For Patrick Gaul, a member of the class of 2020 at Georgetown Preparatory School in North Bethesda, Maryland, his education at the Jesuit high school included a grounding in Ignatian spirituality, a bevy of Advanced Placement classes, and the bonds of friendship he formed competing in lacrosse and basketball there.

But for Gaul, his Catholic education there and earlier while attending the Woods Academy in Bethesda also offered him important lessons in empathy for the poor.

In a recent interview, Gaul noted that when he was in the eighth grade at the Woods Academy – an independent Catholic school – one of his teachers, Chris Maloney, who now teaches at St. John’s College High School in Washington, D.C., had students experience a homeless simulation, spending the night sleeping outside in the school courtyard.

“It was a cold, rainy night,” Gaul said. “It was a moment of true empathy for me. I’ve had a comfortable upbringing, and that night was uncomfortable.”

And during his years at Georgetown Prep, Gaul said “that empathy stuck with me through high school.”

This past fall, he past fall he helped organize a similar homeless simulation at Prep, working with the school’s campus ministry department and in coordination with the McKenna Center, an outreach program for the homeless located next to Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C. That center is named for the late Jesuit Father Horace McKenna, who helped found the So Others Might Eat soup kitchen and was known for his outreach to the city’s poor.

The goal, Gaul said, was to bring a similar experience to the Georgetown Prep community. Several faculty members joined five of the school’s students as they spent the night in the yard outside the chapel there. They started with prayer, read excerpts from a book about Father McKenna’s life and service, and then they slept on pieces of cardboard and nylon tarp placed on the field, to simulate what homeless people endure.

“That was tough. It was also a cold night,” said Gaul. “You don’t realize how cold 50 degrees is until you sleep out in it. I didn’t sleep much that night.”

Gaul hopes that experience translates into empathy and action, giving the participants greater understanding of what homeless people go through, and spurring them to help the poor.

“I think the greatest takeaway (of that experience) is there are people living around and among us who have so little,” he said.

The Georgetown Prep senior said the Jesuit education and spirituality “manifests itself in everyday experiences at Prep,” and also through service and retreat opportunities there. Loyola Press in its website on Ignatian spirituality describes it as “a spirituality for everyday life. It insists that God is present in our world and active in our lives. It is a pathway to deeper prayer, good decisions guided by keen discernment, and an active life of service to others.”

This past summer, Gaul joined other Prep students in a summer service trip to El Paso, Texas, where they met Central American immigrants seeking asylum in the United States. The students also spoke with immigration lawyers and Border Patrol agents, which he said gave them a comprehensive look at the issue.

“The issue of immigration is so complex,” he said, noting that the experience made him reflect on questions like, “How do we protect our border, but how do we as a Jesuit and Catholic community show compassion to those people who have so little?”

Another formative experience for Gaul was the Kairos retreat that he took during his junior year, which he described as an opportunity “to look at yourself, where you are in your spiritual journey” and also a chance to get to know classmates better.

Kairos comes from an ancient Greek word meaning a critical moment or time for action, and in a religious sense, the word reflects a spiritual opportunity to deepen one’s relationship with God.

“The objective is to get away from the stresses of life, to get away and think about God for a couple of days,” Gaul said, adding that the retreat was so fulfilling and eye-opening for him during his junior year, that he came back and helped lead that retreat for students this past year as a senior.

“I just felt lucky to be able to give that back, because it meant so much to me,” he said.

John Krambuhl, director of mission and ministry at Georgetown Prep, commended Gaul’s leadership in the Kairos retreat program and his work in organizing the homeless simulation there that helped build greater empathy for the poor. 

“Patrick was a tremendous peer Catholic leader throughout his time at Georgetown Prep, growing as a man of faith and man for others and inspiring his classmates to develop their relationship with God,” he said.

Gaul, 18, is the son of John and Marybeth Gaul, and he has a younger brother Daniel who will be attending Georgetown Prep next year. The family attends Our Lady of Mercy Parish in Potomac.

This fall, Gaul will be attending Williams College in Massachusetts, and is undecided on his major. He praised how Georgetown Prep made the transition this spring to online learning when school campuses had to close following government restrictions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“Prep has done an awesome job with virtual learning. We have classes every day. I’m still able to see the teachers and students and keep in touch with friends,” he said.

Gaul noted how Prep has been following the same daily schedule of classes using ZOOM, and he has still been able to have “very lively, fun, educational conversations with my teachers.”

This spring, Gaul is taking AP classes in economics, calculus, literature, U.S. government and comparative politics, and Latin, along with a class in Ignatian spirituality. And in his AP Latin class, he said he has heard plenty of jokes about Caesar conquering the Gauls.

During his time at Prep, Gaul played basketball and lacrosse all four years, and football during his freshman and sophomore years. He said the school community takes pride in that “no one goes home at 3 p.m.,” that students remain there participating in extracurricular activities together.

“Classes at Prep become so tight-knit and so close, because we’re so close outside the classroom,” Gaul said. “We’re teammates, we’re classmates, we’re in clubs together. It’s such a tight-knit community and brotherhood that builds over four years… The biggest thing I’ll take away from Prep is the amazing friendships I’ve made.”

And while Georgetown Prep has made a mark on Gaul’s life, he has left his mark at the school.

Jesuit Father James Van Dyke, Georgetown Prep's president, said, “One of the greatest joys of teaching is seeing your students not only learn the lessons but put them into practice. Patrick Gaul has grasped the essence of what it means to be a man for and with others in very practical ways. It is how he conducts himself on campus, in class, on the athletic field, and in service to the less fortunate. We look forward to seeing where and how he will take this great ideal of Jesuit and Catholic teaching into the future.”