The St. Thomas More chapel can seat up to 350 people, yet both Sunday Masses are standing room only, said Father Robert Beloin, the church’s pastor.
“When I first came here 10 years ago, the chapel was half full for both Masses,” Beloin said. “The anti-religiosity on campuses has definitely faded in the past decade.”
Attendance at Catholic Mass has been on the rise at Yale in recent years. As the University’s official Catholic chapel, St. Thomas More attracts many of Yale’s observant Catholics. Others choose to attend nearby St. Mary’s, New Haven’s oldest Catholic parish.
As the church grows, even more students are drawn to the undergraduate community at St. Thomas More.
“There are a lot more students, so I feel more comfortable,” So Yeon Paek ’05 said.
Beloin, Yale’s Catholic chaplain, said there are 585 people on the church’s e-mail list, and many more attend services without registering.
While St. Thomas More is a chapel community that specifically serves the Yale community, St. Mary’s, founded in 1832, is a traditional parish. Father William Holt, the pastor at St. Mary’s, said the church has maintained a steady attendance level throughout his five-year tenure, drawing an average of 300 attendees for each Sunday service.
Holt said every Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults group at St. Mary’s –Êseven to nine people who attend classes to prepare them to be welcomed into the church — contains a few Yale students.
He said the church continues to focus on the community through several public outreach programs. Parishioners volunteer in a soup kitchen twice a month, Holt said.
“There is a real concern for the homeless and the poor and the mentally and emotionally ill,” Holt said.
Maria Keating ’05, who attends St. Mary’s regularly as well as St. Thomas More, said she was attracted to the New Haven community orientation of St. Mary’s. She said St. Mary’s also drew her because she feels she can focus more on her own religious experience there.
“It’s easier to have individual spiritual development,” she said.
While St. Thomas More also participates in public outreach programs — for example, the chapel “adopted” a Catholic elementary and middle school in New Haven two years ago — Beloin said the church’s main focus is on trying to foster Catholic intellectual life.
“[Students'] growth in terms of Catholicism has become pretty stunted,” said Beloin.
Beloin said the typical young Catholic stops learning about his religion upon confirmation, which usually coincides with the beginning of high school. As their minds continue to grow in other academic areas throughout high school, Beloin said, religion takes the back seat.
But St. Thomas More has grown so much in recent years that the church is planning to build a $15 million, 30,000 square-foot student center. The center will include a dining hall, seminar rooms, a library and a glass-ceiling courtyard, and the project is slated to last 18 months.
“Because the program expanded so drastically, we’ve just run out of space,” Beloin said.
With the goal of religious education in mind, Beloin said St. Thomas More offers a series of seminars and lectures so Catholics can “be exposed to brilliant professors in their personal spiritual lives.”
Holt said he enjoys the seminars at St. Thomas More. Although St. Mary’s offers fewer lectures, Holt said the St. Thomas More seminars are advertised weekly at Mass at St. Mary’s.
“There’s a good interaction between the two places,” Holt said.
Keating said she thinks the churches do not fill the same role within the Yale community.
“The churches just offer different things to students,” Keeting said.