The Gift of Residential Ministry

By Michelle Siemietkowski, (C’92, G’98), Catholic Chaplain and Resident Minister to off-campus students.

A group of people in a living room arranged in three rows

Members of the Class of 2023 pictured with Catholic Chaplain and Resident Minister to off-campus students, Michelle Siemietkowski, (C’92, G’98), (middle row, far left) during her weekly “Bagels and Coffee” open house.

Residential Ministers live in university residence halls and apartments to accompany and support undergraduate students of all identities. Part of our ministry includes hosting weekly open houses. As one of the resident ministers to the more than 1200 students (mostly seniors) who live off campus, I have had the privilege of hosting our seniors every week for bagels and coffee as well as homemade banana chocolate chip muffins. 

The impact of the weekly open houses is significant. They provide a space where students can form relationships and break down barriers. I keep a notebook by the buffet in my dining room and ask students to write their names down each week so I can learn their names, and because I develop a relationship with them over time, making muffins and serving bagels week after week, the students feel comfortable talking with me about anything – from hardships or concerns to the joys of getting into graduate school or landing an exciting post-grad opportunity.

This year, at my final open house of the semester, I was overwhelmed by the cards and flowers the students brought me to say thank you. Some students even made me cookies!  They said, “The fact that you open up your house to us all every week and take the time to learn all of our names and hear all of our stories shows how deeply you care.  We definitely felt that care during every conversation at bagel breakfast this year…. Thank you for providing us with a sense of home each week.”

Some people ask me if it’s hard to say goodbye to the seniors every year.  While of course goodbyes are not easy, my overwhelming feelings are gratitude and joy – gratitude for the gift of Residential Ministry at Georgetown and gratitude for our students and graduates whose stories are beautiful and sacred – each and every one.  

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A Year of Being Interreligious

A reflection by Lin Henke, (C’23)

A woman with shoulder length dark, smiling with arms folded in front of her body.

Lin Henke (C’23)

I know it’s Friday because I’m walking home from Shabbat. Makom has been vacuumed, the kitchen counters have been wiped, and my body feels the type of peace that must mean it’s Friday. This has been my life all year— the packed weeks of senior year bookended by Shabbat every Friday.

In the same way, I know it’s Sunday because I am in the Dharmic Meditation Center. Before I go to church at night, I have my afternoon work-Buddhist ritual. Put out the mats and cushions, and fill the teapot with water. My body knows exactly what to do. And, in the quiet of the meditation, closed by the familiar ring of the bell, something loosens in my chest. I feel ready to face the week ahead.

Working for the interreligious student team has been a lot more than a job to me. As a theology major, I was excited to explore different religious spaces. But I had no idea that this job would become the rhythm of my weeks and a core element of my well-being on campus. In my classes on Chinese Philosophy, we talk a lot about ritual. Xunzi, one of the great Confucian teachers, tells us that rituals serve as our markers when the waters get deep. And in college, the waters can get really deep. But, I take great comfort in knowing that every week, Shabbat will remind me to rest. Buddhist rituals will remind me to breathe. Xunzi says that “ritual is a means of nurture,” and I always logically understood this to be true. This year I experienced this sense of nurture in sacred spaces across campus. When I set out prayer books in Makom, swept the Masjid in preparation for the inauguration, or spaced out cushions in the Dharmic Meditation Center, these little acts brought cultivation as well as comfort. There is a tactile sense of knowing that just doesn’t come from a classroom, it comes when you spend enough time caring for a space.

I have also learned so much from the welcome I have received in these spaces. I won’t pretend that I am a part of a tradition just because I get to be there, but I agree with the theorist Catherine Bell when she argues that shared belief is not necessary to create shared rituals. I have learned to braid challah, the difference between an icon and an idol, and a complex list of dietary restrictions that varies from space to space. On Yom Kippur, my coworkers in Jewish Life taught me about forgiveness and pardon. I’ve had a million silly questions about Buddhism answered after meditation, and now have the gift of a long list of books to read. And the joy I feel in these spaces, the sense of community here, is beyond compare.

The Confucians teach us that we are shaped by our communities and the people we surround ourselves with. Confucius tells us that the junzi, or virtuous person, “relies upon his friends for support in becoming good.” After a year on the interreligious team, I can tell you that it’s true. I have been shaped by my incredible coworkers, and I am a better person by learning from their example. When I preached my first sermon and defended my thesis this year, my coworkers were there— generous enough to learn from my religious experiences. As I go on to pursue a career in ministry, these experiences and connections will shape the kind of Christian I want to be: grounded in ritual, growing in community, and always learning from traditions that are not my own.


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Reflection: The Kumari of Patan

By Nami Bolat, (C ’25)

Georgetown students with social entrepreneur Anil Chitrakar at the Patan Durbar Museum.

