Seniors enjoy divided class retreats to Joshua Tree National Park and to Camp Wrightwood in the San Gabriel Mountains

Thirty-eight days shy of 40 – Verbum Dei seniors, staff, and faculty retreated to Joshua Tree National Park for a desert camping and hiking experience on October 28-29, 2018 – Images by John Stradley, Present Dei Online News Source Moderator

By Khalid Nelms, Staff Writer and Nathaniel Zelata, Photo Editor

On October 28, 2018, the Verbum Dei Senior Class along with accompanying faculty and staff chaperones met at the Verb at 8 A.M. and quickly departed to two first-of-format  overnight senior class retreats in two dramatically different locations: Camp Wrightwood  in the pine forest of the San Gabriel Mountains and Cottonwood Campground in the arid expanse of Joshua Tree National Park.

These senior retreats were different from years prior.  Campus Ministry devised these  experiences as a follow-up to the first-ever junior Kairos retreat last year.  Organizers decided to split the class to have two distinctly different retreat experiences.  The Joshua Tree National Park retreat was envisioned as a hiking/camping opportunity, while the Call to Holiness Retreat in Wrightwood was to be a more traditional, sleep-in-the-comfort-of-a-cabin retreat experience.

The environment of Joshua Tree National Park is filled with rocky outcroppings, cactus and scrub, and desert landscapes.  The National Park is located in the Palm Desert near Palm Springs, California.  At a much higher elevation, Camp Wrightwood presented an environment quite similar to Camp Pondo, where the annual Kairos retreat has been held  for a number of years.

“This year’s senior retreat really helped me finish establishing the bonds that I created from last year’s Kairos retreat, and I feel it was a huge success” said Gerardo Leon, who attended the Call to Holiness retreat.  Looking to bond over previous experiences was the informal motto for the mountain retreat.

“I had a great experience at the Call to Holiness retreat, and I was able to not only strengthen bonds from last year, but also create more during the retreat as well”, said chaperone and Math Department Chair Claude Moore.  These retreats were the first attended by some new additions to the Verb family.

“This is was my first retreat here at Verb, and it was a great experience,” said Allison Kennedy, Fine Arts teacher.  “I appreciated how I was able to share my story without anyone judging me for it.”

During the Joshua Tree Retreat hike, students along with teachers reflected on what it means to sacrifice, to have faith in God’s unconditional love, and to be tempted. At points during the students’ and teachers’ hike, brief talks were given and analogies were made to the walk in the desert that Jesus endured for 40 days.

Students housed their belongings and slept in dome tents in group camping sites at the Cottonwood Campground in the National Park.

After a mass at sunset and a dinner of fire-roasted hot dogs, the night fell and an infinite sky of stars became was revealed. The  sight of constellations – not visible in the urban light wash of the city – left students feeling amazement and awe. Fr. George Teodoro, SJ, conducted an informal stargazing session while identifying various constellations, the planet Mars, and other celestial features.  Students enjoyed smores as they relaxed in the early evening.

“I liked being out in nature, and I enjoyed the quiet and the night sky,” said Osvaldo Estrada.  “The landscape of the hike was great also.”  Estrada said the retreat provided reflection in a unique atmosphere and that it offered time to sort through emotions while hiking.  Other seniors felt good about how the retreat went and were blessed by the opportunity to leave the confines of the city.

Faith-based retreats such as these are part of each student’s experience from freshman year forward, but this retreat was the last of its kind for the Class of 2019. The success and impact of Kairos contributed to the pressures organizers felt that these retreats have a similar impact.

Both retreats were organized by the Campus Ministry team.  Last year, EJ Vieyra and Karen Chambers polled the seniors on their preferred retreat experience; sight unseen, the seniors chose between the two offerings.

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