St. Augustine Prep Takes Part In SAVI, an Augustinian Retreat in California
By: Luke Grippo
This past weekend (last weekend in April), six of the prep students had the opportunity to travel to California to take part in SAVI, a four-day Student Augustinian Values Institute retreat. For 12 years, SAVI has given countless students across the nation the opportunity to converge and discuss the three core values rooted in Augustinian teaching: veritas, unitas, and caritas. Last Thursday, sophomores Justin Ceccanecchio, Luke Grippo, Hunter Johnson, and Nick Scaffidi, and freshmen TJ Burns and Kevin Schnell departed from Philadelphia International airport at 8 in the morning with no idea what they were getting themselves into.
This SAVI being the first since the COVID pandemic gave them almost little to no guidance to go off. Although skeptical, they endured the six-hour flight and landed at LAX airport Thursday afternoon where they had the opportunity to visit Santa Monica pier. When we arrived at Villanova Prep in Ojai, California, where this year’s SAVI was being held, we were nervous about meeting new people. But when we sat down to eat our pizza that night and were greeted by kids from St. Augustine in San Diego, we knew that this experience was gonna be much more fun than we had expected.
There were eight schools at SAVI this year. Asides from us and Villanova Prep, there was St. Augustine in San Diego, St. Rita’s in Chicago, Cascia Hall from Tulsa, Austin Prep from Boston, Malvern Prep from Philadelphia, and Austin Catholic High School from Michigan .
That night, we met for the first time with our numbered groups, which consisted of one student from each school (except my group had two from the same school for some reason). Later, we had our first of many lectures in Villanova’s art center, where, following a lecture on veritas and Augustine’s childhood by the hilarious Fr. Gary, sophomore Nick Scaffidi gave an outstanding performance of an Augustinian parody of One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful.” We followed that with a presentation of each of our videos, where I was unanimously elected to speak on our behalf and wisely came up with the eloquent words, “I don’t know how to put this video into words.” Following our nightly prayer, we broke for the first time to our assigned classroom-bedrooms, where we were lucky enough to have had sleeping bags and air mattresses graciously shipped by our school thanks to the outstanding generosity of our very own Fr. Tony. While I tried to get some sleep after an extremely long day, our students stayed up and made friends as they spent countless hours scrolling through their phones and talking (at one point, talking so loudly that a teacher had to come and ‘shoosh’ us). Fun, right?
The next day we had the chance to go to Santa Barbara, where we visited the Old Mission Santa Barbara, where the students at SAVI had the chance to meet and talk with the infamous Bishop Barron of the archdiocese of Los Angeles. We asked him many questions, such as what his favorite book of the Bible was and his thoughts on Judas. He responded that his favorite book was “Job,” his favorite Gospel was Luke’s, and that ultimately, although Judas was wrong, it is not his place but God’s to judge Judas. After our Q&A with Bishop Barron, we went to Stearns Wharf for ice cream and souvenirs. The mix of boy-girl drama, as well as the “thrill” of spending hundreds of dollars on souvenirs, put a happy, giddy mood over the SAVI students for the night. But the biggest highlight of our day in Santa Barbara was trying In-N-Out. All of us from the East Coast were so excited to try it, and having been told how delicious it was by the students from the West Coast, our mouths were watering when they said we would get it. But when the food arrived in boxes and a soggy french fry bag, our thoughts slightly wavered, yet we stayed optimistic. However, I can safely say that after trying it, In-N-Out is SO overrated and I’d much rather have Guy’s Burger Joint on Carnival cruise ships. Listen, considering that the burger was cold, maybe we didn’t like it because the food was box-delivered, but there were also too many onions and the fries were soggy. And don’t get me started on the soda they gave us. Shasta Cola, Shasta Twist? Bleh, Coca-cola and Sprite rip-offs. But it was still a great experience as we bonded with people and made friends as we filmed reaction videos of our first time tasting In-N-Out.
Saturday. What to say about Saturday. Well, I almost got attacked by a tarantula nest and a rattlesnake, as I labored vigorously in the sweltering heat of the weeded California hillside, dying in the overwhelming, rehabilitating heat of the California sun, in fear of the millions of ticks occupying that sickening graveyard of plants and snake skin. Ok, that’s a little dramatic. We actually did a service project a few minutes away from the school where we cleaned up the weeds on a hillside preventing the oak trees California is known for from growing. It was a nice experience, and it turned into a little competition for who could clean up the most oak circles. My group got eleven, losing only to a group who supposedly had fourteen because they helped save a frog. Plus our group didn’t count because our chaperone abandoned us (she really had to head back to the school). It was really hot, and they warned us of rattlesnakes and ticks – in fact, one of the kids in our group found a snake skin. And the cherry on top was that we found a tarantula nest. Yay! One of the kids from Boston and I complained just a little. But overall, it was a really great experience.
We had a bonfire Saturday night, which is accurately defined by the kids throwing hand sanitizer in the fire to make it flame up even more. One of the teachers who worked at Villanova Prep brought us to the track – which had no lights because the guy who was worth 800-million dollars across from the school’s property refused to let the school install the lights – and had us lie down on our backs facing the stars. This experience was so surreal. It was calming and peaceful as we all just sat there, together, looking up at the endless expanse of stars and night that dotted the California countryside. After that, we grocked. Yes, you read that correctly. Grocked. Basically, everyone sat in a big circle in the Grotto – Villanova’s centerpiece of their campus – and we all got small plastic cups attached to strings to wear around our necks. Kids were randomly given water bottles and had to find someone that they connected with over the retreat and just talk to them about what meeting them and forming a friendship meant to them. The other person was not allowed to grock, and once the person with the bottle was finished, they poured them and their friend a drink and cheered. The person who was ‘grocked’ then had to find someone else to grock, and this kept going on until all the water bottles were gone. It was a really nice experience as we basically said our goodbyes to our new friends.
We concluded SAVI with mass on Sunday, where we each received a special cross and blessing from our teacher chaperones – shoutout to Dr. Zagarella and Mr. Renzulli – as we were commissioned to go live out the Augustinian lives. After mass, we had breakfast where we said our final goodbyes to all the friends we made, taking pictures, sharing numbers and social media accounts, and crying just a little.
But one of the awesome things that came from this experience was the creation of an Augustinian
Nation instagram account, to connect all Augustinian students with each other.