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Sophomores PAUSE, Reflect On Purpose, Meaning of Life

February 20, 2018
On a recent weekend in January, a few dozen Merrimack sophomores went on the college’s first-ever PAUSE Retreat, held at the Campion Renewal Center in Weston, Massachusetts.

Designed to encourage participants to reflect on the meaning and purpose of their lives, the retreat emphasized that students don’t need to microplan the future before they graduate from college. Instead, they should accept that life will bring unexpected twists and turns for which they cannot plan.

The tone of the retreat was set during an opening 15-minute video written by professor Joseph Kelley and filmed by Director of Media Instructional Services Kevin Salemme. The video’s message evoked St. Augustine and the need for reflection and service to others.

“By taking the time to look within, we can discover the meaning, the purpose, the strength, and the joy of what life is asking of us,” Kelley said. “In this quiet pause, we can learn more about ourselves; remember who has carried us, and whom we have carried; treasure our talents; and discern how to bring them to ever-wider circles of care and creativity.”

“We based the retreat on the way Saint Augustine would approach things,” said Fr. Raymond Dlugos, O.S.A., who attended along with more than 20 other members of Merrimack’s faculty and staff. Several of them — among them President Christopher Hopey, Provost Allan Weatherwax and professor Anne Flaherty — offered their “confessions” (based on St. Augustine’s seminal work of the same name) that described how their life experiences made them who they are today.

These confessions reinforced the retreat’s message that students will eventually have challenges that will shape their lives and reveal their true values. A common theme across the confessions was that the most powerful and defining life experiences were not ones that were planned or chosen, but rather ones that presented unexpected challenges. After each confession, students were given the opportunity to ask questions, offer their own comments and observations, individually reflect on their questions, and finally gather in small groups for further discussion.

Fr. Duglos led the retreat in guided meditation exercises on Thursday and Friday evenings, and then closed the retreat with a celebration of Mass on Saturday morning.

“Life’s curves and happenstance circumstances will often shape our destinies,” he said after the retreat. “Students may choose careers such as teachers, accountants or police officers, but their profession will not define who they are. It’s life’s unexpected challenges that often shape lives and vocations as people. Very often, that’s where we discover that we are made of much more than we thought.”

Faculty who participated also included professors Michael Mascolo, Art Ledoux, Jane Parent and Zoe Sherman. Staff members who served as facilitators for small group discussions were Karen Harrington, Victoria Landry, Nora Cochrane, Kate Laughlin, Traci McCubbin, Nicholas DiSalvatore and Katell Guellec.

Mary McHugh served as the retreat’s emcee, offering an introduction and context for each phase. Assistant Dean of Students for Student Engagement Allison Pukala, professors Sherman and Mark Allman, and student Javi Reyes appeared in the video.

“It was amazing to see the students drink it all in and connect with the idea that they don’t have to have everything figured out right now,” Guellec said.

The PAUSE Retreat was made possible largely through the efforts of Sr. Jeanne Gribaudo, CSJ, who spearheaded the college’s application for a $57,000 grant from the Network for Vocation in Undergraduate Education, a subsidiary of the Council of Independent Colleges.

The grant will also fund a second PAUSE Retreat in January 2019. The Lily Foundation provided funding for initiatives to promote the awareness of vocation in life.

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  • Fr. Raymond Dlugos: "It’s life’s unexpected challenges that often shape lives and vocations as people."
    Fr. Raymond Dlugos: "It’s life’s unexpected challenges that often shape lives and vocations as people."

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