Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

DC Worship: Finding Faith Beyond the Gates

SARI FRANKEL/THE HOYA Students pursue their faiths off campus, attending services at a variety of sites, including Holy Trinity Church at 36th and O Streets.
Students pursue their faiths off campus, attending services at a variety of sites, including Holy Trinity Church at 36th and O Streets.

It is a crisp, Sunday morning in mid-October, and Ivan Plis (SFS ’12) is awakened sharply by the sound of his 7 a.m. alarm. He dresses, says his prayers, laces up a comfortable pair of shoes and prepares for his mile-and-a-half walk to St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church for a morning service.

When he arrives at St. Nicholas, Plis enters through one of the side doors, making the Sign of the Cross while venerating icons along the walls.

“It is like coming into a house and greeting family members,” he said.

He proceeds to take his seat in the upper section of the church where he sings tenor for the choir. As he walks in, the congregation mills around him, since the worshiping space lacks traditional pews and possesses few chairs.

For Plis, the walk up Massachusetts Avenue with a few other Orthodox Christian Georgetown students is just part of his weekly routine.

“I made the effort to find other students of Orthodox background as soon as I knew I was going to Georgetown,” Plis said.

Soon after arriving to school, he became involved with Orthodox Chaplaincy on campus, regularly attending vespers, a traditional prayer service in the Orthodox Christian religion with other students on Tuesday evenings in Copley Crypt.

Though Georgetown offers Vespers on campus, they are not the same as the Divine Liturgy for Plis, who explains that the liturgy is an integral part of worship for Orthodox Christians.

To participate in this form of faith service, Plis must venture beyond the gates, to the heart of the District.


According to Vice President for Mission and Ministry Fr. Kevin O’Brien, S.J., the university has a longstanding tradition of providing resources for students of different faiths.

“[Georgetown’s founder] John Carroll … experienced discrimination as a Catholic in Maryland,” O’Brien said. “So when he opened up his academy on the Potomac, he wanted it to be open to different faiths.

O’Brien added that the diversity of students on campus contributes to those students’ decisions to worship beyond the gates.

“There are so many expressions of Christianity that often students go off campus,” he said. “We offer ample worship and retreat opportunities on campus, but we do help students worship in other faith communities.”

Beth Hatch, the university’s Protestant program coordinator, said that many Protestant students often seek a more family-oriented community in the city.

“People go off campus for a range of things — they want a style of worship or a supplement to what they are getting. Mostly what I’ve heard students talking about is wanting to be part of a multigenerational church,” she said.

Hatch said that, while her office does offer on-campus worship opportunities, she hopes students choose whichever church setting they find most comfortable.

“We have a traditional service and a gospel service to hopefully try and meet students’ needs, but we also want to help point students toward communities that will be what they’re looking for,” she said.



Many students on the Hilltop consider their off-campus religious institutions a kind of home away from home.

Though Dahlgren Chapel lies in the middle of campus, some Catholic students, like Mike Croglio (NHS ’14), prefer the community atmosphere at Holy Trinity Church, a mere block from Healy Gates on 36th Street.

“It is out of habit that I started [going] to Mass there. I like being in a parish,” Croglio said. “I’ve been going to Church with my parents for as long as I can remember, so it was sort of a reminder of home.”

According to Judith Brusseau, who has been the pastoral associate for faith formation at Holy Trinity for 11 years, students are an essential part of Holy Trinity’s past and present.

“Georgetown students have always played a part in supporting the parish at Holy Trinity as members of the Confirmation team or as catechists,” she said.

The appeal of these off-campus faith communities extends to other Christians, too.

Frank Miller (COL ’14), a member of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, finds his religious home at a Ukrainian Church in Northeast D.C.

Miller, who takes a bus and the Metro for one hour to reach his destination, said that attending services there reminds him of his heritage.

“In my experience, attending Liturgy at the Ukrainian Church is both a matter of family heritage and personal preference,” he said.


For Georgetown’s Mormon students, carving out a niche for worship in the District requires leaving city bounds altogether.

Every Sunday, in a van provided by the university, a group of Mormon students travels to the temple in Chevy Chase, Md., at 10:30 a.m., spending the day there until services wrap up at 3 p.m.

For Grace Brown (COL ’14), who was raised in the Mormon tradition, the commute provides structure to her week.

“It’s a good routine that I enjoy,” she said of the trips to the temple. “I like being able to get off campus.”

For a contingent of six or seven Mormon students on campus, attending these services reminds them of their faith community’s global reach.

“[Since] our Church is [universal], wherever you go, it is similar,” fellow Mormon student Stephen Patrick (COL ’13) said of the congregation.

At the temple, Patrick also attends Institute, a set of religious classes on an array of subjects all geared toward developing personal faith.

Both Brown and Patrick were encouraged to sustain that faith within their first week on campus, when another Mormon student reached out to them to welcome them to the Latter Day Saints community here.

“[The community is] a very tight-knit group and a family away from home,” Brown said, citing the group Scripture study she and the other students hold with their chaplain. Weekly dinners on Sundays also add to the welcoming atmosphere.

“Georgetown has been really supportive — we have a great relationship with the school,” Patrick said.


Students who must commute to church come to know intimately the buildings and communities where they worship.

“[Inside St. Nicholas’] nearly every square inch of wall is painted with images of saints,” Pils said, describing the space that he has come to find so familiar.

From his seat in the choir, he recognizes the familiar faces of fellow Georgetown students and faculty in the congregation. But for Plis, getting out of his Georgetown comfort zone is the greatest draw to St. Nicholas’.

“Being connected to an off-campus worship space has put me in touch with people I otherwise would not connect with,” he said.

After liturgy Plis oftens meets with student parishioners from nearby American University for a weekly breakfast.

He is also working with other Orthodox Christians to increase their presence at Georgetown.

“More recently, some fellow students and I have held talks to see if once a month we can have Divine Liturgy on campus,” he said.

But even as he looks to boost the accessibility of services on campus, Plis said trekking off campus to pray is worth the time commitment.

“You have to make the concerted effort because it is just far away enough to be convenient not to go to Mass,” Plis says. “I am pretty content with what I have, even if I have to work harder for it.”

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