For several years youth minister Dawn Burdick watched as the young adults she’d ministered to when they were teens came back home to St. Mary Parish in Canandaigua during their college breaks.
As teens, these young adults had often been very involved in their parish — especially the youth group — but when they came back as college students they weren’t quite sure where they fit in, she told the Catholic Courier.
“They graduated and you’d see them come home on winter break and they were sort of lost. Some of them would try to come to a youth-group meeting, but they didn’t fit in there,” Burdick said.
This problem wasn’t unique to St. Mary alone, she said, as young adults fall into an age group that the Catholic Church often has a hard time reaching and ministering to.
“Sometimes we miss them until they come to be married or to bring their kids to be baptized,” she added.
Late in 2006, Burdick decided to do something about the problem. She planned a January 2007 retreat for the parish’s college students and other young adults. She wasn’t sure if the young adults would be interested, but was encouraged when approximately two dozen of them signed up for the retreat.
“It was a resounding success, so we decided to do it again,” she said. “This is sort of the highlight of our year. It’s nice for them because they’re all at different schools and they get to see each other and meet in different ways.”
This year’s retreat was held Jan. 6-7 at Notre Dame Retreat House in Canandaigua. A total of 15 people attended the retreat, although they weren’t all there at the same time, Burdick said. Some stayed for the duration of the retreat, which lasted for 24 hours and concluded with Mass, while others had to leave the retreat briefly for work and other previous engagements such as dentist appointments that needed to be taken care of while the young adults were in town.
During the retreat, Burdick and the young adults examined their lives and their spirituality with the help of the book The Personal Compass.
“This year we’re doing sort of a prelude to what the bishop is going to start in Lent (about) deepening your relationship with Christ,” Burdick said, referring to the upcoming diocesanwide spiritual renewal, Spirit Alive!
Retreatants explored the different ways and places in which they find God. They then thought about where they are at this stage in their lives, what things they may need to let go of and what goals they have, Burdick said. In the third and final piece of this self-examination, retreatants thought about how to connect the first two elements and forge a deeper relationship with God.
“They spent a long time using The Personal Compass and figuring out where they are in their life and what God is calling them to,” Burdick said.
Matt Valvano, a sophomore at St. John Fisher College in Pittsford, said he enjoyed the spiritual exercises involving the book and liked the book’s way of illustrating life as a map.
“Your life is a path and you have to choose which way to go,” said Valvano, 19.
Kelly Hanlon, a senior at Roberts Wesleyan College in Rochester, said she spent much of the retreat looking at the way her life was going and the people that have an influence on her. While she occasionally thinks about those things on her own, she’d never done so in such a structured way, she said.
“It was really helpful to look at it on paper, rather than just looking at it in your head. It’s hard to do that if you don’t journal or anything,” said Hanlon, 21.
The entire retreat was enjoyable, but Hanlon said she especially enjoyed the hour or so when retreat participants each went off to separate corners of the Notre Dame campus to reflect on whatever they wanted. The thermometer reached into the upper 60s on that very unseasonable January day, and many people took advantage of the opportunity to wander about the grounds, which overlook Canandaigua Lake.
“I thought about the people in my life and how God was using them. It was really good to think back on what’s happened in my life,” she said.
Ted Zielinski, a sophomore at Allegheny College in Pennsylvania, also was grateful for the chance to spend some time alone in quiet reflection, which he did while gazing at the lake.
“College is just so many things always going on,” said Zielinski, 19. “You never get a chance to go off by yourself for a few minutes.”
This opportunity for individual reflection is one of the things Burdick most likes about young-adult retreats, she said. She thoroughly enjoys working with high-school students and leading teen retreats, but young-adult retreats are just as enjoyable in their own ways, she said.
“There’s a lot more freedom for this age group because you can send them off and say, ‘Think about this for an hour and come back.’ You can’t do that with teens. It’s nice for me because you can go deeper than you can with teenagers,” Burdick said.
An individual’s spirituality can change a lot between the teen and young-adult years, so it’s important for young adults to have places to come to explore and deepen their own spirituality, Zielinski said.
“When you’re in high school everything is pretty new and you’re still depending on your parents for a lot of foundations,” he said. “(Young-adult retreats) are like going to a high-school retreat but there are more options and you know yourself better.”