As more than 35,000 Civil War soldiers fought at the Battle of Bull Run in July of 1861, the blasts from the cannons could be heard 30 miles away at the Former Jesuit Residence on Georgetown’s campus.
When the 69th and 79th regiments of the New York National Guard travelled south to D.C., many of the soldiers stayed in the collection of buildings. And when President Abraham Lincoln himself came to campus to inspect soldiers, he no doubt passed by the buildings.
The buildings making up the FJR survived the Civil War, multiple fires and a smallpox pandemic.
And now the FJR, built in 1830, is poised to enter its next phase of existence as construction is completed on the space that will house the newly developed Spirit of Georgetown Residential Academy, which will function as a Living Learning Community.
More than 380 students applied last month to live in the residence, and tonight the 148 students selected to live in the LLC will choose their rooms in a housing lottery.
The FJR complex, set to open this August for the 2015 fall semester, has been a widely anticipated new addition to the campus, with numerous university offices, committees and organizations working together with outside contractors since 2013 to shepherd the project to its current stage. The project aims to embrace the history and mission of Georgetown, while also looking toward the university’s future.
A Storied Past
The FJR is composed of three separate buildings — Gervase Hall, Mulledy Hall and Ryan Hall, built between 1830 and 1904.
Mulledy Hall formerly housed a campus dining hall, the College Chapel, an auditorium capable of accommodating more than 1,000 people and a study hall.
During the Civil War, Gervase and Mulledy Halls witnessed some of the country’s most transformative moments. Following the battles of Second Bull Run and Antietam, Gervase and Mulledy Hall were transformed into a military hospital for injured soldiers.
From 1957 to 2003, Jesuits lived in Ryan Hall before moving to the newly built Jesuit Residence at Wolfington Hall. In addition, students lived in the halls of the FJR alongside Jesuits in Ryan Hall, which was originally built as student housing in 1904.
“It was a lot of fun,” Fr. Otto Hentz, S.J., said, as he reminisced about his experiences living in the FJR, where he lived beginning in 1962.
Hentz said one of his favorite features of the complex was the Georgetown Room, a large common room that Jesuits had to pass through as they moved from Ryan Hall into Mulledy Hall.
“On the riverside there were couches and chairs and newspapers and stuff, and on the Quadrangle side was a place where you could get snacks — beer, coke, coffee, you know, pretzels, stuff like that,” Hentz said. “So it was well placed in the sense that you had to pass through there, again, at different times in the day, and you kept bumping into people, depending on what you were up to, you could sit down and chat for a while and then move on. And in the evening people would group down there at different paces and have a beer and chat. It was a lot of fun.”
Hentz also recalled the friendly and lively conversation that took place within the space.
“One time there were a bunch of us arguing — I forget about what — but some visitor was going to walk around to the library and check the encyclopedia and we said: ‘Oh that’s forbidden, you can’t do research here, that’s unfair.’”
Theology professor Fr. Christopher Steck, S.J., moved into the FJR in 1999 said he would always remember the times the Jesuits would go out on the patio of the Jesuit Residence to watch fireworks during special holidays.
“There was a patio way up above and then we used to watch fireworks from that patio,” Steck said. “You can still see it, it’s on the Gervase side, but we would gather, and I think someone would do mint juleps and we would watch the fireworks.”
Hentz also recalled more somber occasions in the Georgetown Room. He said he especially remembered the night Rep. Bob Drinan, S.J., (D-Mass.), one of two priests to ever serve in Congress, was ordered by the Vatican to leave after serving five terms due to his pro-choice political leanings.
“That was very hard on [Drinan] because he believed very deeply in what he was doing,” Hentz said. “But he used to come home, you know, around 10:30 or 11 at night and there’d be a few people there having a beer — but a number of people who wouldn’t ordinarily be there were there to welcome him, knowing it was a tough day for him.”
Hentz said that the day President John F. Kennedy was shot was another especially memorable moment during his time in the Jesuit Residence.
