As St. Thomas More’s Chaplain Bob Beloin will tell you, there is no such thing as linoleum in a building designed by Cesar Pelli.
The esteemed architect and former dean of the Yale School of Architecture is known for using only the finest materials in his work. So when architects from Pelli’s firm needed to design an elevator shaft for the new Catholic student center next to St. Thomas More Chapel, they reached a tasteful solution: an Italian-style campanile complete with working bells.
The tower is just one feature of the Thomas E. Golden, Jr. Center now quickly rising from the dusty construction site on Park Street behind Pierson College. Work began on the Golden Center in October of last year and is expected to be completed in the fall of 2006. The main part of a $24 million project, the new facility will include a library, a dining hall, a meditation room, seminar rooms and a 450-seat lecture hall.
The 30,000 square-foot center is meant to serve a need for greater resources at the chapel. When journalist Cokie Roberts visited the chapel in 2001 as part of a Catholic lecture series open to all students, so many people showed up that some had to be turned away.
“The lecture … was packed,” said Kerry Robinson DIV ’94, director of development at St. Thomas More. “The occasion really argued for a bigger space.”
The chapel purchased a 99-year lease on the neighboring lot from Yale for $20. Robinson joined forces with Beloin on a nationwide fund-raising effort focused on Yale alumni. It was the first time in St. Thomas More’s history that a chaplain had ventured outside of New Haven in order to raise funds.
“We really wanted to engage alumni in the ministry and vision of the chapel,” Beloin said.
The Golden Center will include more office space to replace the current chapel’s basement closets that have served as offices for several clergy members. The plans also include a glass-encased courtyard, and the round meditation room currently being built will allow light to filter in through colored windows.
The current project is only a small facet of a larger effort to expand the scope and depth of St. Thomas More’s commitment to undergraduate life, Robinson said.
“This building is just an outward manifestation of the vibrant life within the chapel,” Robinson said. “We want to be a creative, generative ministry of vitality and consequence.”
Chris Holownia ’07, co-chair of the undergraduate council at St. Thomas More, said he thinks that the Golden Center will help attract more students to what is already a large and dynamic Catholic community at Yale.
“I see the center as a kind of Slifka Center for Catholics,” he said. “Hopefully, it will give a lot of credence to the Catholic presence at Yale.”
St. Thomas More has already established programs to reinforce the intellectual and spiritual tradition of the Catholic faith. Its three speaking fellowships — the Fay Vincent Fellowship in Faith and Culture, the Judge Guido Calabresi Fellowship in Religion and Law, and the Thomas E. Golden Fellowship in Faith and Science — regularly bring prominent Catholic thinkers to the Yale campus. The Golden Center library and reading room will contain an abundance of Catholic literature for students to come and deepen their understanding of their religion.
“St. Thomas More is really a wonderful intellectual center already,” Holownia said. “But the chapel right now is so small that some people don’t really realize what’s going on inside.”