As Arthur Calcagnini (C ’54) stood looking over the Blue Ridge Mountains last Friday while he prepared to break ground on the retreat center named for him, he reflected on his path to the Calcagnini Contemplative Center’s actualization.
“This is a dream that I’ve had that’s taken a long time to come to fruition,” Calcagnini said shortly before he and members of the administration picked up their shovels and began the ceremony. Once complete, the center will serve a variety of campus retreat programs year round. The programs that will soon make their home at the center include ESCAPE, a secular overnight retreat for first-year and transfer students that provides participants with a chance to reflect on their first year at Georgetown. Calcagnini himself has funded the program since 1991.
The center’s future home encompasses 55 acres nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, about a 75 minute drive from Georgetown’s main campus.
“When we first saw this place, we knew that this was it. It was love at first sight,” Calcagnini said.
According to university officials, the completed project will include a historic home, a chapel, community and dining halls and 28 cabins to house up to 78 students.
Fr. Kevin O’Brien, S.J., the vice president of Mission and Ministry, spoke to the sanctity of the location.
“Mountains are a place to meet our God. Just like our Hilltop, today we add another holy mountain to Georgetown,” O’Brien said.
This milestone marked the latest chapter in Calcagnini’s twenty-year dream to construct the university’s own space for the wide range of spiritual retreats offered throughout the year.
He and his wife, Nancy, who financed the popular ESCAPE program with a $1.5 million endowment in 1991, pledged their support for this project with a $17 million donation.
Friday’s groundbreaking marked the culmination of a lengthy search to find and acquire a suitable property for the Contemplative Center.
The idea was conceived 20 years ago when Calcagnini, a member of Georgetown’s board of directors’ committee on religious affairs, attended an ESCAPE weekend after providing funding for the program.
The retreat became an annual tradition for him, and seeing the impact that the program has on students is what drove him to fund the new center.
“Receiving a letter from a student saying this has been the most formative experience of their life — it’s all worth it,” he said. “We feel so blessed that we have the means to share with [Georgetown] the funding for this special place.”
The Calcagninis have spent much of the last 10 years personally working to find a proper location. The search was prolonged by the difficulty of finding an appropriate site within a 90-minute drive from campus. After choosing Bluemont, Va. for the site, the administration spent two years negotiating and working with the Clarke County board of supervisors to gain approval for the proposed construction.
The construction of the center is far from complete, as contractors will have to complete major improvements to the site over the next two years. This includes moving a historic house to another spot on the property, to allow for the construction of additional facilities.
O’Brien said the finished site will be able to accommodate multiple retreats at the same time, with enough facilities for both separate and communal activities. For him, this sentiment expresses the core Georgetown value of interreligious understanding.
As University President John J. DeGioia looked ahead in his opening speech to the reflective space’s contribution to university life, he spoke of such an outlook.
“It will be here, in the Calcagnini Contemplative Center, where the members of our community [can] seek out our deepest inner truths, discover the best version of ourselves and renew our commitment to our mission,” he said.
For the immediate future, programs like ESCAPE and AGAPE will continue to operate out of the Shepherd Springs Outdoor Ministry Center in Sharpsburg, Md.
“We’ve been going there for the past 10 or 11 years. They’ve been very hospitable and welcoming to us, but we’re not the only group to use that space,” Sherry said.
For that reason, Sherry looks forward to the center’s completion.
“I think making a space that is really ours is going to be phenomenal. The added flexibility may allow for program enlargement and growth in the future,” she added.
But for Calcagnini, breaking ground on the new center meant something more.
“This is one of the happiest days of my life,” he said.