Embracing Change and New Beginnings on the Genesis Retreat

Campus Ministry, retreat moderators, and student leaders have re-envisioned all retreats this school year – from 7th grade Damascus to 11th/12th Emmaus.


Photographer: Jenni Justus

This year’s retreat included a first: leader-designed masks.

By Stella Chambless, Staff Writer

While physically separating us, the effects of COVID-19 have spiritually brought the Marist community and the world together. Compassion has been on full display since the start of the pandemic. Many individuals sacrificed their normal lives in order to protect those who are at higher risk, displaying a sense of community and togetherness. Even a simple gesture like wearing a mask at school shows your concern for the health and safety of others. The overwhelming display of kindness and empathy is a nice reminder how we should always look out for our neighbors. The pandemic brought forth harm and disaster, but the communal combat against it begins a new chapter of love.

 The start of high school at Marist is symbolized by many things, one of which being the Genesis retreat. Genesis marks the beginning of the Bible, as the retreat marks the beginning of high school. Faculty members Jenni Justus, Reinald Yoder, Andrew Johnson, and Megan Kennedy organized and moderated this year’s retreat for freshmen, ensuring COVID friendliness while still cultivating a strong sense of connection between the retreatants. 

If you were a student at Marist in ninth grade, you likely participated in the Genesis retreat. There, you probably slept in train cars and roasted marshmallows as part of your first overnight retreat. This year, students were able to gather in the warmth of classrooms with their groups of five students as well as their sophomore retreat leaders. The leaders transformed the classrooms, making them unrecognizable by replacing desks with blankets, yoga mats, and snacks. Some leaders brought speakers and electric candles to maintain the spiritual atmosphere, all while ensuring compliance with COVID-19 protocols. The retreat would not have been possible if not for the tireless efforts of the moderators, leaders, and student participants. 

Retreatants taking part in an outdoor meditation during Genesis.

“The biggest challenge was adapting the retreat to maintain health protocols and shifting the retreat’s location and timing to a one-day event,” said Justus, who coordinated the retreat while teaching remotely from home. “However, one of the benefits of planning the retreat during COVID was the increased flexibility offered by virtual meetings.”

As Justus highlighted, even though there were many hurdles to climb in the planning, preparation, and execution of the retreat, it also brought on additional successes like leader-designed masks. 

“The leaders are the weavers of the magic,” said Yoder. “Their serious sense of purpose, their preparations and care, and their energy on the day of the retreat helped to create experiences for their groups that should spark personal and community growth.” 

“COVID has helped us realize how much we take for granted, and when everyone follows the rules and precautions, we can all safely engage with one another and form stronger bonds and relationships in the process,” said Justus.

This retreat bonded the ninth grade class, preparing them for their high school experience ahead and exemplified a joint effort of our Marist community to protect its members. The retreat was also a repose from our daily lives. Expressing feelings and discussing deep topics such as personal relationships with God, ways to improve family dynamics, and the highs and lows of life, allowed for strong connections to grow among the freshman class. All in all, the Genesis retreat was a large success thanks to the efforts of its faculty moderators and sophomore leaders involved in planning.