Recharge, Reflect, Reconnect – Jennifer Oaten

In the hustle and bustle of modern life, finding moments of tranquillity and self-reflection can be a rare luxury. For many individuals, especially those in the education community, the demands of daily routines and professional responsibilities can lead to a sense of disconnection between themselves and their colleagues.

Our usual way for staff to commence the term is to have the whole staff gather for presentations, meetings and break times. This is often a busy, loud and intense time as the positive energy of many staff is combined.

This term, we commenced with a whole staff retreat day, with staff choosing a location and theme based on their interest and location. Our Head of Professional Learning sourced an excellent range of retreats catering to different interests and faith journeys. The goal was reflection and connection within all staff.

The Retreat Themes Included:

Many Gifts, One Spirit

Many Gifts, One Spirit – celebrating and recognising the gifts we have been given as a means of making a difference in the lives of others.

“The Retreat was a wonderful and reflective way to begin the term. I was moved by stories of Joan Chittister and Maya Angelou, who were empowered by others to have the freedom to be their best selves. It was a timely reminder of the power that we hold as a community. A highlight of the day was exploring the Canning River as Brother Terry pointed out native birds and the nesting places that they return to every year. His love of the grounds and ‘our common home’ was contagious.”

Creation and our World of Colour

Creation and our World of Colour was about understanding the impact of colour in our lives and the colour different people bring to our lives.

"The retreat helped me declutter my life by refocusing my attention on experiencing God within. The retreat used the metaphor of colour to represent the important people and experiences in our lives, revealing a God who loves us and resides within our innermost being. I found great comfort in knowing that we have a God who loves us, journeys with us, and helps us reach our best selves. The sharing of others’ expressions of colour in their lives was inspirational and it was interesting to see what colours and symbols meant to each person on their own life journey."

Pilgrimage to the Heart

Pilgrimage to the Heart allowed us to contemplate through the historical lens of Australian Saint Mary MacKillop and former Santa Maria College student Sr Irene McCormack who was martyred in Peru in 1991.

"We were welcomed into a beautiful space at the Mary MacKillop Centre in South Perth. The gardens, artworks, sacred spaces and symbols related to the lives of two important Australian Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus: Saint Mary Mackillop and former Santa Maria College student and boarder, Sr Irene McCormack (who was martyred in Peru in 1991). One room at the Centre contained an interactive presentation depicting the inspirational life of St Mary MacKillop. Sr Maree and Sr Maura provided opportunities for contemplation through a variety of meditation sessions. We were shown practical ways to calm, guide and focus ourselves and students to assist them in their own personal journeys. It was wonderful to have conversations with colleagues from our school community and build greater connections. We all left the Retreat feeling calm, refreshed and full of an appreciation of those who have gone before us."

Pilgrimage of Mercy

Pilgrimage of Mercy allowed us to trace the journey and experiences of the Mercy pioneers, Ursula Frayne and the sisters who accompanied her from their landing in Fremantle to Perth.

"The pilgrimage of Mercy gave staff an opportunity to socialise outside their departments. The view of the College and a pod of dolphins was a nice novelty from the river boat ride. Walking through the city in the sisters’ steps, gave us perspective on how difficult some aspects of their vocation would have been."

Benefits of Retreat Time

1. Building Connections – Retreats provide a setting that encourages open communication and genuine connections among staff members. When taken out of the regular work environment, individuals have the chance to interact on a more personal level, sharing experiences and stories. This informal atmosphere can break down barriers, helping staff to see each other in a new light, appreciate their unique qualities, and build trust. Through these opportunities, participants appreciate one another’s strengths and challenges, hopefully leading to increased connection and collaboration.

2. Time for Reflection and Self-Discovery – Retreat time offers a precious opportunity to step back from the pace of daily life and engage in self-reflection. In the midst of our busy schedules, we often neglect to consider our personal growth and how our journey aligns with our values and aspirations. Retreats provide the necessary space to ponder life’s purpose and consider whether we are living in harmony with our true selves. It provides time to consider our own faith and what it means to us on a personal level.

3. Fostering a Stronger Community – When staff members have the time to contemplate their life journeys, they become more self-aware, which contributes in a positive way to the community. Staff who have gone through a retreat experience of self-discovery and reflection are more likely to demonstrate empathy and compassion towards others. As a result, the community becomes more supportive, understanding, and cohesive, with members genuinely invested in each other’s wellbeing

Retreat time is not merely a break from the daily routine; it is a transformative experience that enriches the lives of individuals and contributes significantly to the growth of a harmonious community. By fostering authentic connections among staff and providing a space for self-reflection, retreats empower individuals to better understand themselves and others, resulting in a more united community.

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