We sped through the Patan Durbar Museum to arrive at our next destination in time: a visit with the Kumari of Patan.

The Kumari Devi we met that evening is the latest incarnation in a lineage of living avatars of the Newar People’s Shakta Dharma divinity Shri Taleju Bhavani, patron deity of the former kingdom, and now, state of Nepal. Taleju used to appear to advise kings in a physical form but disappeared following an attempted rape by one of them, appearing now in the form of a prepubescent girl who she chooses as her living embodiment. Interestingly, in Kathmandu, this Shakta Dharma divinity has always taken the form of a girl of the Buddha Dharma followers amongst the Newar People. The Kumari house we visited is, in fact, nestled in the corner of a courtyard of a Buddhist Vihara. 

We removed our shoes, waited for a moment while the Kumari finished up her home-school lessons, and then were invited inside. Upon crossing the threshold, I suddenly became extremely aware of my body, my composure, and my presence, as well as of another indescribable presence, a subtle yet pressing one that I interpreted, in my own inadequate understanding of things, as that of the Divine Feminine that Shakta tradition reveres. I noticed the walls were painted pink and that several pairs of little girl’s shoes of various sizes rested against them. We clambered up a narrow staircase and were met with the mother of the Kumari who cleansed our hands before we passed through to the innermost room. 

I can’t remember now if the floor of that room had cushions to sit on, which is curious because I spent most of my time there studying the ground. I was scared to look up, having been advised that the Kumari Devi would not smile or interact with us, and the indescribable presence I had felt crossing the threshold of her house only grew stronger as I took a hesitant seat towards the front of the room. I had no idea what to do with myself: I was stupefied and awestruck, feeling much smaller, weaker, and dumber than this five-year-old girl before me. I have cursed out priests who I felt gave me bad advice in the past during Confession, and left a poor nun sucking wind after me when I ran away from her for her tactless counseling: I’ve always been pretty unabashed in the face of religious authority. The marked difference between them and Kumari Devi was precisely the word authority (and perhaps, the established appreciation of supreme feminine power that exists in the former and not in Catholicism). Divinity was vested in her, arguably without her choice: she did not ask or strive for authority; Taleju endowed her with it. Seeing Dr. Sharan, director for Dharmic Life and Adjunct Professor in the College of Arts and Sciences, fully prostrate on the ground twice to receive the tika blessing, and knowing that for centuries Nepalese royalty and rulers have done the same before making any political act, only confirmed her power for me. At the time I only felt more reverence for her because of this fact, but as my classmates and I discussed later on, I, too, began to question how ethical such a duty placed on such young shoulders could be. We especially felt uneasy about the photo we took with her at the end of our visit. I vividly remember watching as Kumari Devi tucked a blue plastic bag behind her for the sake of a prettier photo, without being asked.

Patan Durbar, Kathmandu, a Vaisnava temple where students and trip leaders settled to debrief their encounter with the Kumari of Patan.

I felt incredibly rude as I received tika from her: I wish I could’ve thanked her appropriately, and told her that we appreciated her presence and power even if we didn’t fully understand the complexities of it all. I felt inadequately prepared to show adequate respect. That said, as we reflected a few nights later as a group, we learned that the visit was a surprise to Dr. Sharan; that he, too, felt all the turmoil we did when he first visited her a few years ago, that the photo was organized before we could intervene by the Sarala and the Kumari’s mother, and most importantly, of the reality of inter-worldview dialogue. In learning about other traditions in their authentic existences, there will necessarily be moments like these where one puts one’s foot in their mouth, one feels confused, overwhelmed, conflicted, and desperately afraid to not mess up, to not offend, to not be yet another ignorant Westerner intruding on a sacred space foreign to anything they’ve known. We must not be afraid to understand that there are concepts and practices we do not understand and appreciate nonetheless, taking every effort along the way to not deride the existence of these practitioners and of their traditions with our presence and Western perspectives.

Witnessing snippets of the Shakta, Shaiva, Vaishnava, Sanatana, Kirat, Vajrayana, and Theravada Buddhist Dharmic worldviews during this whirlwind trip left me with both a sense of fulfillment and continuing curiosity. However, I’m hesitant to adore the pieces of these traditions I witnessed only momentarily. To adore requires a deep understanding and a commitment to the preservation of these traditions that an unskilled and clumsy infatuation can destroy. Fascination is often destructive: Orientalism, the legacy of colonialism, inaccurate media portrayals of the Kumari tradition, and the active effects of postcolonialism and Christian conversion efforts are all testaments to that. To approach other worldviews with deference, and delicacy, with a commitment to preserve authenticity, is just part of what I have taken away from this indescribably insightful journey to Kathmandu. 

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Reflection: Understanding Connection During Holi in Kathmandu

By Amelia Benjamin (SFS ’25)

Pictured left to right: Amelia Benjamin (SFS ’25) Nami Bolat (C’25), and Dhruvi Banerjee (C’25).

