girls from the class of 2023 had their Cor Unum Retreat in September. Of her experience on retreat, Fiona Murphy ’23 had this to say: “I learned that we all have similar fears and questions about the future and how we will navigate our last year in high school. I think we all really bonded over the fact that transitioning from college to high school is intimidating, but if this group taught me anything, it’s that we have each other’s backs. It was unexpectedly easy to open up and talk in these groups because we are all going through the same emotions and feelings.”

Ms. Plummer feels the Holy Spirit at work during retreat. “Being able to pray for the students while I am with them on retreat is a gift,” she says. “I always say that the Holy Spirit is the true director of any retreat and that when we ask for help, the Spirit always comes to our aid. So I truly believe that when I see something good happen on a retreat, the Holy Spirit is at work, and that reaffirms my own faith.”