SCS Cares for the Whole Person: Restorative Spiritual Retreats

Rabbi Rachel Gartner speaking to retreatants.
Rabbi Rachel Gartner speaking to retreatants at Georgetown’s Calcagnini Contemplative Center.

This article is from the 2022–2023 Dean's Report.

The Spirit of Georgetown comes to life in so many ways at the School of Continuing Studies (SCS). The School is committed to animating the University’s Jesuit mission and values with approaches that meet the unique needs of our community, particularly our adult and professional learners. At the heart of these mission integration efforts is a commitment to inclusively present the richness of the Jesuit spiritual tradition in ways that honor the significant diversity of the SCS community.

Of the many gifts of Ignatian spirituality—a set of ideas and practices arising from the contributions of the Jesuit founder St. Ignatius of Loyola—one of the most enduring is the guided retreat. Jesuits have made retreat-giving a signature focus in the modern period, offering a range of flexible and creative opportunities to directly experience the fruits of the Spiritual Exercises. Ignatius devised the Exercises in the 16th Century, but the transformative potential of his framework endures today. This developmental model of cultivating interior awareness, with the assistance of a spiritual guide, for the sake of discerning choices that more generously serve others, God, and the world lives on in a range of retreat options.

“I am returning home more connected to the Spirit of Georgetown, and thankful I could strengthen my own path through the diversity of others.” — SCS retreat participant

Retreats have become the most significant spiritual accompaniment resource at SCS in recent years. The SCS Mission and Ministry team annually offers dedicated day and overnight retreats for students as well as faculty and staff members. These are voluntary opportunities, but the invitations continue to draw much interest. Georgetown’s Calcagnini Contemplative Center, the University’s spiritual home away from home in the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, hosts these dedicated retreats. In the last year, sponsored retreats at Calcagnini helped the community lean more deeply into Contemplation in Action, one of the core Spirit of Georgetown values emphasizing the need for reflective rest in the midst of a busy life.

SCS staff retreatants exploring nature trails at the Calcagnini Contemplative Center.
SCS staff retreatants exploring nature trails at the Calcagnini Contemplative Center.

In December 2022, SCS faculty and staff enjoyed “A Day of Reconnection, Relaxation, and Reflection,” a contemplative experience co-led by myself and Rabbi Rachel Gartner, who joined SCS in Fall 2022 as senior adviser for spiritual care. The day-long experience featured group reflection, community building exercises, time for personal meditation, prayer, and rest, as well as fellowship over meals. The group enjoyed the Ignatian Examen (a reflective practice in the Jesuit tradition that invites prayerful encounters with the meaning of daily life experience), and then grew in greater understanding, empathy, and kinship with colleagues over delicious food in a majestic natural setting.

“My favorite part of the retreat was getting to know my colleagues from various parts of SCS,” said Angel Gonzalez, director of student affairs for summer and special programs. “There are many wonderful people at SCS, and it’s tough meeting everyone when teams can be scattered with varying work mode designations.”

The following spring, more than 20 SCS students from 13 different degree and non-degree programs made their way to Calcagnini for an overnight experience, “Stepping Outside of the Ordinary.” Rabbi Rachel and I presented opportunities for reflection arising from both the Ignatian and Jewish traditions. Retreatants were invited to take a “Long, Loving, Look at the Real” in their lives by using Ignatian practices that necessitate slowing down and savoring the nitty gritty details of daily life. Rabbi Rachel shared about the Jewish tradition of Shabbat, a built-in spiritual habit that invites pausing one’s life of external engagement in order to attend to interior practices and the gift of rest.

These themes were welcome, as the busy students prepared to return refreshed to their daily lives, work, and study. Students expressed gratitude in these ways:

  • “I feel that I have resources now to help take a step back in my day-to-day routine to ground myself in my life.”
  • “I am returning home more connected to the Spirit of Georgetown, and thankful I could strengthen my own path through the diversity of others.”
  • “I feel called to continue my spiritual journey at Georgetown.”
  • “I feel peace and happiness as I return and I desire to share this experience with others.”

As for future retreats, more are planned that are open to all graduate, professional, and law students at Georgetown. It aims to provide a rich space for such students to connect in an interdisciplinary context, learning more about what they hold in common as adult students. Given Georgetown’s future plans to build a Capitol Campus downtown, which will include SCS, this forthcoming retreat harnesses such collaborative energy and presents an encouraging model for more cross-campus connections in the years to come.

In between retreats, the spirit of the Exercises is adapted in a variety of ongoing spiritual programs, including daily meditations, community listening circles, and seminars, among other activities. SCS Mission and Ministry will continue to innovate retreat options that address the deeper spiritual needs of the entire community. Inspired by a 500-year Jesuit tradition, SCS retreats help realize the University’s mission-driven commitment to Educating the Whole Person in the spirit of Cura Personalis.