Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

We find ourselves in a period of great uncertainty about the significance of suffering and death in our society, while, at the same time, we are offered a constant stream of diversions and distractions. There is a need to focus anew on that towards which all human life moves. Reflecting on death and mourning in the classical, Jewish, and Christian traditions, participants in this retreat will have the opportunity to consider deeper questions about these universal experiences. Through dialogue undertaken in a common quest for wisdom and facilitated by tutors from Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts, participants will discuss literary, philosophical, and theological works that offer fundamental perspectives on both first and last things.  

Tuition: $600 per participant

Tuition covers reading materials, the retreat venue, instructor travel and stipends, and two receptions and dinners. Please note that tuition does not cover travel, lodging, or breakfast and lunch on Saturday. Companion tickets are available for $100 for participant companions who would like to attend the receptions and dinners but not the Saturday seminars. 

A limited number of scholarships are available for clergy, graduate students, and classical educators. For more information, email Carter Skeel at

Dress Code: Business casual attire is required by the Penn Club. A jacket and tie for men and a comparable level of formality for women are preferred for Friday and Saturday evenings. 

Retreat Cancellation Policy: For a full tuition refund, please cancel at least three weeks before the event date. We reserve the right to substitute speakers, change venues, cancel seminars, or cancel part of or the entire event, due to circumstances beyond our control. In such cases, our liability is limited to a prompt refund of the registration fee, on a pro-rata basis, for the affected days.


All retreat events will be held at the Penn Club of New York.

Friday, August 19

6:00 pm                             Cocktail Reception

7:00 pm                             Dinner & Lecture

The lecture will be given by Michael J. Lewis, Faison-Pierson-Stoddard Professor of Art History at Williams College, on representations of death and mourning in art.

Saturday, August 20

9:00 am – 10:15 am             Seminar I: Grief, Mourning & Memory                                              

  • Homer, The Iliad Book XXIV

10:30 am – 11:45 am            Seminar II: Making Sense of Death  

  • Josef Pieper, Death and Immortality, Chapter 3                             
  • Seneca, Selected Letters, Letter 82                              
  • The Martyrdom of Polycarp, pages 90-101  

12 pm Lunch (not provided)

2 pm – 3:15 pm                   Seminar III: Fear and Courage in the Face of Death                                  

  • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

3:30 pm – 4:45 pm            Seminar IV: Life Beyond Death

  • C. S. Lewis, The Eternal Weight of Glory  
  • Joseph Soloveitchik, A Tribute to the Rebbitzen of Talne                                                                            

6:00 pm                              Cocktail Reception

7:00 pm                              Dinner & Panel Discussion