NEESES—“If God is for us, who can be against us?”
Questions, answers and discussion revolving around that verse from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans took center stage at the Winter Statewide College Retreat on Feb. 23-24.
The 91 students representing 15 colleges and universities in the state were treated to both a lineup of three dynamic guest speakers and the backdrop of a spectacular spring-like Saturday afternoon on the sprawling grounds of Buckridge Plantation outside of Orangeburg.
“It was a great opportunity for (the students) from all parts of the state, even the ones with smaller campus ministries to come together,” said Jim Grove, director of campus ministry for the Diocese of Charleston.
Bringing in more speakers was a departure from the traditional single speaker for the Friday evening and Saturday morning and afternoon sessions.
“It was nice to have a bit of diversity of speakers this time,” said Emma Penny, a senior and president of the Catholic Student Association at College of Charleston. “They’re all talking about slightly different things, but all within the overarching theme ‘All is Well,’ which is always a nice thing to be reminded of.”
The retreat’s speakers were Nikki Grimball, past executive director of Neighborhood House in Charleston and current program specialist for prison ministry for Catholic Charities; Deacon Mike Demers of Holy Faith Church in Gainesville, Fla., and a member of the National Catholic Partnership on Disability Council on Mental Illness; and Denise Utter, director of parish faith formation at the Catholic Community of St. Jude in New Lenox, Ill., who is a nationally renowned speaker and writer. Each delivered powerful presentations from their own unique perspectives while also keeping with the narrative that God is for us, and through Him Christians can overcome all their afflictions and trials.
“It was good to see each (speaker) present their specialty with different presentation styles — it was really captivating,” said Seth Smith, faculty advisor for the Catholic Campus Ministry at Francis Marion University in Florence and a retreat volunteer. “Different styles, but similar messages in a way that somehow God can use our flaws for good.”
The statewide retreat was the first for Deacon Gary Janelle of Holy Trinity Church in Orangeburg.
“The best word I can use is that it was real,” said Janelle, who also serves as campus minister for all the parishes in the Orangeburg area. “It was very reality-based, so they could relate to it. I loved it. It really moved me.”
Janelle also serves in prison ministry and was particularly moved by Grimball’s Friday evening presentation.
“His story was so powerful and so personal,” Janelle said. “What he’s doing (with the prison ministry) is taking what I’m doing inside, and takes (inmates) to where they can be outside. He explained how that’s needed and what he’s doing and the groups he’s putting together. It comes full circle.”
The retreat also included an hour of reflection time and an opportunity for individual reconciliation on Saturday afternoon. The serene surroundings of Buckridge Plantation and 70-plus degree temperatures provided the ideal setting for a quiet reprieve from the daily grind.
“It definitely revitalizes me,” said Penny. She has attended the statewide retreat every year during college. “I’ve noticed I’ve gotten busier and busier each year in college,” she said. “It’s very easy to get caught up in other things and that’s not the mentality I want to have. It’s nice to have a retreat like this with time to put a stop to everything, step away, reset and retreat from it all. Spiritually, I definitely feel much more at peace and when I go back to campus, hopefully I will be able to keep this same mentality for the rest of the semester.”
The retreat concluded with a Mass celebrated by Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone and included a tradition of distributing crosses to all of the students after Mass.
“I would hope and pray that this retreat was an opportunity for maybe a glimpse of God’s presence,” Bishop Guglielmone said in his homily. “Maybe a small glimpse, or maybe for someone this might have been an opportunity for a very large glimpse of the presence of God.
“I just hope if you haven’t had an experience here, be open to the possibilities that can happen at any time and any place,” he continued. “For with God, nothing’s impossible. And with God, if He’s for us, nothing can get in the way of us finding his presence and peace.”
By Chip Lupo/Special to The Miscellany
Photo, Miscellany/Chip Lupo: Deacon Gary Janelle and Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone distribute crosses to students at the retreat after closing Mass.