If one looked at the last year’s Campus Ministry retreat schedule, one would see Ignite (for freshmen), Halftime (for upperclassmen), Manresa (for mostly juniors and seniors), and Kairos (for all grades). There was nothing offered exclusively for men or women—until this year.
Valencia ’73 (for men) and Sophia (for women) offered participants an opportunity to discern what it means to be a man or woman in the 21st century. The definition of “to be a man” or “to act like a woman” is skewed by society in specific ways. For example, a man is supposed to be as masculine as possible—he should be athletic, and the best at everything he does, so that he can impress women. Women are supposed to dress and act a certain way, risking judgement if they do not adhere to society’s standards.
Valencia ’73 offered intentional time and space for men of various backgrounds to discern what true masculinity is like. The name of the retreat comes from Father Pedro Arrupe’s famous “Men for Others” speech given in Valencia, Spain in 1973. The baseline question for the retreat was, “How can I be a genuine man for others?” With that question in mind, ten men, five Graduate Ministers, and one Campus Minister set off to the Clara Barton Camp to ponder manhood. The participants discussed societal expectations of masculinity. Sitcom character Ron Swanson (from Parks and Recreation) was even referenced on the retreat, as participants constructed a “pyramid of greatness.” One of the key discussions of the retreat centered on the topic of intimacy.
Overall the retreat allowed men to think, maybe for the first time, about manhood, intimacy, relationships, and how to be an authentic man for others.
Sophia offered women a similar opportunity for intentional reflection at Friendly Crossways in Boston. The word sophia, in Biblical Tradition, is equated with God’s Wisdom, and is spoken about in feminine terms. Women who attended the retreat thought about the “Boston College man” and “Boston College woman” stereotypes, as well as the expectations placed on women in society. Moreover, participants constructed gender life maps that shared their lives through the lens of femininity. The participants also considered what it is like to be a woman for others.
Though culture and religion play a role in defining women, the participants broke the barrier of those norms to discuss the importance and necessity of women in the world. This point was highlighted by the example of important females such as St. Mary Magdalene in the Gospel. Society may have told these participants they are not “enough,” but the retreat affirmed that they are more than enough to be a woman for others.
In a culture where gender norms tend to be strictly defined, these retreats offered students an opportunity to find truth and happiness in their identity as a man or woman. They examined what it meant to be who Christ called them to be: men and women for and with others, through love.