Before taking the course “Lived Pluralism: Lessons from Nepal,” the only thing I knew about Holi was that it was called the festival of colors. I imagined that people celebrated how colorful the world is. However, this was not my experience in Kathmandu. The colored powder was not the focus of the festival but rather a means of connecting with other people. 

Less than 48 hours after landing in Nepal, my class and I slowly walked through the city center of Kathmandu. We were unsure of what to expect from what would become one of the most immersive experiences of the whole trip. Almost immediately, we were covered in color. Everyone we passed reached out a friendly hand to swipe powder onto our cheeks. Huge crowds had come out with the sole purpose of sharing many small moments of connection with complete strangers. Powder piled up on our heads and coated our white t-shirts, creating a visible mark representing these moments of connection. We exchanged different colored powders as well as physical touch, eye contact, and wishes of “Happy Holi.” 

It was amazing to experience firsthand the traditions we had learned about in class and even better to feel so included and welcomed. Not only could we recognize themes from class, but we also gained a much deeper understanding of pluralism than would be possible in a classroom alone.

I reflected on whether any traditions familiar to me had connection as their primary focus. At first, I couldn’t think of any. Everything that came to mind seemed to be centered around something else: memory, worship, routine. But the more I thought, the more I realized that many traditions are in fact focused on reflection. For example, Thanksgiving is a time to exchange food and express gratitude for other people, and Christmas is often about giving gifts and spending quality time with loved ones. 

I remember Christmas 2020 when I wasn’t with my family at all but locked in Covid quarantine alone in Norway. Out of my window, I saw a group of people holding hands around a tree in the courtyard. Even in the dark and cold, they moved in a circle and sang Christmas songs. They were out together with the primary purpose of connecting, and I felt it too.

Few traditions that I am familiar with center connection as Holi does. (I’ve never seen all the streets of DC packed with people for a holiday like I saw in Kathmandu.) Holi felt incredibly special to me because the connections happened simultaneously among the entire community in a public and visible setting. However, it is clear that a desire to connect is not limited to any singular group of people. This desire is reflected in the traditions all people choose to participate in.

On the walk back to the bus after having celebrated Holi for over an hour, I saw a young boy with a water balloon in his hand. He saw me. I recognized the look in his eyes. I jogged ahead and tried to dodge, but he followed. He aimed and hit his target. Even though we didn’t share a language or interact for more than 30 seconds, we connected. 

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Welcoming the Georgetown Community to Shabbat

By Rabbi Daniel Schaefer, Interim Director for Jewish Life

Rabbi Daniel Schaefer leading Shabbat in Riggs Library. (Photo by Leslie E. Kossoff/LK Photos)

One of my favorite aspects of celebrating Shabbat at Georgetown is that we get to welcome guests every Friday night for services and dinner. Some students come to be with their Jewish friends, want to experience Shabbat for the first time, or need to write a reflection paper for their Problem of God class. Regardless of what brings them, they all add to the celebration of Shabbat and enable us to live out one of the most important values in Judaism, hachnasat orchim or being welcoming to guests. 

Tradition teaches that Abraham’s tent was open on all sides to be welcoming to visitors and we try live out that same sense of hospitality when guests join us in Makom. Of course, it also feels good to be welcomed with openness and hospitality.

For many in the Jewish community, one of the highlights of this year was being hosted by President DeGioia for Shabbat services in Riggs Library and dinner in Copley Formal Lounge. I loved leading Shabbat services in Riggs Library, one of the most beautiful spaces on campus. Praying and singing in Hebrew in that historic place felt momentous.

It was also a true enactment of the principle of hiddur mitzvah, or enhancing a mitzvah. While on it’s own, Shabbat is special and sacred, there are always ways to elevate the experience of it. This Shabbat brought together a large part of the Jewish community and students dressed up in suits and dresses, we were joined by honored guests from the faculty and administration, and our music was enhanced by guitar, violin, and drums. 

Georgetown President John J. DeGioia addresses attendees at the Shabbat dinner on Friday, March 17, 2023, in Copley Formal Lounge. (Photo by Leslie E. Kossoff/LK Photos

At dinner, President DeGioia (pictured above) and Rabbi Abraham Skorka, shared moving words on the importance of the Jewish community at Georgetown and the role of interreligious dialogue in creating connections across different communities. Leaders of the Jewish Student Association (JSA) introduced and led the blessings and we all shared a delicious kosher Shabbat dinner. 

It was truly a special experience of being welcomed and celebrated. As important as it is to create Jewish spaces on campus, it is perhaps more important to know that we are welcome to be fully and proudly Jewish in all spaces on campus. The hospitality of President DeGioia and his staff and the thought and hard work of our student leaders created a truly beautifully evening and a deeper sense of a Jewish home at Georgetown.

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