By Sean Callahan
If you started attending Saint Vincent College in the past few years, you may know of the annual Campus Ministry retreat, “Ignite.” But it was once called ‘Fan Into Flames,’ after a Bible quote from 2 Timothy, and it began as a student-organized event 13 years ago, inspired by conferences of Saint Paul’s Outreach, a Catholic group of missionaries. Only three years later did the retreat become an official Campus Ministry event, in part at the request of Archabbot Douglas Nowicki, said Killian Loch, O.S.B, director of Campus Ministry.
“The idea was to experience God’s presence, especially the gifts of the Holy Spirit, during a weekend,” said Loch.
But, as was the case with most events during this academic year, Ignite was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. It was held on campus, instead of at a retreat center, with over 40 students attending. Loch said in a normal year Ignite would draw around 100 students.
Parker Bowser, a freshman philosophy student, appreciated the opportunity to attend the irregular retreat, but felt the environment would have been more beneficial off campus.
“Here, I see a certain building and it makes me think ‘oh, I have class,’ or ‘oh, I have homework to do.’ Being away from campus helps you detach and get away from life,” Bowser said.
However, Loch stressed the differences that would have remained, even off campus during the pandemic.
“Even if we could go off campus, we would’ve lacked the normal sense of fellowship, because social distancing just really inhibits that,” he said. “Normally, there’d be recreational activities like kickball. People would hang around after the evenings. The meals would be in a dining room at the retreat place. So, we’d lack that interaction going on.”
Loch said the main presentations of Ignite, framed around the Holy Trinity, were given by faculty and administrators, including Fr. Basil Burns, O.S.B., who talked about God’s love, and Dr. Jason King, who spoke about the Holy Spirit and how it impacted his life.
“On Saturday morning, I believe it was Dr. [Jeff] Mallory. He talked about how important his faith is, how he developed it growing up, how he lives it,” Loch said. “But he was very honest about how it’s not always perfect.”
Bowser said he enjoyed the talks summarized by Loch, and felt the talk about the Son touched him most, due to the way God’s mercy and unending love for humanity was conveyed.
Loch attributes some of Ignite’s positive student reception to the testimonies of SVC staff.
“I don’t think many colleges would be able to say that they have faculty, staff and administrators who will stand up in front of all of the students and say what their faith means to them,” Loch said.
Elizabeth Crockett, a freshman psychology student, was touched by her own unique experience.
“It was pretty welcoming as a freshman because no one I knew really went. The upperclassmen were really nice and so was the atmosphere,” Crockett said.
Loch affirmed Crockett’s feelings with his own observation.
“It has developed a reputation where students want to go on this retreat,” he explained. “There’d be a mixture of students who were involved in their faith and their friends who might not be, but it would still be a good experience.”
During this year’s retreat, Loch felt the atmosphere was just as positive. He was pleasantly surprised when, during an optional Saturday morning Mass, nearly all of the retreat students showed up.
“It occurred to me, these students really wanted to be at this retreat. They don’t want to miss anything,” Loch said. “It was clear to me that those who had been on it before wanted to make the best out of their time. And they did.”
Loch’s favorite event of the retreat was the conclusion, after Sunday morning Mass, when students were free to share their experiences at an open microphone.
“I look forward to it, because I just think, ‘we’re all at the same retreat, but look at all the different experiences we had,’” he said.
Bowser and Crockett expressed a desire to attend Ignite in the future. Bowser viewed this year’s retreat as a way to prepare himself for future off-campus ones.
“I’m glad it was this way this year, because in the future I can contrast it to this way. I won’t have a set expectation this time. I can still have a new experience,” Bowser said.