Bursting Outside the Bubble: “Beyond the Gates” Retreat Program Prepares Seniors for Experiences Beyond Chaminade

By Jack Viscuso ‘21

It goes without saying that Chaminade students don’t need to worry too much about their faith being opposed while they’re at 340 Jackson Avenue.  However, when our seniors begin college next year, this may no longer be the case.  To prepare these upperclassmen for the challenges they will experience in the “real world,” a new senior day retreat program has recently been implemented.

Each senior religion class tests out this new retreat program by spending a day at Chaminade’s Saragossa Retreat House, away from the stresses of senior year.

Beginning just one month ago, one senior religion class ventures to Saragossa each Friday for the program, dubbed “Beyond the Gates.”  For many, it’s an escape from the stressful workload and college application anxiety that encompasses a school day, allowing seniors to focus more on their spiritual lives.

Shortly after Saragossa opened, freshmen and sophomores began attending the house for day retreat programs.  Seniors, however, were only offered an overnight retreat program at Meribah, which many couldn’t fit into their hectic schedules.  So, as Bro. Stephen Balletta, S.M ’74 explained, senior religion teachers and administrators met last year and decided to give seniors a similar experience.  The new program officially began on Friday, January 12, and will continue for the next three months.

The name “Beyond the Gates” is based on a 2005 BBC feature-length movie with the same title.  The movie, sometimes referred to by its original name, Shooting Dogs, highlights the 1994 Rwandan genocide, in which simmering tensions between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes boiled over, causing violence and mass murder outside a Catholic school, École Technique Officielle.  Eventually, the violence spread and breached the gates of the school, affecting the students previously disconnected from the madness.  Two men, a priest named Fr. Christopher and a British schoolteacher, Joe Connor, get caught up in the conflict.  In the movie, they are faced with the decision to stay behind with the Tutsis or flee for safety.

Religious artwork like this beautiful statue of Mary helps provide a prayerful atmosphere for the retreat experience.

The movie explores the concept that issues students aren’t exposed to in the confines of their homes or school can still penetrate their “bubble.”  And especially for seniors, it reinforces the idea that they will inevitably encounter troubling situations or issues, such as poverty, beyond the walls of Chaminade.

Bro. Stephen added that “[The seniors] must realize they are extremely fortunate; God has blessed them with things we take for granted, but not everyone has the same opportunities and advantages.  Preparing for and considering the widespread evil, injustice, and opposition to their beliefs that can be discovered ‘beyond the gates’ is critical.”

The day commences by forming groups to identify five key issues seniors will experience beyond their hometown, school, and other personal confines. Breakfast and a viewing of the BBC film follow.  

Many seniors, including Jack Peluso, have been struck by the devastating and profound moments in the movie.  “Seeing the pain and struggle that these people had to go through—mentally, physically, and emotionally—made me think about how stable my life is and how I should better appreciate everything I have now,” he said.

The moderators (the class’ teacher along with another faculty member or two) then lead a discussion about the movie in which students are asked to describe their reaction to the film in one word and ponder how they will respond to conflicts in the real world by trusting God and having faith.  It’s also a springboard to explore other prevalent religious and moral issues, such as atheism and moral relativism, that contradict our faith and beliefs.

John Michael Magloire ’18 also shared his thoughts on the retreat, adding, “The most fruitful portion of the day, to me, was when we celebrated Mass together and received the sacrament of reconciliation…. We all seemed to leave the retreat feeling better prepared to interact with the diversity of people and ideas we’ll soon encounter.”

It’s no secret that retreats like this one are an instrumental part of the Chaminade experience.  They provide students with unique opportunities to develop stronger bonds with their classmates and with God by turning their attention away from Canvas and onto the Eucharist—cultivating a truly prepared Chaminade Man in the process.