“I walked into the Quadrangle by Dahlgren and people were assembling from all over, secretaries and faculty and students, and they had set up an altar on the porch in Old North to say Mass for the president,” Hentz said. “ You had people kneeling on the bricks out there.”
Hentz also shed a different light on the events of that day.
“In those days, the Quadrangle was all freshmen, except for the Jesuit residence, and I was living on [third-floor] Healy and I was walking down third Healy to go to my room and a student saw me and he said, ‘Mr. Hentz, you’re looking very sad,’ and I said, ‘The president’s been shot,’ and he said, ‘Who would want to shoot Fr. Bunn?’”
Rev. Edward J. Bunn, S.J., was president of Georgetown University between 1952 and 1964.
Fr. William McFadden, S.J., another former resident of the Jesuit community, who lived in Mulledy in the 1990s, said that he remembered the time President-elect Bill Clinton (SFS ’68) gave a speech from the steps of Old North in 1993. McFadden was told by the Secret Service that he could not move his blinds open or closed, or snipers on the roof might target the movement.
“I know that Clinton is coming and I’ve got a prime viewing spot, but I’m not going to open those blinds because they told us not to,” McFadden said. “I figure if I stand over against the wall and … if your eye is close enough and the blind is open a little bit and you see a lot. So I looked through and I see these soldiers in battle dress carrying these guns.”
“So I thought, well I’m going to watch,” McFadden continued. “So I stood there, and I watched Clinton come down the steps and greet the diplomatic corps. But that was memorable. I’ll tell you, to be there and think that at any minute this window could explode — I didn’t think it was going to happen — but it could explode.”
Fr. Brian McDermott, S.J., spent his freshman year in 1954 on the fourth floor of Ryan Hall in a corner room overlooking the Potomac. McDermott left Georgetown after his sophomore year to join the Society of Jesus. Years later, when McDermott was a teacher and administrator at the Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Mass., he returned to Georgetown on his sabbatical and was placed in the same room he had lived in 40 years earlier as a freshman.
“They put me into my old freshman room, which was then part of the Jesuit community,” McDermott said. “And on the windows, on one of the windows there was etched a student’s name with a date in the 1930s. It was etched there when I was freshman and it was the same windowpane in 1997.”
The exact windowpane on which that student’s name was carved has since been replaced with a new one, but the window frame to McDermott’s old room in Ryan Hall has been refurbished and remains.
Constructing a New Living Space
In 2003, Georgetown’s Jesuits moved to their new home in Wolfington Hall because of asbestos and poor conditions in the FJR. For over a decade, Ryan and Mulledy Halls sat empty, while Gervase became a location for university administrative offices.
It was not until 2013 that formal construction planning began on the Former Jesuit Residence student housing project. The new residence hall, the design of which is targeted to appeal to upperclassmen due to its apartment-style units, will occupy the Ryan and Mulledy buildings, which are connected. The renovations come as part of the 2010 Campus Plan to provide campus housing for 385 more students by summer 2015, and the new residence will provide 148 new beds for rising sophomores, juniors and seniors.
The residence was originally designed with space for 160 residents, but students expressed a strong preference for more common space in the building. That input influenced the design, decreasing that number to the current 148-person living capacity.
The residence includes 18 apartment units in total, including one nine-person, five eight-person, four six-person, five four-person and three three-person rooms.
According to Vice President for Planning and Facilities Management Robin Morey, preserving the historical aspects of the buildings has been a significant aspect of the project.
“It really is, because it was an existent facility and not built up from scratch, respecting the past while making sure that we’re trying to meet the needs of the future,” Morey said. “All of that has to come together and you have to make compromises to get the best design that you can, and I think that the team’s done a really excellent job here in doing that.”
Fr. Joseph Lingan, S.J., who is the current rector of the Jesuit community at Wolfington Hall and who has worked as a major contributing consultant in the housing project, said he was impressed by the university’s commitment to preserving the historical value of the FJR.
“They have been very sensitive to the fact that this was at one point our home,” Lingan said. “I think that they have been very sensitive in a very positive way.”
