These current students and young Penn alumni share their experience on NOVUS, our annual freshmen retreat...


Breanne Mastromarino N'19 I don't even know where to begin....It's where I met my best friends and roommates! It was a fantastic way to relax and mentally prepare myself for the exhilarating college experiences to come. I bonded with other freshmen and began developing relationships with upperclassmen who shared the same faith background as me. i couldn't help but lead it the next year! Such a wonderful experience.

Gabbie Ramos N'20 Even though I was only there for a short while because of other scheduling conflicts, NOVUS was the best way to start college. I left my home in North Jersey and immediately transferred into my new home: the Penn Newman Catholic Community. I was able to connect with upper classmen role models, parish staff, and classmates who are all on the same journey towards the cross as me. When classes started and schedules got crazy, I already had my foundation in my Catholic faith situated at Penn. It was the greatest experience to be there, but I still see the blessings on it every day in my best friends who I met through this retreat.

Joe Dembik C'18 I met my best friends of the past 3 years on Novus, and it showed me that practicing my faith in college was possible and easy to do thanks to all the other people who are there to help you! I have grown deeper in my faith and as a person at Penn in large part because I have the love and support of all my friends at the Newman Center.

Theresa Dierkes N'20 What better way to start your college experience than with God! Novus was an opportunity to connect with the upperclassmen and brothers at the Newman center as well as God and my fellow Catholic classmates! I met three of my best friends on Novus and they have been my rock when school gets tough. Since I was able to solidify these friendships and be an active member in the Newman community before the stress of school came along, I now have that foundation to go back to when I need it most. Novus ensured me that the Newman center is always there for my studying, relaxation, spiritual, mental, and physical needs. The liberal university was a shock for me, but since I went on Novus and became acquainted with the Newman center, I know that when the going gets tough, I always have somewhere to go where I can feel safe and somewhere I can go where I will simply be loved for who I am. Newman is a center based on God and the people that love him the most and it has become my home away from home.

Michelle Nigro C'20 The transition to college is intimdating, but I could tell within the first few hours of Novus I had a home at the Newman Center were I could make genuine connections with others and find support when times were tough and people with whom I could celebrate and share the good times. Nouvs allowed take a breathe before college began and think about how I would grow not only in my relationship with God and my faith, but also how I wanted to grow as a student and Daughter of Christ. It was such a fun time, and I highly recommend the experience- I do not know what my freshmen year would have been like without Novus!!!

Claire Foster N'20 For me NOVUS was so much more then just a preorientation program. It is where I found my home away from home, it provided me with the support I needed to keep my faith strong at college, and it's where I met my best friends, without whom I don't know how I would survive Penn. Choosing to go on NOVUS was one of the first decisions I made as a college student, and it is definitely one of the best.

Romero Santiago C'15 As a Penn alum from the Class of 2013, I must say that the NOVUS retreat was the best decision I ever made, as the people I met there helped me so much with the transition from high school, especially since I was from the Houston area and that was the first time that I had been so far away from home. Everyone at Novus became my family and it really helped me enjoy my undergrad experience. Newman always was my place to recharge during a hectic week, and Novus was such a nice way to initiate this special fellowship. I cannot emphasize how valuable Novus is, and I truly hope that you take advantage of this special opportunity! Always remember, once a Penn Newmanite, always a Penn Newmanite!!! I am still in touch with many of the Newman friends I made from Novus and beyond.

Gretchen Bednarz C'19 Throughout my time at Penn, my experiences at Novus and Newman as a whole have allowed me to stay connected to my faith and build great relationships while doing so! Novus gave me the strong Catholic foundation I needed while beginning college, and still need as I continue to navigate through college. I met great friends and role models who have played large roles in both my personal and spiritual development.

Awakening Testimony

By Madison Pedrotty, C'17

Going on Awakening was the most spiritually enriching experience of my college experience so far and I can say with absolute certainty that it changed my life. I felt very restless going into the retreat and I knew God was calling me to seek Him but I felt lost and didn’t know where to begin. Spending intimate time with God away from campus in a supportive and engaging environment helped me become more open to hearing His word and understanding His plan for me.

