Campus Ministry To All The Nations

Rev. Alexei Michalenko, Sr. Dorinda Young, SSJ, Rabbi Mark Robbins,
Campus Ministers, Georgetown University Law Center, Washington, DC

Georgetown University’s Catholic and Jesuit heritage is part of its distinctive quality. The Law Center is part of our nation's oldest Catholic university, yet, in keeping with its respect for all faiths, it welcomes students of all religious beliefs. In the centuries' old Jesuit tradition of "care for the whole person" the Law Center's campus ministers provide pastoral care for students, faculty, administration and staff. Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, and Muslim chaplains have offices at the Law Center, where they serve everyone in the community, regardless of religious affiliation, and support one another in interfaith ministry and programming. There is also a Chaplain-in-Residence at the Gewirz Student Center, which house about 290 students, the majority of whom are in their first year.

Since its establishment in 1789 Georgetown University has committed itself to interfaith/interreligious campus ministry. This has taken different forms and expressions in the past two centuries, more recently being characterized by the actual presence of representatives of various religious customs within and besides the Catholic Christian tradition.

Ministry at Georgetown University Law Center mirrors the cooperative effort that is manifest on the main campus, located across town. Presently we have two full-time Catholic chaplains, a Rabbi, who is on the site for half a week, and an Imam (a leader of the Muslim congregation) for a good part of one day. A significant Protestant ministry hasn't been part of the program at the Law Center, but recently a Protestant seminarian, serving a one-day internship each week, has been added to the ministerial efforts. All who minister at the Law Center are committed to reaching out to any and all students, administration, faculty and staff, regardless of religious affiliation or lack thereof.

An annual fall open house is hosted by the ministry to introduce the people and programs available at the Law Center. Each of the campus ministers has programs and events directed to members of his or her specific faith traditions. Additionally, there are a number of occasions when members of the various traditions come together for worship, study and conversation. An annual Interfaith Service of Thanksgiving is celebrated with graduating students, their families and friends. Sacred texts are read from various religious traditions, common prayers, music and, on occasion, dance, are offered by student representatives. Similar services were held several years ago at the 125th anniversary of the establishment of the Law Center, demonstrating, as well as celebrating the great ethnic, cultural and religious diversity of the Law Center community.

Many of the student groups are organized according to ethnic/cultural/religious lines. Celebrations of Sukkoth, Diwali, Ramadan, Advent, Chanukkah, Eid al Fitr, Kwanzaa and Thanksgiving, to name a few, provide occasions for community members to engage with one another in prayer and expressions of religious faith. Interreligious programs that have been offered by the Law Center include: Prayer in Daily Life Retreats, modeled after Ignatian retreats and facilitated by a religiously diverse group of spiritual directors, and prayer guides; “God-Talk,” a lunch featuring members of the community sharing thoughts, experiences and insights from their respective traditions on various topics; symposiums and student-inspired programs on various topics, including different religious traditions’ and interpretations’ influence on domestic abuse, and the effect a person’s religion has on his or her legal practices.

Campus ministers of various traditions from the Law Center are often seen together publicly at diverse events sponsored by the Dean’s Office, the Office of Student Affairs, or any of the 60+ student organizations on campus. This models, in a very tangible way, that ministers of varying faith traditions can work together. The chaplains at the Law Center are convicted that ministry in any tradition cannot be accomplished successfully without reference to and taking into account the diversity of the student body, which is reflective of our society. In the light of - and through the smoke of - the recent events in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania and their aftermath, the imperative is even more pronounced. Our experience is that interreligious ministry is not only necessary but, more important, it is possible. We need to wrestle with the issue as best we can until, like Jacob in the book of Genesis, we wrestle out a blessing - not only for our individual traditions but for each other.

Evidence of this was offered by a first-year student in a message sent to the Law Center administration in response to the recent tragic events: “I first want to thank you and everyone else (especially the Chaplains) at the Law Center for your responses to the events of September 11. I think that the Law Center’s response, given the lack of warning and all of the uncertainly, was really quite impressive. I felt like I was well informed at all times, and I thought that people generally handles the situation extremely well. Although as a Jew attending a Catholic institution, I was not sure what to expect; I was particularly inspired by the interfaith services.” Given the efforts to serve the needs of all the members of the law Center community on a day-to-day basis, Campus Ministry’s presence and purpose in times of crisis is truly a fruition of those efforts.

Originally published in: Crossroads: A Publication of the Catholic Campus Ministry Association. December 2001/January 2002 (pages 17 & 22). Electronically reproduced with permission of Crossroads.


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