Connecting first-year students to the Georgetown community one retreat at a time

The shift to an online semester did not deter Campus Ministry from its mission of helping students to lead lives of deeper meaning, belonging, and purpose. One way for us to reach this goal is with retreats. The pandemic forced us to rethink our retreat programs this year; instead of gathering at our usual retreat destination, the Calcagnini Contemplative Center, we gathered via Zoom.  

To find out more about the virtual retreat experience and how virtual retreats compare to physically being together, Campus Ministry writer Jordan Brown (C’21) caught up with students and retreat directors from the ESCAPE and Loyola: A First-Year Retreat in the Ignatian Tradition retreats. 


headshot of Maddie KlingMaddie Kling, director of the ESCAPE First-Year Retreat Program, said that ESCAPE is a transition and reflection program designed to get first-year students started on a path of discerning who they are. The program aims to foster trust among students from various backgrounds by helping students move beyond tolerance to an active understanding of others’ life experiences, thus making a true celebration of diversity and working together for the common good more of a possibility. Maddie said that the shift to a virtual semester did not deter planning for ESCAPE. “We recognized that there was an even greater need for things we already work towards: a sense of belonging, a space for dialogue, a diverse community to be vulnerable with, and a place for authenticity.”

Max Zhang standing outside with trees in the backgroundMax Zhang (SFS ‘23) participated in ESCAPE last year and is now a leader on the retreat; he said leading a virtual retreat was “energizing.” To him, the main goals of the retreat are creating a comfortable space for thoughtful reflection and introspection and facilitating new connections for first-year students. He hopes participants come away from the retreat feeling empowered and reflective. Max said that the icebreaker activities worked particularly well over Zoom and felt fun and healthy.

Student Cameron NewmanCameron Newman (COL ‘24) participated in ESCAPE this semester. “What I loved most about the ESCAPE retreat was the opportunity to meet and interact with people I normally would not get the chance to talk to, in a fun and low-stress environment.” Her favorite part of the retreat was the art share on the first night. “The retreat really showed to me the power reflection and silence can have on my mental health and wellbeing, and, conversely, the importance of support and community for growth and personal fulfillment. I left the retreat with a newfound reassurance of my place at Georgetown, along with a new set of friends and fond memories to look back on!”

Loyola: A First-Year Retreat in the Ignatian Tradition

headshot of Michelle SiemietkowskiMichelle Siemietkowski, the Catholic chaplain for spiritual formation and resident minister to off-campus students, said that the goals of Loyola include introducing students to the story and spirituality of St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, and helping them deepen friendships and grow in their faith with other Catholic Hoyas at Georgetown.

amantha Pasciullo Boychuck in front of a sunsetSamantha Pasciullo Boychuck (COL ‘23) participated in Loyola last year and co-led the retreat this year. Though she was concerned participants might get “Zoom fatigue,” she said that the leaders placed breaks throughout the weekend to give everyone time to get away from their screens. “It was definitely different leading a virtual retreat, but the experience was just as rewarding.” She found it especially rewarding to be able to bring a sense of community to the freshmen.

Julian Jimenez (COL ‘24), who participated in Loyola this year, said that spending time with a diverse group who have something in common was uplifting and fun. One aspect of the virtual retreat that he appreciated was being able to turn off his camera and microphone while praying so that he got personal time to reflect. Julian said that the retreat helped with his transition to Georgetown by giving him the chance to have personal conversations with people, making for stronger friendships that are much needed going into college.

Campus Ministry retreats are a great opportunity for students at any point in their Georgetown journey to take time to reflect on their experiences and forge new relationships with people in the Hilltop community. Information about all retreats can be found on the Campus Ministry website.

Jordan Brown is a senior in the College, majoring in Justice and Peace Studies with minors in Disability + African American Studies.