by KATIE SCHULTE '18
Each year at the end of February, every young woman, faculty, and staff member of St. Ursula Academy immerses themselves in community service and a faith-centered retreat called Spiritual Journey Week. Each grade participates in different activities, and usually is unaware of what they may experience during them. Mrs. Kramer ‘77and Mrs. Caito ‘00 offer insight as to what goes into planning Spiritual Journey Week and why it is a fundamental part of our growth and unity at SUA.
As alumnae, both Mrs. Kramer and Mrs. Caito know what life without SJW is, which has allowed them to fully appreciate and understand how it affects our sense of spiritual unity. Mrs. Kramer says that during her time as a student, her required retreat sharply contrasts the current week of reflection and service we at SUA now know. Ms. Caito adds that SJW began during her senior year, and she can still vividly remember leading freshmen retreats, as the seniors do now. While many aspects remain the same, this particular week has changed significantly throughout the years. Both women recall last minute changes in the past, and how SJW is constantly evolving to fit the students’ needs. In the words of Mrs. Kramer, “It is paramount the students are heard so they come out of the retreat feeling that they grew in some way.” In other words, the purpose of this week is not only for students to grow together as a class, but also as individual women of faith, integrity, and courage.
Each year, the retreats and service days mature in topics, as we do as women. Mrs. Kramer explains that the model for the freshmen activities is typically volunteering at a service site, such as Matthew 25 Ministries, and then spending an educational day learning about Ursuline heritage. The significance of these two days is to help the freshmen not only get to know their classmates better, but also SUA’s rich history.
Ms. Caito adds that in sophomore year, it is crucial that the girls are encouraged to expand their horizons and to grow in compassion for other people. As such, they have Diversity Day, where students hear from speakers, such as Freedom Rider of the civil rights movement Betty Rosemond. It also involves volunteering at schools or homes for people with disabilities.
In junior year, which both Mrs. Kramer and Mrs. Caito cited as most significant, friendships are reinforced and new ones are created through an overnight retreat where girls are randomly split into small groups in order to form new bonds with one another. Another important aspect of juniors’ SJW is their beginning to build their spiritual life outside of the SUA community, as the retreat is hosted and run by the Jesuit Spiritual Center of Milford.
The seniors’ final SJW consists in their running of the underclassmen activities. This complements their various Kairos retreats, the details of which kept secret in order to elevate the Kairos experience during senior year.
As for how SJW has affected them the most, Mrs. Kramer describes herself in continual awe of the Ursuline heritage that will forever bond the current students with alumnae like herself. Because she works with the freshmen every year, she witnesses this unseen connection first hand on Ursuline Heritage day. Mrs. Caito also adds that her most momentous experience during SJW was receiving feedback from a freshman she had never met. She continues that amidst the sometimes hectic atmosphere that comes with planning such a huge event, she will never forget an email she received from a freshman asking if she could share a prayer with her that she had written earlier that week. This reminds Mrs. Caito why she is passionate about her work and how this special week that has a significant influence on our young women.
Meanwhile, the adult community of SUA also has many options for retreats and service opportunities similar to the students. The most memorable was an event in which the faculty and staff volunteered at a home for men and women with disabilities and invited Betty Rosemond from the sophomores’ Diversity Day to give a talk. This opportunity for growth and reflection with one another allowed for a similar bond to form with the adults as it did for the students and their peers. Mrs. Kramer describes the positive feedback and how this day highlighted the need for unity for the adult community; strength in the faculty and staff benefits the students as well.
Mrs. Kramer and Mrs. Caito conclude that in order to get the most out of the retreats, reflections, and volunteering, students have to enter with an open mind. For the freshman especially, there might be some fear of going outside of friend groups or reaching out to new people. This is completely normal, but it is crucial to not let these fears get in the way of the week itself. The most important part of SJW for all students is to simply enjoy getting to know your classmates and bonding in faith at SUA.