The $10 million project that will be the cornerstone of an ambitious campus overhaul began on Oct. 1 as St. John’s finally celebrated the groundbreaking of St. Thomas More Church, in the parking lot next to the Vincentian Center.
“From its earliest days in 1870 the Vincetians of St. John’s University have believed that a place of worship is central to, essential and necessary for, a college education,” the Rev Donald J. Harrington, C.M. said during the ceremony.
Funding for the church was provided by a donation from Alumni John Brennan and his wife Anita.
The ceremony began inside of the Our Lady of Lourdes Chapel with speakers, prayers and songs of praise. An across campus procession was led by the Brennan family, Fr. Harrington and Bishop Thomas Daily.
“What we have started will last longer than us. It will help to shape the lives and faith of those that come after us,” the bishop said.
The cross that was presented at the ground breaking was created by carpenter Peter Sitro. Fr. Jack McKenna and student leaders Liz Salogub and Liz Corr carried the wooden cross to the site of the church’s future altar.
“It was amazing to be asked to carry the cross from the old chapel to the new church. It was quite a privilege and a very big honor,” Corr said.
After the cross was placed, the ground was ceremoniously broken with the same shovel that has been used to mark the start of construction for virtually all campus projects since 1870.
Following the ground breaking Bishop Daily, with the help of Fr. Harrington, blessed the future perimeter of the church with holy water.
The St. John’s community has expressed their gratitude and anticipation for the final arrival of the free-standing church, which according to Fr. Harrington has been considered the “crown jewel” of the University’s Master Plan since 1950.
“We thank [the Brennans] for your showing of faith and, of course, your generosity.” Fr Harrington said.
After long remaining anonymous, Brennans were very pleased that the process was finally beginning. John Brennan said he made the donation in order to “give students a place to embrace their relationship with God.
“I hope that the church will be a symbol and a source of strength to all St. John’s students during their formative years,” he added.
The details for the actual donation and payment processes will remain confidential.
Official construction should begin this semester and should be completed by spring 2004, according to Jody Fisher, director of Media Relations.
Once the church is completed, Our Lady of Lourdes Chapel will no longer be used.
“The future [of the Chapel] is yet to be determined. We always try to use all the possible space on campus,” Fisher said.
He added it is likely that the space could be turned into either classrooms or a computer lab. However, it will remain in use until the church is done.
Inside the chapel, people spoke of how Our Lady of Lourdes has enlightened their life and how it will be missed. “If the walls of this chapel could talk they would echo the gratefulness I have in my heart,” Joseph Daly, one attendee, said.
However, there is still a sense of excitement over the new church. “I’ve seen preliminary sketches and it looks really good. Having a church will be a totally different feel on campus,” senior Jim Dandeneau said. “[Having a chapel] is nice but a chapel’s a chapel, and a church is a church. I think it’s about time we have a church.”
During the weekend of Sept. 27 the entire parking lot adjacent to the Vincentian Center was completely blocked off to prepare the area for the ground breaking ceremony.
According to Fisher, the parking lot will remain open, aside from the six spots that have been blessed and blocked off, until construction commences.