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Retreats – Smithstone, Kinharvie, Langbank, Newcastleton

School retreats have been a part of St Michael's for many years, going way back to the 1950s in Irvine. [The photo below is from 1995/96.]

S1 to S3 class retreats at Smithstone House have become a regular part of the yearly cycle. In the late 1980s the chaplains from the Catholic schools met to formulate a structured programme. For St Michael's the location was obvious, the excellent facilities at Smithstone. So, courtesy of the Sacred Heart Fathers and led by the school chaplain, ably assisted by an RE teacher and groups of senior students, the retreat programme became well established.

Residential retreats for senior students had been operating intermittently for some years before the RE dept and the school chaplain took steps to secure a regular place in the school calendar for an S6 retreat. The first of these was held in 1989/90 in Kinharvie, when around 20 seniors were accompanied by the chaplain, RE principal and a sister working as youth co-ordinator for the diocese.

A further four annual retreats, with numbers limited to around 25, took place at Kinharvie before the Marist community there decided to give up youth work.

The following year we travelled to Langbank, where the retreat was led by a resident priest and several young volunteers. Unfortunately Langbank closed shortly afterwards leaving us to seek a new venue.

Thus began our annual trip to Whithaugh Park in Newcastleton, for 13 years until the final retreat in 2007 (photo shows 1996). We could now take 40 to 50 students, and we were in charge of the programme ourselves, thus better meeting their needs. These retreats wouldn't have been so successful without the small but dedicated group of staff and chaplains who accompanied the RE dept.

The purpose of the retreats was simply to give the students time out to reflect on their life and relationships as well as help with their spiritual and social development. Did they fulfil their purpose? Well, listen to some of those who took part:
it was good to get away from everything
> much better than I thought, well worth going
> I learnt a lot of things about myself I didn't know
> the best bit, which surprised me, was the prayer sessions and the final Mass
> it taught us something for the future
> makes you think differently about things
> best bit was feeling of togetherness and friendliness
> don't know why it was great, because each part was just good, but there was something about it that made it great
> the best bit was our own Mass as everyone took part
> back at school there is much more tolerance
> I saw people in a different light
> it will stay in my mind for a very long time
> great priest, comes across as a normal guy
> great time, makes you think twice about everything

Mr B Walsh

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