Like many prospective students interested in international affairs, I initially chose Georgetown University for its world-renowned School of Foreign Service (SFS). I knew it was a Jesuit institution, which I appreciated as a Catholic, but the ambitious college applicant in me cared more about academic excellence — and, I have to admit, prestige — than religious affiliation. Little did I know, however, that Georgetown’s Catholic identity would become the most vibrant force in my four years on the Hilltop.
My first foray into Catholic Ministry occurred almost by accident. During move-in weekend of my first year, I attended Chaplains’ Tea with my family and met Fr. Gregory Schenden, S.J., the director of Campus Ministry. He introduced me to Dr. “Russ” Weismann, the director of Music Ministry, after I shared with him that I had accompanied our church choir on the piano at home. I chatted briefly with Russ, and we arranged a time for me to audition for the position of student pianist.
Soon, I became a member of the Contemporary Choir, performing weekly at Dahlgren Chapel’s 8 p.m. Masses. I spent hours practicing the piano and forming bonds with peers from all four schools, separate from the SFS bubble I am confined to in my classes. We gathered at Leo’s every Sunday to share some food and laughs before rehearsal and then blended our voices to celebrate Mass. We even launched a selfie contest through GroupMe, encouraging members to snap selfies with one another as they ran into each other throughout campus. As a first-year, I discovered my sense of belonging — and some of my best friends—in the Music Ministry community. I realized very quickly how important it was to develop myself spiritually in addition to academically.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic physically separated our choir, it didn’t prevent Music Ministry from ministering. That year, I assumed a directorial role, hosting online game nights and Mass “watch parties” and sending out weekly newsletters to keep us connected in spirit. Instead of singing together at Mass, we compiled “virtual choir” performances. When we returned in person last year, our ministry had shrunk, but we have worked hard to rebuild it through robust recruitment efforts and monthly group dinners. Choir has been the rock of my college experience — something I count on every Sunday to prepare myself mentally, physically and spiritually for the week to come. Now in my senior year, as I mentor my pianist successors, I know future students will continue to find a home in Music Ministry.
Music Ministry, however, has not been my only source of spiritual growth and religious formation at Georgetown. It’s been in prayer, friends and, most importantly, the delicious food of Catholic retreats and Catholic Faith Communities. It’s been the opportunity to minor in Religion, Ethics and World Affairs — merging my interest in international relations with my passion for faith. It’s been between the pages of readings for classes on Pope Francis and Catholic Social Thought, deepening my understanding of how the Church views the application of faith to public life. It’s been the luxury of calling Dahlgren Chapel my second home.
I have also been lucky to participate in various Catholic programs at Georgetown. Through the Global Citizenship Fellowship organized by the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, I engaged with students across the world and attended the International Association of Jesuit Universities conference to help shape a better future for their universities. I had the rare, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to partake in Pope Francis’s synod on synodality — and be on a Zoom call with him. These opportunities have reminded me that spiritual formation occurs far beyond the gates of Georgetown, and that my own faith journey will not end once I graduate.
This integration of my Catholic faith into my college experience has transformed my outlook about the person I want to be: humble, gracious and kind. Character will take me much further in life than academics and career development. Religious formation has simultaneously provided a strong foundation for my personal values and instilled a sense of purpose into my studies — the Jesuit value of people for others regularly rings through my head, and I know it will persist if I pursue a career in public service. After all, morality and virtues are crucial for the cultivation of future leaders. With the tense climate of domestic and international politics today, the world can surely use some cura personalis.
I hope all students at Georgetown, whether Catholic, of another religious tradition, agnostic or atheist, can take advantage of the special religious, ecumenical, and interfaith opportunities students can enjoy on the Hilltop. Aside from Catholic services, I’ve also attended a Jewish Shabbat, meditation sessions at the John Main Center and spiritual gatherings with Dharmic Life; these experiences have expanded my understanding of religious diversity and spiritual enrichment. For those who might not know where to start, Chaplains’ Tea still happens every Tuesday in Dahlgren Quad, and you can count on seeing me there, too.
Channing Lee is a senior in the School of Foreign Service.