The fact that students will get to live in a place with so much historical significance is important for Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson.
“To have this opportunity for upper-class students to be in the heart of campus in this historic space that has such a long history with our Jesuits is just a real treat and it’s great opportunity,” Olson said.
One preserved feature of the complex is the great room in Ryan Hall. The large space that was once the main dining area for the university and that later served as the Jesuits’ dining area, will now be converted into a group gathering and study space open to all students.
According to Olson, another plan for the FJR construction project is to make Georgetown’s campus more accessible to students with disabilities.
“We are creating better, accessible routes from the lower part of the campus up to Dahlgren Quad and to Healy Hall,” Olson said.
The construction will also include the addition of a new green space in front of Gervase and Ryan Halls.
“On a campus where we really need green space, we’ll gain green space with this project,” Olson said.
According to Morey, this addition will also help with sustainable water retention in the area.
The complex will also include an inter-denominational contemplative space, formerly the chapel for the Jesuit community, which will be managed between the Office of the President, Campus Ministries and the Office of Mission and Ministry.
“To have that [contemplative space] as a part of the building is a powerful signal that we take seriously both the history of Georgetown and our current focus on spirituality and on faith as important tenets of the Georgetown experience,” Olson said.
Fr. Gregory Schenden, S.J., Roman Catholic chaplain to the Office of Campus Ministry, said he is excited for the planned contemplative space.
“The fact that this sacred space, this former community chapel is being preserved as well, as sacred space, is key to the overarching philosophy behind the residence itself,” Schenden said.
Lingan said that the Georgetown Jesuit community is happy about the development of the space.
“I also know that we’re enthused that the space is finally being used,” Lingan said. “It’s kind of nice to think that it’s being used for housing as it was for us — our house; and the living and learning dynamic that they’re putting focus on with regard to that building is, I think, especially appreciated by us.”
Building A Community
Over 380 students applied for 148 membership spaces within the Spirit of Georgetown LLC. Ten percent were rising seniors, 42 percent rising juniors and 48 percent rising sophomores.
Students living in the LLC commit to engage in four aspects of community life. First, students must abide by nine tenets of the spirit of Georgetown, which include academic excellence, educating the whole person and cura personalis, among others.
The requirements behind the LLC have been developed since January 2014 by the Residential Academy Planning Committee, affiliated with the Office of Residential Education. The group is composed of student, staff and faculty members from across Georgetown’s campus, with representatives from the InterHall Council, the Center for Social Justice, the Center for Multicultural Equity and Access, the Campus Ministry Office and various campus organizations.
The second aspect involves student participation within cohorts — smaller groups of 15 to 20 students from the various living spaces around the FJR — that will meet once or twice each semester for reflection. The third aspect seeks to foster a broader sense of community within the building and asks residents to host programming related to the LLC’s mission.
The fourth aspect of the community involves the students’ education and engagement with an e-portfolio program, an online record that displays a student’s academic and extracurricular work and commitments during their Georgetown careers as a showcase for future employers.
Courtney Maduike (COL ’17) was accepted to live in the academy in a group of eight applicants.
“I am honored and beyond ecstatic to be a part of the inaugural class of the Spirit of Georgetown Academy,” Maduike said. “The residence gives students a chance to not only learn about, but also take part in a defining characteristic of our great school — our Jesuit identity.”
The Residential Academy is modeled in part after the residential colleges of other universities around the country, which are typically academically focused environments that center around a particular discipline and that have unique program requirements. The Residential Academy will be the first of its kind at Georgetown, and the only one on campus for the foreseeable future.
Joseph Ferrara, Chief of Staff to University President John J. DeGioia, said he was especially proud of the project.
“The Spirit of Georgetown Residential Academy is an exciting new development for our community,” Ferrara wrote in an email to The Hoya. “It’s especially significant for this new aspect of our residential life to be located in the heart of our historic campus and to focus so deeply on the Jesuit heritage that animates our university. This is another example of the ways we are investing in the student experience, and providing new opportunities to engage our mission.”