Watson’s ESCAPE Program at Georgetown Gets New Sports Focus


SEATTLE, WA. – Georgetown University’s ESCAPE program, the 1991 brainchild of now-Sacred Story Institute President Father William M. Watson, S.J., received a major upgrade this past March from long-time ESCAPE supporters and Georgetown donors, Arthur and Nancy Calcagnini of New York.

In their new $10 million gift to Georgetown, $2.5 million will go to the university’s Office of Mission and Ministry for the university’s athletes to attend special summer versions of the ESCAPE program. ESCAPE is an inter-faith Ignatian retreat that Watson founded to introduce first-year students to spiritual discernment. The ESCAPE is now held at the beautiful Calcagnini Contemplative Center. Both the retreat center and the ESCAPE program were the vision of Fr. Watson. The Calcagninis provided financial resources to completely realize the vision.

The Calcagninis, in 1991, made a gift to fully endow ESCAPE retreats for first-year Georgetown students and a substantial gift in 2011 to build the Calcagnini Contemplative Center on a scenic 55-acre mountain top, overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains. But ESCAPE at the beautiful retreat center was never possible to all the students in Georgetown’s sports programs due to athletes’ training and event schedules.

“I will always be thankful that Arthur and Nancy were willing to take a chance on me and this idea,” Watson said. “ESCAPE has grown into one of Georgetown’s most-loved and meaningful traditions.”

The center hosts retreats for Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Orthodox Christian, and interfaith students as well as for those just learning about faith. The focus for these retreats is built on the Jesuit practice of reflection, which benefits all students.

“The Calcagnini Center is another home for the Georgetown community, a place to take a break for prayer, reflection, and discernment,” notes Rev. Mark Bosco, S.J., Georgetown’s vice president of Mission & Ministry.

Inspired by the post-Vatican II commitment to building understanding between Catholics and people of other faiths, Arthur Calcagnini spent a significant part of his time as regents chair working to promote diversity in Georgetown’s retreat and campus ministry programs.

University faculty and staff also participate in retreats at the Calcagnini Center, which features an award-winning Catholic chapel, a tree-lined green, community and dining halls, and 28 cabins that house up to 78 students.

The American Institute of Architects notes that the center’s designs and materials are “calming” and “bring the outdoors in.”

“Everyone has ups and downs in life,” explains Arthur Calcagnini. “There are periods when the only way you can get through it is to stop and listen. Our retreat center is right on the Appalachian Trail, so for taking walks and being with nature and with God, there is nothing better.”

More than 8,000 students have participated in the ESCAPE program since its creation in 1991, and many of those students have met the Calcagninis. Arthur Calcagnini attends a retreat almost every year and frequently serves as the alumni speaker, sharing his personal reflections with the first-year and transfer students who are just beginning their journeys at the university.

The gift also creates a full-time chaplaincy for Georgetown Athletics to support nearly 600 student-athletes.

“Arthur and Nancy’s latest gift is a treasure that will keep on giving for years to come,” Bosco said. “Their continued generosity makes possible much of our programming, and I appreciate the Calcagninis’ visionary leadership with this fund that will allow us to meet top priorities and better serve all our students.”

About Sacred Story Institute: Located in Seattle, Sacred Story Institute (SSI) is dedicated to revitalizing the classic 15-minute Ignatian Examination of Conscience. Our mission for this powerful daily spiritual discipline is to help adults, teens and youth encounter Christ, the Divine Physician, who heals us in body, mind and spirit, transforming our lives into a Sacred Story.

About Fr. William M. Watson, SJ: Fr. William Watson, S.J., D. Min., has spent over 30 years developing Ignatian programs and retreats He has collaborated extensively with Fr. Robert Spitzer in the last 15 years on Ignatian retreats for corporate CEO’s. In the Spring of 2011 he launched a non-profit institute to bring Ignatian Spirituality to Catholics of all ages and walks of life. The Sacred Story Institute is promoting third millennium evangelization for the Society of Jesus and the Church by using the time-tested Examination of Conscience of St. Ignatius.