Campus faith community sounds off on chapel change

Most of St. Thomas University’s faith community has accepted the relocation of its chapel, but bitterness remains about the administration’s lack of consultation.

Adam Blanchard, a second year religious studies and Catholic studies major, created a Change.org petition asking STU administration to reconsider the move on Thursday. In one day, it gathered nearly 200 signatures in support.

“Even though the decision has been made and many in the community have accepted it and are sort of grieving the loss of the chapel, I think it’s a good way to say, ‘for the record, this is what the students think,’” said Blanchard.

The announcement was formally made to the faith community after mass on Sunday, Jan. 4, though reports of the change were leaked to local media last Dec. 26.

“Unfortunately we had to hear about this through a rumor,” Blanchard said. “The students who are affected by this decision and members of the faith community were not consulted.”

Members of the campus faith community expressed concern that the new location in Holy Cross House, currently a banquet hall, is too dark and uninviting.

Marjorie Aitken has found peace in the current chapel in George Martin Hall since she began going to mass there almost 50 years ago.

(Andrea Bárcenas/AQ)
(Andrea Bárcenas/AQ)

She designed the stained glass window depicting the Virgin Mary, one of two stained glass works of art that help foster the bright and open nature of the chapel.

“I feel [the windows] belong to the university, and the university will make a decision on where to put them. But as the artist who made one of them, I would like it to remain where it is,” Aitken said, adding that around noon, “the sun shines through and the whole place really sparkles.”

Dr. Gillian Thompson, a UNB professor emeritus, argued for just downsizing the chapel in GMH with St. Thomas president Dawn Russell two days after Russell dropped in after mass to deliver the news of the relocation.

“The argument is that the changes are being made for students… but if they weren’t involved with the making of the decision then I think its time we find out if they really are for this,” said Thompson.

Thompson has reconciled to the decision as well. She believes cooperation is key to making sure the new chapel offers the same experience as the old.

“I have a rather delicate role in all of this,” said the STU parishioner of over 40 years. “Because I think it’s a done deal, it doesn’t matter if I like it or not.”

Thompson sees her role is helping her friends make the transition to the new chapel.

“The reality is that we’re going to move, and I want that to be as easy for people as possible.”

STU communications director Jeffrey Carleton said the school is beginning to plan the project ,which is expected to be finished by summer.

“It’s always a little more complicated and a little more involved than you first imagine, but at the same time the work is underway,” he said.

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  • Athena Cook

    The following petition was initiated by STU students in response to the recent announcement to relocate the STU chapel. The petition has 217 signatures so far.

    Petitioning President and Vice Chancellor Dawn Russell and Chancellor Bishop Robert Harris

    Do not move our Chapel! on Change.Org
    The St. Thomas University administration under President Dawn Russell has chosen to remove and relocate the St. Thomas Aquinas Chapel from its current location in George Martin Hall to Holy Cross House. This move marks another decision made without the input from students.

    Now our sacred space is being converted into a common area to suit the changes being applied to the cafeteria by Aramark. We asked if we could share the new space as a multi-faith chapel, but we were told that we cannot even use the space for two hours on Sundays.

    This choice to restrict the chapel to a confined space at the edge of campus does not benefit anyone. Further, this decision was made without any consultation with the student body, community parishioners, or especially Campus Ministry.

    It is no coincidence that our consecrated chapel has stood firm for over fifty years. It has a vibrant community consisting of alumni, students, and other faithful parishioners.

    I implore all UNB & STUdents, faculty, and alumni: see the worth of maintaining and protecting the spiritual heart of campus. The chapel acts as a welcoming and peaceful sanctuary for persons of all faith expressions and walks of life.

    In the end, the St. Thomas Chapel is our heart and we will tenderly protect it.

    Most popular comments on the website Change.Org :

    As a person of faith I value sacred space. As a member of the STU community I value people above the needs of multi-national corporations.

    ************************************
    The Church lies at the centre of the University’s history, and I have always found it more than appropriate for the chapel to be in its current location at the heart of campus

    ************************************
    I’m signing this because I am quite upset that the chapel is being moved, and at the sneaky way it has come about. I am in Sent from my iPad

    ***********************************

    As both a resident of Holy Cross House and a member of the Christian faith, I am thoroughly displeased with not only the decision to move the St. Thomas chapel, but the way that this decision was brought about. It seems greatly disrespectful to make such a large decision that affects so many people without first consulting those people in question. Although I do not regularly attend church at the St. Thomas chapel, I find it unsettling that the faith community was not informed of the potential of moving the chapel, but rather told that it was happening after the decision had already been made. Additionally, the decision was formally announced to students through an email, which, all things considered, is a very blunt and impersonal way to communicate such a large change in the campus life. The students were not informed of this decision prior to the public announcement made to the faith community by President Russell, let alone given the chance to voice their opinions on the matter. Furthermore, the residents of Holy Cross House were not approached about the decision to add a chapel to the public section of the residence, which already currently functions as a space for classrooms, lectures, and offices. It would seem that those affected most greatly by the move of the chapel would be those who attend church services at the St. Thomas chapel and those who live in Holy Cross House, neither of whom were informed properly about the matter. It appears that anyone who is trying to speak to those in charge of the matter is being shut down and brushed aside, which is disheartening. Hopefully this petition will prove effective and will open the eyes of the committee in charge to see that the students are not pleased with this decision. All in all, this decision to relocate the St. Thomas University chapel has been fabricated in a sneaky and evasive manner. If the decision to move the chapel has been made with the notion that it is purely beneficial for all those involved, then one would think that the committee would have nothing to hide. Obviously, that is not the case.

    ********************************

    I’m signing this because I am quite upset that the chapel is being moved, and at the sneaky way it has come about. I am in my first year at STU, and I love that the chapel is in a central place on campus. The chapel is a quiet place in the centre of campus that is always open. A quiet spot on campus is often hard to find, and what the chapel offers is invaluable. I realize that the chapel is being moved to make way for more common space so the cafeteria can expand, and this is all in the name of progress. I would just like to point out that people socialize in the cafeteria because that is where the food is and where their friends are.. not just because they need someplace in the middle of campus to congregate. Also, the upper floors of GMH are offices and classrooms. Having a common area up there would be disruptive. Also, I would like to point out that the chapel already is a common area, just a different (and very valuable) sort.

    One thing that was striking to me about the chapel and the campus ministries community at STU is that it is so welcoming, and is always there when students need it. By downsizing and relocating, will this sense of openness not also be diminished?

    If STU is to be a place where students thrive, the heart of the school needs to facilitate all of the types of well-being: intellectual, social, physical, emotional and spiritual. Do not tear out part of the heart of STU, place it somewhere else and still expect the body of the school to function as before, or better.

    There are so many things about this decision that I do not understand.

    *************************************

    The process used to make this decision, while ‘technically’ correct, was morally wrong. It was wrong to keep it a secret, it was wrong to announce it when it was announced, and the entire process was disturbingly clandestine. The fact that it was felt necessary to hide the entire matter under a veil of secrecy says more than enough about t

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