I felt extremely close to God during Awakening and the insights I gained through listening to talks, participating in small group discussions, and personal reflection have inspired me to continue pursuing a meaningful relationship with Him. As a result of my spiritual growth during that time, I have been more at peace than ever before. I would encourage anyone to go on the retreat and to explore the infinite possibilities that come with hearing God’s word and spending a restful moment in His peaceful presence.

Christ in the City Testimony

The following is a brief testimony written by Gabbie Ramos, a freshmen in the nursing school at Penn, about her first time encountering the homeless on the streets of Philadelphia with Christ in the City. Christ in the City is a Catholic non-profit dedicated to forming missionaries, volunteers and communities in knowing, loving, and serving the poor. On the 2nd and 4th Fridays of the month, Drexel and Penn Newman Ministries come together at 5:30pm at Newman for training and hit the streets at 6pm.

Tonight was my favorite experience of college thus far. You might think that going to an Ivy League school means I would learn the most valuable lessons its classrooms with esteemed professors, extensive research opportunities, students from all over the world, and all the resources I could ask for, and while the education is unparalleled, tonight I discovered my new neighbors might be my best teachers. Tonight I left the Penn bubble and went out with some really cool people from the Penn/Drexel Newman Center for Christ in the City with the challenge to see Jesus in the people we walk by and avoid eye contact with.

I know I’m guilty of this which is probably why although I was excited to go out, I was a little nervous on the inside. Then I met some of new neighbors living on the streets of Philly. First were Sean and Vincent. Sean had lived in numerous cities before coming to Philly. For some time, while on drugs, he had a house with friends. He quickly realized it was better to be clean on the streets than an addict in a home, so he has been on his own without any family around here, making it work. A few weeks ago he met Vincent. The two were together “taking care of each other.”

They had made copies of a spreadsheet that listed the location, days, and times homeless people had access to free meals, coffee, laundry service, toiletries, clothes, and showers. When they encountered a newly homeless person that always made sure to give out a copy of the sheet. Every day Vincent gathers new information and writes them on notecards. They watch out for each other and do everything they can to help their brothers on the street who they recognize have mental illnesses and cannot be as resourceful. If two homeless guys could give all they have, their knowledge and advising to other people on the street, what more can I give?

We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty.
— St. Teresa of Calcutta

Then we met Alfred, who less less into talking, but gladly accepted a water and snack while asking us how we were. He was shocked when Alan reached out shook his “dirty” hand. Finally we met another group of gentlemen who were blatantly honest about their drug problems. Jimmy said to me, “I went to elementary school and high school. I was a good student that raised my hand to answer questions, but I never raised my hand to say ‘When I grow up I want to be a drug addict. I never asked for this addiction. I made one mistake and now look at me.” I spent a while talking to Joe. I think he was happy to have someone to listen to him.

He is currently enrolled in a program through a hospital that gives him synthetic heroin supplemented with group therapy and counseling to help him in his recovery. He seemed to be doing well and even has an upcoming interview for a group home soon. He was really grateful to this program and the fact that people are talking about drugs and the consequence more often. He recognized this dialogue is the only way to make change because outsiders don’t understand what it’s like to be an addict.

One of the last thing he said to me was (while pointing at some of the guys next to him who were drug users), “You see them? Do you really see them? What makes you different from them? They could be your brother, your sister, or your cousin.

We can’t change their lives, but we can listen to their whisper in our very noisy world.
— Gabbie Ramos

Some of the nicest people I know are addicts. They made one mistake. I bet you make mistakes too. I do too. Except because of their mistake they’re stuck. But they’re people and nothing really makes them different from you.” In shaking hands and saying goodbye, I couldn’t stop thinking about the wisdom on the street. The stories within the hearts of those aching to just be heard. We can’t change their lives, but we can listen to their whisper in our very noisy world. So while I went to do outreach for the homeless in Philly, in efforts of humanizing them, I was really humanizing myself to break invisible walls I built between them and me. (Part of this realization thanks to Alan). So if you made it this far in my novel, pray for those people who we make invisible, those people who have nobody to pray for them.

Want to experience our Holy on the streets like Gabbie? Email Madison Pedrotty for more information.