A Transforming Journey: The Salesian Leadership Retreat

By Jacob Matos ’23

On February 18th, my life positively changed and I was completely unaware of it. It was the day that I was chosen by faculty and administration for the Salesian Leadership Retreat at the Marian Shrine, along with five peers. Up until that point, I didn’t know anything about the retreat or what it was about. However, on impulse and excitement, I said yes. I had no clue what I was walking into, thus I had no expectations of being changed. As the days grew closer to the SLR, my anxiety and skepticism grew, but the encouragement and excitement of others motivated me to go.

When my friends and I arrived at the retreat location, we were embraced by the “young team”, a group of seniors from different Salesian schools in the country. I immediately felt a sense of community, but remained hesitant. Seeing all of the participants that came from different Salesian schools overwhelmed me, and being surrounded by so many intelligent individuals made me feel as though I was the wrong person that was chosen. I was most reserved on the first day, but I was repeatedly told to be open-minded and to “participate, and don’t anticipate.” I went to bed that night regretting that I wasted a day not giving people the opportunity to get to know me or not attempting to get to know them. Therefore, that night I promised myself that I would give this experience a chance. 

The morning of the second day, I woke up with a tremendous amount of energy. I was ready to learn more about myself and others. By being present in the moment, by the time breakfast was over, I had made five new friends, and made three more friends in my small group session. I realized that it is easy to get to know someone without the distractions of technology or the worries of being judged. Hearing a witness talk from one of the young team members made me feel the presence of God because I discerned that there are those who face hardships worse than mine, yet they persevere despite the inevitable adversities of life. The witness talk was so relatable that it brought me to tears, something that rarely occurs in my life. Nevertheless, it became something I got accustomed to after that moment. 

Being surrounded by positivity made me want to be positive, and so I remained optimistic, open-minded, and ready to participate. The beauty of the retreat was how interactive it was and the sense of peace it can give to those who allow it. During the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the participants were given letters by our teachers and parents called “Palanca Letters”. The letters reminded the participants why they were chosen, and it was genuinely a humbling moment.

On the fourth day, I noticed that I had a bittersweet feeling about leaving and the friends that I made along the way. It wasn’t until it was time to leave that I saw the transformation that occurred within. I gained confidence, humility, and life lessons that I will carry with me. The overall experience at SLR was indescribably beautiful, and the best decision I have ever made in my entire life. After the SLR, I was ready to take what I learned at the retreat and bring it to my peers. More importantly, I was ready to display the leadership skills that I gained over those four days. I would like to thank all of those who saw my potential before I could. It feels great to confidently say that I now see my potential, and have gained a stronger sense of who I am as an individual.