IRVING, TX (May 10, 2023) — Alexa Hassell, BA ’23, used to take rosary walks around campus as a freshman living in the dorms.
Last month, the Exodus Retreat gave her a chance to pray by the statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe one last time as a student.
Organized by Deacon Ryan Sales, the Exodus Retreat offers seniors a short moment to reflect on their time and rest before facing the future after graduation. The event includes a prayer walk around campus, conversations with faculty members and reflections on the UD experience.
“I was remembering when I did rosary walks as a freshman and thinking, yes, the university has changed the four years that I’ve been here. But it also hasn’t; some things have changed, but it’s the same culture, the same academics, and students are still coming here for the same reasons,” Hassell said.
Although the idea was one of Sales’s first assigned responsibilities in his new role last year, he said his own experiences motivated him to create the kind of retreat he would have wanted to attend.
“I thought back to when I graduated from university, and all my other previous experiences where I graduated from things, and I found that it’s like you’re running flat out. It’s just craziness. And then graduation happens, and you stop and look around, and it’s all over. It’s like, four years of my life, that journey is over and I didn’t even feel it,” Sales said.
“So I wanted this retreat to be one where we gave people the opportunity to kind of stop, take a breather, step outside of the craziness to graduation, and turn around and look back at the last four years that they had spent here.”
With restfulness in mind, Sales made sure to schedule the retreat late in the day.
“I wanted it to start later in the morning so that people could still sleep in,” Sales laughed. “I talked to a lot of the seniors about it and did a lot of prayer about it, and one of the first things that kind of solidified with the Exodus Retreat was that it wasn’t going to be a weekend retreat or even an overnight off campus. I wanted it to be short.”
For similar reasons, Sales decided against organizing lectures in an event meant to help students rest. The retreat includes short, conversational talks with religious and lay instructors offering personal experience, words of wisdom or whatever they feel might be helpful to the students. Although they prepare independently, Sales says he’s noticed a spontaneous unity among them two years in a row.
“I would think they were all given this consistent theme. The Holy Spirit just pulls them together,” Sales said.
This year, speakers included Jon Paul Heyne, Ph.D., Sr. Mary Angelica, O.P., Sister Elinor Gardner, O.P., Fr. Joseph Paul Albin, O.P., Susan Hanssen, Ph.D., and UD President Jonathan Sanford, Ph.D., who all felt called to speak in some way on stewardship of the gifts that students have been given.
Hassell said the retreat showed the professors in a new light.
“We picked a lot of the speakers that came, and we picked the activities that we got to do and things like that. It really made it fruitful for everyone, but particularly for me, because a lot of the speakers that came are professors that I’ve had here,” Hassell said.
“Some of them had talked to you in a spiritual context before, but some of them not so much. You really only talked to them in an academic way. But I got the opportunity to talk to them or listen to them talk about their spiritual life and experiences and advice that they would give to people at this stage in their lives.”
Hassell added that the spiritual element of the Exodus Retreat will help support students going into less religious environments after graduation. From the time Hassell arrived as a freshman, she said she has been encouraged by how many opportunities for spiritual engagement UD offers, from the Cistercian monastery across the street to daily Mass on campus.
“It's set up to make it easy for students to plug in spiritually, and there are very few other places in the US that have this ability,” Hassell noted.
As a graduand, Hassell is preparing to take this spiritual enrichment to new places.
“I’m going to graduate school next year, and when I go out, to take the same fruits that I’ve had from UD and share them somewhere else … can be more challenging in an environment that’s not like UD,” Hassell said.
“So the retreat is a really good way of reminding students that you have to be intentional about it when you go outside of UD, but that you really have a chance to continue living your life in the same way.”