My, how the Veterans Spiritual Retreat has grown.
After serving 24 veterans in its first year and doubling in size to 48 in 2017, the White House Jesuits Retreat hopes to have a full house of 88 for the retreat’s third installment Friday, July 29, to Sunday, July 1. According to White House director Bill Schmitt, about 45 veterans already have signed up
“Little by little, it’s building,” said Schmitt, a four-year Marine in the Vietnam War era, though he didn’t see combat. The veterans retreat “is very near and dear to my heart. It’s a very worthy cause, and it gives our veterans, both men and women, an alternative to some of the destructive behaviors that sometimes we hear about.”
The retreat is open to all veterans regardless of religious background or conflict in which they served, including modern conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The transition to civilian life from combat presents challenges, with post-traumatic stress disorder primary among them. Horrors seen and experienced often remain fresh memories, even years after service.
“That whole experience has changed anyone who was served,” said Schmitt, who isn’t surprised by the retreat’s growth.
“Not at all,” he said. “I think there’s a demand for this; I think there’s a general demand throughout most of society today for spirituality. People turn to different ways to handle it, but we have the tried and true way, which is God and Christ.”
The retreat equips veterans with faith-based tools to help them cope with life’s stresses.
“God is a very powerful source of strength, especially to people who are recovering either from illness or other types of trauma in their lives,” Schmitt said before the first year, adding that the retreat adds “a tool to the veteran’s tool box to rely on God and prayer rather than some of the destructive ways to deal with those issues.”
The retreat will be led for the third consecutive year by Jesuit Father James Conroy, a veteran of the Vietnam War. He’ll be assisted by VA chaplain Rev. Robert Collingwood and others, including former retreatants who now help lead fellow veterans in breakout sessions and discussions.
White House offers the retreat at nominal cost for veterans, just $25 at registration. All meals and private lodging are included. Veterans come from throughout the Midwest, as well as a few from Florida and elsewhere as former retreatants tell friends and family in other parts of the country about the veterans retreat on the grounds overlooking the Mississippi.
“We take very good care of them while they’re down here,” Schmitt said.