The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

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Q&A with Andrea Pinnavaia, campus minister

The Torch interviewed campus minister and St. John’s alumnus about St. Thomas More Church’s 10th anniversary. Pinnavaia discusses the atmosphere of the campus before and after construction finished.

The Torch: What was in place of the church before it was built?

Andrea Pinnavaia: Nothing. It was a parking lot. By the time I started at St. John’s as a freshman in Fall 2003, ground had been broken for the church the year before. It was fenced in but it was really just a construction site. Little did we know the magnificent building that was to come. It’s hard to imagine that space without St. Thomas More Church, without the townhouses, without Murray House now. Fr. Walsh and Fr. McCallen really knew what they were doing when they purchased Hillcrest Golf Course in 1936. I am sure that they, even, could never have imagined a church like St. Thomas More.

T: Where did students like you go worship?

AP: We attended Mass on Sunday nights in our campus chapel, Our Lady of Lourdes Chapel. It was located where the Vincentian Institute for Social Action is now, which is why that space in now appropriately named Lourdes Hall. It was a special space and there were so many wonderful moments celebrated there.

T: Did a Catholic university without a church seem empty?

AP: When I was freshman, Our Lady of Lourdes Chapel was the only Catholic chapel we had on campus. Even though St. Thomas More Church was opened to us in the Fall of my sophomore year, I can say that reflecting on my first year here, the Holy Spirit was no less present in our little community of faith in that chapel than it is now in St. Thomas More Church. However, after the moment I stepped into our church, I felt immediately at home in a different way. In my limited experience at Our Lady of Lourdes Chapel, I felt the only problems with the space were that it was too small and too hidden away. St. Thomas More is at the center of our campus in so many ways. As a student, I would always go out of my way to walk by St. Thomas More Church coming from Donovan Hall. Just seeing it every day brought me so much peace.

T: When did you first hear about the building of the church, and what was your initial reaction when seeing/stepping into it for the first time?

AP: Since ground was broken for the church a year before I started at St. John’s, I came here knowing that a free-standing church was coming to campus, but never could I have imagined this space. Every detail from the curve of the walls, the design of the altar, to the magnificent mosaics and stained glass windows reveals that the people who dreamed this place up and made it into a reality were not just visionaries but people of deep prayer who love God and the Catholic faith. My first reaction to seeing St. Thomas More Church was, like everyone who sees it for the first time, is absolute awe, but my second reaction was feeling that I was home and that this church was somehow built just for me, to nourish my faith. Every student who walks into St. Thomas More Church should know that this holy space was built and designed with them in mind and that it’s always open for them to make their home. I’ve been walking into this church for a decade and every time I am taken aback by its beauty.

T: Has the spirit of the campus changed since you’ve been a student here? If so, might it be because of the church?

AP: I think the spirit of the campus has changed. St. Thomas More Church is such a bold statement of our Catholic mission and heritage of faith. St. Thomas More greets every person that comes on to campus. I love that from even outside Gate 1, you can see the cupola peeking through the trees like a beacon. Immediately, it tells everyone who we are – we are proud to be a Catholic institution of higher learning.

One of the clearest ways I have seen the spirit of the campus change over the last decade is in sheer numbers – that every Sunday night, hundreds of students and members of the St. John’s community flock to St. Thomas More Church for Mass. I always tell prospective students and their parents at open house that if you want to know what kind of community we have at St. John’s, come to Sunday night Mass. You’ll see the [Holy] Spirit at work every single week.

Our campus church is a beautiful reminder of how much God loves us, wants us to be with Him, and wants us to serve one another. I think over the last 10 years we have seen that lived out in the number of students who stop in regularly for a few moments of quiet prayer, who receive the Eucharist daily, who seek the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and now, we have the gift of seeing the number of alumni who have returned to be married or have their children baptized in St. Thomas More Church. This place has grown roots in our students hearts.

T: How did it enhance the university’s Vincentian heritage?

AP: Especially through the mosaics in the narthex of the church, the story of St. Vincent de Paul and St. Louise de Marillac can be told so vividly. Not only does St. Vincent greet you when you walk in the doors, but the Vincentian story in the mosaics shows us how a sermon in the French countryside in 1617 sparked the founding of a Catholic college for immigrants and their children over 250 years later in New York City. It’s a visual reminder that we are part of the Vincentian story and St. Vincent’s mission to serve Christ in the poor and marginalized is our mission. One only needs to look at the number of students who participate in weekly service through Campus Ministry to see that our students have taken that mission to heart.

T:  When you look at students now, what do you think they find most endearing about the church?

AP: One of the things that I love about St. Thomas More Church is that everyone has their favorite part. I am so blessed to experience this place through their eyes. I think what everyone loves about this church is that it’s traditional yet modern. At the same time it feels like nothing you’ve ever seen before and yet also very much home.

T:  Why is the Catholic community at St. John’s particularly special to you, in that you spent time here as a student and now as a campus minister?

AP: St. John’s formed me into an adult in my faith. As a student, I was on my own for the first time, making decisions about my living out my faith without my family, but I always has incredible Campus Ministers to help me deepen my spirituality and challenge me to live out what I believe. Many of those campus ministers I am now blessed to call my colleagues and they continue to challenge me to be a better person of faith and grow closer to Christ. It’s our students, though, who have always been and continue to be the heart of the Catholic community at St. John’s. These men and women of deep faith exemplify all that our Church calls us to be. I am thoroughly blessed to now be one of those Campus Ministers who walk with these students on their journey of faith. That I get to do this work every day in sacred space is just another way that St. Thomas More Church continues to give to me, more than I could ever give back to it.

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Kyle Fitzgerald, Managing Editor
Managing Editor: Kyle is a senior Sports Management major who intends to create the paper to be a source of knowledge that students can rely on as an outlet that celebrates the University's many characteristics.
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