Torch Photo Editor/Cheyanne Gonzales
A crowd of students enters St. Thomas More Church for the first time. Their eyes are fixated on the walls surrounding them. The colors of the mosaic tiles tell the story of the Vincentian heritage mingling with the history of St. John’s.
They are drawn into the university’s story and now find themselves living in it.
University Chaplain Fr. John Kettleberger had that same experience in his first encounter with the church.
“The very first time I walked in, I was impressed by the narthex, first by the actual design of it; how the walls kind of come together,” he said. “But it’s that idea of almost like arms outstretched and welcoming.”
Now, eight years after his initial meeting with St. Thomas More Church, Fr. Kettleberger, as well as past alumni and current undergraduates as well the surrounding community, celebrate and reflect on the church’s 10th anniversary.
Patrick Gordon, 2013 St. John’s alumnus and current campus minister for Music Ministry and Faith Formation, discussed how St. Thomas More Church became a place of refuge and solitude during his time as an undergraduate.
“As a student the church was a place where I could always go to find quiet and take the time out of the busyness of my student schedule and find time to just be with God,” he said. “It’s nice to have a place on campus where you can just be.”
The church is not just a place where those of Catholic faith can gather but also a place where anyone – regardless of religious tradition – can just sit in that space for a moment of quiet.
“No matter the time of day you can always find students in there,” Fr. Kettleberger said. “They’re not all Catholic. They just come because it’s a place of quiet, it’s a place of prayer, a place [to] kind-of get their head screwed on straight.”
Yet in that quietness lays a spirit of buzzing activity that makes thr Church so unique. Attend a 5:30 p.m. Mass on a Sunday and the number of students is staggering.
That is exactly what the Brennan family, who funded the Church in honor of their son who passed away in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, hoped for when this place was constructed.
“What would an 18-24 year old need to see in order to experience God?” director of liturgy and faith formation Dennis Gallagher said. “Not many churches are designed for just young adults. I think the Brennans, having their own children, were very cognizant of that.”
Fr. Kettleberger echoed Gallagher’s sentiments.
“[The Brennan’s] always ask me about what happens in the church, and so they are just thrilled when they hear stories about students coming to Mass, all those kinds of things. In a sense they don’t see this as a static place where it’s just like setting up a statue,” he said. “They see it more as an active place.”
Fr. Kettleberger noted that the activity inside the church allowed it to be a place of fluidity, a place in constant motion that ultimately has become a living object itself.
Yet it is the students who provide that sense of liveliness through their day-to-day interactions in it.
“It always strikes me that here are 400 students who are not being forced to be here, but want to be here,” Fr. Kettleberger said.
St. Thomas More Church is a place of faith, but it would amount to nothing if not for the students who interact and share their stories in it.
But, above all, it is a welcoming place that invites everyone to find a sense of peace. And it patiently sits outside the Great Lawn, providing solace for those who might need to borrow its time for five minutes.
“It’s that quiet, peaceful place that people need from time to time,” Gallagher said.