Six years after the immortal 1959 Rodgers & Hammerstein musical The Sound of Music made its debut, I was accepted into a doctoral program at Yale to study music history. It was 1965. As fate would have it, Rosmarie Trapp, the first-born daughter of Captain Georg von Trapp and Maria Augusta, came to Yale soon thereafter to pursue a nursing certification at Yale New Haven Hospital. Being a Catholic, she began to frequent the Catholic Chapel at Yale, More House, where I was engaged as a guitarist for the folk Masses.
More than 30 years ago, a legendary priest named Father Eugene Walsh taught at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore and at Theological College at Catholic University. “Geno”, as he was affectionately known, had a unique ability to express some of the lofty and mysterious teachings of our faith in succinct and memorable ways. A particula has always remained vivid and meaningful for me was this. Father Walsh said, “Jesus Christ promised those who followed him two things: Your life is going to have meaning and you are going to live forever. If you get a better offer, take it.”
The Saint Thomas More community was a pivotal Christian environment for me and so many others during my four years at Yale college, which began in the fall of 1971. Father Richard Russell was the chaplain during that time, and he was very hospitable to anyone who arrived at the chapel. One evening he invited a group of us to his kitchen to show us how to make spaghetti a la carbonara, a recipe he acquired while studying theology in Rome. Another evening, we had Mass in his living room during which the farewell discourses (Chapter 17) were read from John's gospel. We experienced genuine Christian fellowship and joy, the beauty of faith, the richness of scripture and Catholic spirituality. It was like walking for the first time into a fragrant garden which somehow many of us had never noticed before. Father Russell offered wise advice for those of us who had suddenly become fervent Catholics: find ways to connect with people at Yale in their everyday lives, find common ground in conversation, and strive to be relatable so that we might share our personal faith experience without alienating people. Advice that has endured.