A gift Georgetown students can ‘take with them’
Although the buildings are solid masonry and wood, Arthur Calcagnini told the audience at the dedication of the Calcagnini Contemplative Center Thursday that his gift was something students at Georgetown University could “take with them” when their college days were over.
Calcagnini and his wife, Nancy, provided the $17 million that allowed the university to purchase the 55-acre site off Blue Ridge Mountain Road and construct a chapel, community building, dining hall and five sets of cabins — a combined 20,000 square feet under roof. The ribbon-cutting for the new facility was held Thursday, but the university has already held two retreats there.
Georgetown, located in Washington, D.C., is one of the oldest Roman Catholic universities in the United States, with an enrollment of more than 15,000 students. Bishop John Carroll established Georgetown about 225 years ago, on a hill overlooking the Potomac River.
It took two years to build the center, but almost 20 years from the spark of the idea to its fruition.
“It was their dream, long ago, that made today possible,” said Father Kevin O’Brien, Georgetown’s vice president for Mission and Ministry of the Calcagninis.
The center will be the site for a number of campus ministries at the university, but most specially, for the ESCAPE program, sponsored by the Calcagninis since 1991.
ESCAPE offers all freshmen and transfer students the opportunity to take a quiet retreat off campus, to ask and answer questions they have about themselves and their future, O’Brien said.
Calcagnini said he was asked to finance the program for a single year and he also went on the retreat.
He told himself afterward, “This has to stay,” and he and his wife have backed the ministry ever since.
Then began a search for a place to house the retreat, which turned up the Blue Ridge Mountain site.
“Mountains are places where the human meets the divine,” O’Brien said, adding “On this hilltop, the Lord will meet us, too.”
But it took some human agency to get the project approved.
After a lengthy process that divided residents on the Blue Ridge Mountain over the retreat center, the Clarke County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to block the construction project in March 2009.
The residents were concerned about increased traffic on their steep mountain road, and some also fought the planned destruction on the century-old Hohenheim House.
Three months later, Georgetown filed suit against the county, stating that the board was “arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable” in denying the university a special-use permit for the development.
About a year later, the supervisors reversed their decision and approved a new site plan, which included the preservation of Hohenheim house, while limiting construction to seven acres of the site.
Robert Stieg, of Preservation Virginia, Northern Shenandoah Valley Chapter, helped convince Georgetown to preserve the house and it was later moved on the site to a new location and is under restoration.
Attending the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Stieg said he was very pleased the house had been preserved.
“I think it integrates very well with the campus. I’m very happy about that.”
Michael Hobert, chairman of the Clarke County Board of Supervisors, said, “We’re very pleased to welcome Georgetown to the county. It’s a very fine institution.”
Calcagnini, a 1954 graduate of Georgetown, said he knows from experience the value of contemplative retreats, recommended by Jesuit order founder, St. Ignatius Loyola.
A spiritual retreat is a time to learn “what I am called to do,” Calcagnini said. “What is my real persona.”
Then, he explained, “I can do whatever I do, with joy and passion.”
John DeGioia, president of Georgetown, unveiled a historic stone cross, which stood atop the Healy Building at Georgetown for a century until the tower was damaged by a 2011 earthquake in the region.
It will be re-erected at the Calcagnini Center, he said, as a tribute to the sponsors, with a plaque in their honor.
“It is a symbol of our gratitude to you,” he told the Calcagninis.
— Contact Val Van Meter at email@example.com