A Mass in Gaston Hall at Georgetown
Category: Spirit of Georgetown

Title: 4 Hoyas’ Zigzag Journey of Living the Spirit of Georgetown

Date Published: April 15, 2022

The motto captures the why of the Jesuit mission — in particular, the Jesuit’s commitment to majorem, to the “greater” that informs the lifelong decision-making processes needed to discern what choices will reveal more of God’s presence and the common good in the world. 

“AMDG is an invitation to reframe what we’re really working toward,” says Fr. Danny Gustafson, S.J. (C’11), an alumnus who was recently ordained as a Jesuit priest. “AMDG asks us on whose behalf am I working? For God? For marginalized brothers and sisters? Or is it for myself? My own aspirations?”

For the final story in our Spirit of Georgetown series, we interviewed students and alumni on how AMDG shaped and molded them in unexpected ways. For some, this meant lightning bolt moments on a park bench or jail cell that spun their lives in new directions. For others, this meant a gradual unfolding of their life path and purpose, of living out their talents and passions for the common good. 

For Gustafson, AMDG is not just a Jesuit pursuit — nor does it have to be grand or heroic.

“A small concrete action of being kind to a stranger you meet. Calling someone who’s having a tough time. Lending a supporting hand. All of that brings God greater glory. Everyone has a chance to do it in daily life.”

Meet the Hoyas who are living out small and big moments of AMDG.

A Spiritual Jolt in a Jail Cell

George Chochos (G’25)
George Chochos (G’25) is a Patrick Healy Graduate Fellow who is pursuing a Ph.D. in theological and religious studies at Georgetown.

In 1999, George Chochos (G’25) was sitting in an empty holding cell in Rockland County’s jail. He was in a drug-induced psychosis, his mind foggy and confused.

There were no windows in the cell. No toilet paper. But someone had left a small booklet.  

Chochos placed the book in the pocket of his orange jumpsuit and spent the next few days reading the Christian devotional in his jail cell. One day, something shifted. 

“I called on the name of Jesus, and my mind cleared up like that — like I came out of a dark tunnel or fog,” he says. “All of a sudden, I had two desires: I wanted to get an education, and I wanted to know who this Jesus was who had radically transformed my life.” 

Chochos spent the next 11 and a half years in prison pursuing these two tracks. In 2011, he walked out of New York’s Sing Sing Correctional Facility with an associate’s and bachelor’s degree from Bard College and a master’s in urban ministry from New York Theology Seminary. Ever since, he has dedicated his life to expanding higher education and theological opportunities for the incarcerated.

“I want to help inspire people caught up in the system that you can change your life.”

—George Chochos (G’25)

“I was haunted by the fact that I left people in prison with greater drive and determination who didn’t have access to the opportunities I had,” he says. “I want to help inspire people caught up in the system that you can change your life.”

Since his release, Chochos became licensed as a Baptist minister; earned two master’s degrees from the Yale Divinity School; managed Georgetown’s Pivot Program, which provides formerly incarcerated individuals with leadership and professional development opportunities; and successfully lobbied and gained bipartisan support for Federal Pell Grants for incarcerated students.

He’s now a senior program associate at the Vera Institute of Justice, where he helps expand college-in-prison programming throughout the country, and is about to become ordained in the United Methodist Church. He’s also pursuing his Ph.D. at Georgetown as a Patrick Healy Graduate Fellow, researching theological insights that shed light on access to higher education in the criminal justice system.

Twenty-three years after that jolt in his jail cell, Chochos’ mission remains clear:

“The work I do, and sharing what God has done in my life, it’s always for the glory of God,” he says. “As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:31, do all to the glory of God.”

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Small But Mighty Advocacy in an Asylum ClinicReice Robinson (M’23)

During her first year in Georgetown’s School of Medicine, Reice Robinson (M’23) was looking for a break from the books and a way to get involved in the community. She found it in the university’s student-run asylum clinic.

The clinic, run by the student chapter of Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) at Georgetown School of Medicine, offers medical and social services to refugees and asylum seekers in Washington, DC. 

