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The 12th graders spend their last year at school preparing to leave their structured and rather sheltered lives in JEZSU. One of the crowning experiences of their education is a short retreat at the house of one of the numerous Hungarian religious congregations.

Since the beginnings of the only Jesuit high school in Hungary, 27 years ago, the JEZSU Chaplaincy team have started creating an Ignatian retreat culture streamlined especially for high school student groups aged 12 to 18 years old. This culture of prayer and silent reflection have become part of the life of students, staff members and even parents and remains with most of them even after graduation.

“Getting used to silence and prayer may or may not start in the family of our pupils, but as soon as they enroll in the 5th grade they are exposed to and take part in devotions, morning and evening prayers, daily Examen, Sunday Mass, school retreats and pilgrimages. Their ability to benefit from a longer silent retreat develops gradually. By the time they reach their final year most students welcome the opportunity to switch off, remove themselves from daily hassles and look inward,” explains Árpád Jancsó SJ, school chaplain.

The over 100 graduating students also have opportunities to spend some time in retreats at various Hungarian religious congregations, getting to know diverse Catholic spiritualities beside the Ignatian spirituality they have spent immersed in for 4-8 years. Franciscans, Salesians, Cistercians or Benedictian monks, male and female religious communities welcome small groups of our 12th graders for a short retreat every year.

One of the retreat locations – Benedictian monastery in the West of Hungary

The students have  to choose which spirituality they would like to “try” and organize the travel for themselves. “This is an opportunity for the students to have a taste of other spiritualities and retreat types available in Hungary. When these young people later in life feel the need to receive some spiritual guidance or recharge, they will know where they can turn to.” explains Fr Árpád.

The students have come back with experiences as diverse as the orders they visited.

“Our retreat with the Benedictians was not merely praying the Hours and gardening, it was also quite fun,” says a 12th grader. I had the preconception of them being quite medieval, but it has disappeared completely. The life of these extremely hard-working monks does not seem archaic at all. They not just sit in their cells as I imagined, praying and contemplating, but do intense pastoral work visiting the sick and the needy, and have even become parts of the 21st century hipster culture with their designer beer,  lavender plantations and lavender oil distilleries.”

“I went to the Salesians. I was totally touched when I witnessed that these fathers and brothers dedicate their whole life to these really poor children. A whole congregation just dedicated to making these extremely poor children feel valuable and loved! ”

“It never occurred to me to become a nun, but I wanted to see and understand how and why  the Little Sisters of Saint Francis of Assissi have chosen Jesus instead of getting married and having babies. They not only told us their stories, but also allowed us to enter their community, take part in their daily activities, prayers and beautiful devotions. It was so peaceful, I came home refreshed.”

Some students chose Jesuit houses as they wanted to be even more immersed in Ignatian spirituality.

“I am thinking about becoming a religious sister, so I went on a mini silent retreat. It was not a first for me to spend days quietly, only with God all day, and talking about it just for thirty minutes to the spiritual leader. I again learnt quite a bit about myself, and the wonderful thing was that I learnt things not only from what this young brother told me, but I noticed some truths being born inside me. Again and again it amazes me how the Holy Spirit communicates in my soul!”

“I also chose a Jesuit house because I am thinking about becoming a priest. The retreat focused on finding our vocations. I am not so much interested in monasticism, and I actually quite like the Jesuits, because they work ‘in the world’. I am not sure which congregation I will choose eventually.”

The students were given the opportunity to choose where we wanted to go. Some just enjoyed  being away from the daily routine, others enjoyed the quiet walks in the forest or the hospitality of the sisters or fathers. Again others benefited from the encounter with men or women who dedicated themselves to God, and for some it was a time of reflection and discernment.

Praying while walking in the forest

The Chaplain is aware that everyone receives according to their own measures. “We believe God meets everybody wherever they are on their journey. These little tastes of various spiritualities will stay with our students and the experiences nourish the life of God in them.” (Judit Szelenge)

Members of the graduating class – (not the ones interviewed)