Building Community Through Dorm Retreats

Author: Courtie Davis

Grabbing my duffle bag, I rushed around my room. What do I need? Pajamas? Got them. Homework? Forget it. Chocolate bars? Always. In truth, it didn’t really matter what I brought with me because I was going to have a good time regardless. I would be attending the Walsh Hall Overnight Retreat. 

The word “retreat” can be intimidating for people. While some Notre Dame students have attended many retreats, like Kairos, others have avoided them entirely. However, the Walsh Overnight always draws in students with various spiritual backgrounds. I think this is something special about Notre Dame. Even though students come from different countries, cultures, and faiths, we share a desire to learn more from each other through experiences like retreats. In fact, so many wanted to attend this retreat that over 80 girls from my hall sign up every year. (Yes, that’s almost half of the dorm going on a mini vacation together.)

Why do so many people want to go? Imagine this…During February, 80 of your closest friends cram onto a bus and head to log cabins in Michigan. You’ll get to hang out, go on nature walks, and eat ridiculously good food. Oh, I almost forget to mention the snow tubing and s’mores. 

Although these things are incredible, the best part of the Walsh Overnight is reconnecting with your community. When taken out of the dorm context for 24 hours, I found myself having interesting chats with people who weren’t in my immediate friend group. In fact, over the years, some of the people I first talked with at the Overnight have become some of my best friends. Additionally, my rector has done a great job of making this retreat a time where conversations ranging from silly to serious can occur. For example, we had a “dabbing” contest right after a heart-to-heart about our role models. Being free to have these discussions on the overnight contributes to the closely-knit community at Notre Dame.

Attending many of these retreats has allowed me the opportunity to take on new roles. In particular, I have enjoyed being a group leader for small group discussions. Our rector would carefully select eclectic groups of people, trying to help Walsh girls meet members of the community they might not have otherwise. In these groups, we’d have discussions about classes, family, and religion centered around the retreat’s theme of “authenticity” or being “rooted.” (My group also had to answer random questions like “If you were a cereal, which one would you be?” to learn more quirky facts about one another.) Because these groups were not divided by class, it gives upperclassmen the ability to interact with underclassmen. We can give them our insights on Notre Dame experiences while their fresh perspective on our University definitely reminded me how lucky I am to attend this school. These kinds of experiences build the genuine family feeling that Walsh evokes. 

For me, Walsh’s Overnight is the perfect getaway while still being with the Notre Dame community. Having the chance to get to know Walsh girls in a new environment opened my eyes to diverse perspectives on a personal level. It has been a reminder that being a Notre Dame student is about more than good grades in class. It’s about learning from each other, going out of your comfort zone, and giving back to a community that continuously gives to you.