As a student volunteer, Robinson began documenting physicians’ medical evaluations of asylum seekers, which assessed whether they had endured any bodily harm that could be used as evidence in their case for asylum. She would then write the first draft of a medical affidavit for use in immigration court.

“If any proof of torture or persecution is found on their body, it takes their chances of getting granted asylum from 20% to 80%,” she says. “It’s difficult and extremely heavy and emotional. But once you’ve created this document, it will drastically increase their chances for having safety in the U.S. And that’s profoundly meaningful to know. It’s such an important role for students to do.”

Robinson was hooked. The experience prompted a desire to scale advocacy education and opportunities to more medical students.

Bite-Sized Advocacy

She joined the PHR board at Georgetown and planned trainings for physicians to learn how to perform forensic evaluations of asylum seekers. She then joined the national PHR student advisory board, where she was recently appointed co-director. Robinson now conducts research on how medical schools can further expand advocacy education beyond those focused on a health equity and justice track and engage all medical students. 

“These issues are too big, too deep not to do something. I want to take people from that feeling that something is not right to asking themselves, what can I do about it?”

—Reice Robinson (M’23)

“I realized if I do one affidavit, and 20 people at my school do 20 more, that’s 20 asylum seekers who could have their lives completely changed,” she says. “These issues are too big, too deep not to do something. I want to take people from that feeling that something is not right to asking themselves, what can I do about it?”

Through PHR, Robinson is offering letter writing lunches, or skills-based educational sessions, for medical students nationally to engage students who have not previously been interested in advocacy work. Next, she’ll apply to residency and will pursue internal medicine. For Robinson, her core values are reflected in cura personalis, or care for the whole person, and she plans to continue to incorporate health advocacy work into her career. 

“You don’t have to dedicate your whole life to being a social advocate 24/7,” she says. “I want people to realize that you can do it on your lunch break and make a big difference in the world.”

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Campaigning for Jesus

Danny Gustafson (C'11) at his ordination in June 2021.
Danny Gustafson (C’11), far right, at his ordination as a Jesuit in June 2021.

In fall 2008, Danny Gustafson, S.J. (C’11), was in hot pursuit of a political career.

As a sophomore, he interned during the week for a former U.S. representative from South Dakota, his home state. He was president of Georgetown’s College Democrats and volunteered for the 2008 Barack Obama presidential campaign, traveling to Ohio and Virginia on weekends. He hobnobbed with members of Congress at campaign events and on campus. His political career was in full throttle.

But one day that fall, Gustafson sat on a bench near Red Square and had a crushing realization: “Politics wasn’t satisfying for me,” he says. “Whatever I thought or expected checking all these boxes should do, it just didn’t. And it was crushing.”

His next class was with Christopher Steck, S.J., the Jesuit-in-residence in Gustafson’s former New South dorm. He had been attending Fr. Steck’s weekly masses in his apartment, followed by brownies and theological discussions and Jack the Bulldog meet-and-greets (Steck was his former handler). He had become intrigued by the Jesuits and their spirituality.

Gustafson remembers looking up in class that day and considering joining the Jesuits for the first time.

“The Jesuits made explicit the connections I thought I had been seeing between current events and what Jesus is saying, doing and teaching in the gospels,” he says. “And for an ambitious, resume-building 19-year-old, to see these talented and accomplished guys focus on Jesus was fascinating.”

Leaning Into Politics and Religion

Danny Gustafson (C'11) pictured in front of Healy Hall.
Danny Gustafson (C’11) pictured with fellow alumni at his five-year college reunion.

Gustafson continued to pursue politics for the next two years, interning on Capitol Hill and for a political consulting firm. But he couldn’t shake the Jesuit question. Slowly, through involvement in campus ministry and Georgetown’s “Barbistes,” an informal group for students discerning the Jesuit order, the answer became clearer. 

“As the religious and political tracks were advancing, what felt good in my heart was always such an easy question to answer,” he says. “My boss [in Congress] and I didn’t agree on every issue. But with discerning the Jesuits, I could get excited about Jesus on all issues. I felt great about campaigning for him.”

