The last weekend of September brought together Year 11 students from St Gregory’s, St Bede’s (Bristol) and St Bernadette’s (Bristol) for a retreat in the beauty of north Devon on the theme of Resilience and Identity.
We couldn’t have picked a more picturesque location for our young people to escape to and find time for themselves amongst peers from other Catholic schools in the presence of God. Many of the young people who attended have discovered new friendships, worked alongside each other and journeyed in the past at St Cassian’s, Kintbury on retreat and as part of the Young Volunteers Programme. One student commented that their favourite memory was “Making and building friendships with people from my schools and others”.
The Beacon Activity Centre, part of Lee Abbey is in an idyllic location perched on the top of the cliffs, flanked by the impressive valley of the rocks and having access to it’s own private beach. Saturday brought a beach bonfire and a full day of outdoor activities in the vast grounds. with many students reminiscing about the crate stacking but especially the zipwire which is 130m long, situated far higher than an acrophobic like myself appreciates, and sweeps through woodland over a huge drop and opens up into spectacular views of the ocean.
Mr Loud (St Bede’s lay chaplain) and myself led the retreat experience with prayer punctuating the key parts of our timetable, and workshops that encouraged the young people to strengthen and discover their identity and lean on God who will guide them through this year and beyond. One of the most moving memories for us was on Sunday morning when we attended the local Parish Church for Mass. The parish community in Lynton was a very small one and our entry into the Church reminded me greatly of that scene from Sister Act with joyous faces encouraging us in and delighting in forty young people unexpectedly attending Mass. For the parish priest, who was celebrating the feast of St Therese of Liseux that day, he introduced the young people as a blessing from St Therese and gave a beautiful ad hoc homily encouraging our students to follow the example of Therese’s little way. For ourselves and particularly the students, the presence of a community of sisters who reside in the adjoining convent (Sisters of Mary Morning Star), was a great blessing to us as we were honoured to hear such beautiful music sang by them.
After Mass on the Sunday, we enjoyed a walk into Lynton and Lynmouth, with much shopping, indulgence of Fish & Chips by the beach and a journey up the water powered funicular (the steepest and highest of it’s kind in the world). For all of the staff who attended, it was a joy to accompany each of the students – they brought us so many laughs and moments of admiration. They were a credit to themselves and their schools. We are also particularly thankful to Mrs Ruck, our former careers lead and librarian who whilst now working at St Augustine’s still joined us for the weekend and drove us in the minibus (with a knee injury!). We look forward to returning next year with another group of students from all of our schools. Finally, we asked all the students to describe their experience in a word or two: