St. Thomas University will relocate the chapel that many members of the school’s faith community consider a second home. The George Martin Hall chapel will move to Holy Cross House so the current space can be transformed into a common area.
The move is being made to create more communal space for next year, when a new meal plan system will see students without meal cards unable to access the GMH cafeteria.
STU spokesman Jeffrey Carleton said the decision wasn’t made lightly.
“It is difficult for those who don’t agree with the decision,” said Carleton. “The president made it clear that the size of the chapel is much too large for the size of the faith community.”
The GMH chapel seats around 320 people, while the Holy Cross chapel will seat around 100.
“The size of a weekly mass may get as much as 70 people,” said Carleton.
In the spring of 2014, plans were made to implement a new campus meal plan. The new plan switched the current declining balance system to a meals-per-day system, which was postponed a year amid much resistance, particularly to the loss of community space.
“The president decided to step back (from the new meal plan) since the reaction was so strong,” said Carleton.
An advisory committee and senior administration at STU decided that the chapel should move to make way for a new common area.
“The space isn’t going to be a dining room. It’s a common space that we expect can be used for concerts, academic activities, meetings and social events,” said Carleton. “At its peak times almost 1,500 wireless devices are connected to our wireless on campus… Regardless of the new lounge in JDH and the new furniture, we still need more space on campus.”
Carleton said studies show that when students spend more time on campus they are more likely to succeed academically.
After a mass on Jan. 4, President Dawn Russell explained why the changes were being made. Fourth-year student Arianne Melara was in attendance.
“Many people were deeply saddened by the news,” said Melara. “There is a feeling of hopelessness in the community.”
Melara said she first came to the chapel on her third day in Fredericton. She moved here in 2011 and has been attending mass regularly since.
“A lot of people have a strong connection with the physical space. This has been my second home since I started school,” said Melara.
“I am sad about the decision. I wish there would have been more consultation with students.”
Meredith Gillis is a STU alumna who said the chapel was always there for her throughout her STU career. Gillis graduated in 2013 and opposes the change.
“It’s where I met most of my friends, had the most meaningful conversations, experienced the deepest joys and most trying sorrows of my university career,” said Gillis. “STU is a Catholic institution… It doesn’t make sense to me to rip out the heart and soul of the place.”
Jeffery Carleton said STU has received approximately 30 complaints via e-mail and a few over the phone. STU has also received e-mails and phone calls from supporters. Carleton said complaints mainly come from the faith community, students and alumni.
“We did commit to the faith community. We will sit down and show them what our final plans are,” said Carleton.
The common space and the new chapel are scheduled to be ready for September 2015. The STU food bank will remain open, but is subject to relocation.
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