An Unexpected Lesson on AMDG

Gustafson entered the Jesuits on August 20, 2011. He spent the next two years in the novitiate, the initial stage of Jesuit training, serving as a grade school tutor and hospital chaplain in New York; an orphanage volunteer in Bolivia; a religion teacher and campus minister in Philadelphia; and, among other roles, as a nurse’s aide at a palliative care hospital in the Bronx — an experience, he says, he initially dreaded but taught him the essence of caring for others.

“I think when we can just give care to each other, that brings God glory.”

—Danny Gustafson (C’11)

“Seeing doctors, nurses, technicians, chaplains and therapists’ dedication to the mission of the dignified care of people who are dying — which is not glamorous — I think brings God greater glory. No question. Full stop,” he says. “For me now, whether it’s a person in a hospital or a person sitting in Mass, a lot of it is, this person needs care. Can I give them care? Can I be kind? I think when we can just give care to each other, that brings God glory.”

Gustafson was ordained in June 2021. He is now the parochial vicar at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola in New York City.

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An Alumna’s Journey to Chaplaincy

Bridget Power (C'12)
Bridget Power is the Catholic chaplain at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts.

After graduating from Harvard Divinity School, Bridget Power (C’12) served as a hospital chaplain during the height of COVID-19.

She Zoomed with patients’ families on her iPad when they weren’t allowed to visit. She triaged families’ needs, helping them process tough decisions or grieve. She spent time alone with isolated patients. She held their hands, talked to them, prayed for them. 

“Their loved ones couldn’t visit them, so I did everything I could to try to bridge that gap with their families. We didn’t want people to be alone, especially when they were dying,” she says. “When the pandemic started, I felt a clearer sense of purpose. This was where I needed to be.” 

For Power, her vocation as a chaplain was not always clear — rather, it was a gradual unfolding, with roots on the Hilltop.

Uncovering a Career Path in Alaska

Bridget Power (C'12) pictured in a field in Alaska.
Power pictured in Bethel, Alaska in 2013 while she was serving in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.

Power was active at Georgetown, rowing her first year, becoming an EMT for the Georgetown Emergency Response Medical Service (GERMS), a student-run ambulance service, in her second. She was a senator in student government and sung in a choir at one of Dahlgren Chapel’s Sunday night Catholic masses. She built strong relationships with professors, Jesuits, staff and chaplains on campus, who continue to serve as mentors today. Upon graduating, she was unsure of her career path but certain that she wanted to continue building relationships like those on the Hilltop.

She joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps for two years and was sent to Portland, Oregon, and Bethel, Alaska, before working at a tech startup in Toronto, Canada. While in Toronto, she won a grant to make a documentary about Yup’ik Catholic women who were leading their faith communities in Southwestern Alaska in the absence of priests, a phenomenon she had encountered while living there. She was fascinated by the project and the questions it sparked about Catholicism. 

“I came home and thought, how can I do more of this? How can I have more of these conversations?” she says.

A Non-Linear Path

She enrolled in the Master of Divinity program at Harvard Divinity School, excited to study in a multi-religious setting where she could continue to engage with her own Catholic faith. Power has since served as a chaplain at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute; Brigham and Women’s Hospital; Tufts Medical Center; and now, is the Catholic chaplain at Williams College — a role she was drawn to after serving as a dorm parent for first year students at Harvard College for three years and applying similar chaplaincy skills.

“My path is not linear, but in each moment, I have tried to ask myself, how am I being called to serve?”

—Bridget Power (C’12)

At Williams, Power says she strives to help students discover their values, purpose, sense of self and vocation, just like the professors, Jesuits, staff and chaplains at Georgetown helped her do.

“My path is not linear, but in each moment, I have tried to ask myself, how am I being called to serve?” says Power. “As a college chaplain, I try to care for the whole person. I experienced that type of care as an undergrad at Georgetown, and I hope that I can do the same for students at Williams College.”  

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