Retreat helps high school students overcome ‘mountains’

By Kristi Urich
During a Dec. 4 retreat for high-school students at the Newman Catholic Student Center in Iowa City, participants wrote their “mountain experiences,” or challenges, on cutouts of rocks and placed them on a “rock wall.” Students left notes of encouragement on some of the rocks.

IOWA CITY – Life is a journey of many steps. Some paths are easy; others are like climbing a mountain.
This was the theme of a Dec. 4 retreat for high school students presented by the Newman Catholic Student Center and University of Iowa students. Attendees included more than 130 high school students and adult leaders from 11 parishes in the Diocese of Davenport and Archdiocese of Dubuque. The retreat participants attended the Newman Singers’ Christmas concert, then joined UI students for a two-hour retreat followed by the center’s Sunday 6 p.m. Mass.

One of the most popular retreat activities was a “rock wall.” Students were invited to write their “mountain experiences” on cutouts resembling rocks and place them on the rock wall. During the retreat, students had time to visit the wall and reflect on the mountains others face; many could relate to those “mountain” experiences. Everyone was encouraged to write a note on a rock that spoke to them, offering encouragement to the person who created the rock.

The wall was so popular with UI students that they asked to keep it up after the retreat. They wanted to continue to add their “mountains” and use them to connect with, encourage and pray for others.

Another popular retreat activity was a question-and-answer panel session with UI students, who discussed college life, the mountains they face and how their mountains have changed with time. The UI students also talked about what they have found important in their faith journey since they left home and what role faith plays in their daily lives.


The retreat concluded with the study of three Old Testament and three New Testament Scripture references to mountains. Participants looked at how people can respond to the challenges life throws at them, and through the example of Jesus what they aspire to achieve.

During the closing prayer, the group stood in front of the rock wall to lift up all the mountains people face, and to ask for God’s guidance and strength to overcome the challenges. Participants sang the Newman Singers’ song written by Joe Mattingly, “On That Holy Mountain.”

To encourage the high school students in their journey, the UI students took an hour following the retreat to write a personal note to each student at their table. These cards will be delivered through youth group leaders over the next week. The Newman Center hopes these personalized cards will make the retreat even more meaningful to the high school students and let them know they are still in the hearts and prayers of the retreat team.

The UI students’ message was consistently one of faith and how important the Newman Center has been to their life on campus. Surveys of high school

students noted appreciation for the retreat leaders’ sincerity, openness and honesty. Comments included: “My leader Ashley was amazing — she said things the way they are” and “I liked the panel because students could get personal insight without having to ask for it.”

This retreat was a way for the Newman Center and Newman Singers to reach out to younger students, many of whom may attend The University of Iowa in the future. By introducing them to the Newman Center now, inviting them into the building and showing them the friends they will meet, the center hopes to break down barriers that discourage incoming freshman from visiting when first on campus.  Regardless of the college or university these students attend, they have been introduced to a campus faith group and will hopefully seek out such a group for themselves.

For more information on this event, or to be included in mailings about future retreats, please contact Kristi Urich at or Joe Mattingly at

(Urich is a member of the board of directors of Newman Singers Ministries.)

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