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.
The Pennsylvania grand jury report on child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church was released a week before my son Eli’s Baptism was scheduled to take place at the 10 am Mass in the Saint Thomas More Chapel, and in the days that followed, I thought a lot about the question that begins the baptismal rite: “What do you ask of the Church?” The answer is simple: “Baptism.” But seven years ago, when my husband and I brought our daughter Ruth to be baptized, I somehow missed that fact, and answered Father Bob as if he had asked me an actual, open-ended question. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it was heartfelt—and also much longer than it was supposed to be. I asked for grace and challenge and encouragement and consolation for my child throughout her life; I asked for a rich and resilient faith tradition; I asked for a community that would recognize and value my child’s unique gifts and help her to recognize and value them, too, a community that would teach her to discern right from wrong and to act humbly and courageously in response, a community that would be the embodied presence of Christ in her life and that would draw her ever closer to him. Like I said, it was long. (Father Bob, bless his heart, didn’t bat an eye.)
It took many walks with Colleen and Mike Stankewich to convince Christian and me to visit Saint Thomas More in the summer of 2001. At the time, our son, Owen had just turned five and our daughter, Clare, was about 6 months old. Frankly, after visits to churches out of state and some of the parishes in the community, our expectations were low.
STM Fast Facts
1930s – 1940s
- October 9, 1938: The Solemn Blessing of the Chapel takes place.
- The Solemn Blessing of the Chapel was originally set for September 26, 1938. It was postponed due to The Great New England Hurricane.
- Designed by Douglas Orr '19 B.F.A. '27 M.F.A., the Chapel was created to be both a focal point of Catholic identity on campus as well as a welcoming space for Protestants.
- Father Riggs '10 signs the Yale Religious Ministries Faith Statement.
- Catholic students are 11.77% of the Yale student body.