New center for Catholics opens

St. Thomas More Chaplain Robert Beloin chose a single Bible verse to etch into a slab of red oak above the new lecture hall in the expanded chapel and Catholic center — “I came that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”

The Chapel’s $75 million capital campaign and building project culminated this weekend with the opening of the Thomas E. Golden, Jr. Center. According to chapel administrators, the new 30,000 square foot, Cesar Pelli-designed center promises an abundance of resources for the growing Catholic community at Yale.

The new 30,000 square foot St. Thomas More Chapel and Catholic Center opened and the chapel’s $75 million capital campaign ended this weekend.
Cari Tuna
The new 30,000 square foot St. Thomas More Chapel and Catholic Center opened and the chapel’s $75 million capital campaign ended this weekend.

Throughout its 68 years of existence, the chapel has not only been home to Catholics but has played host to numerous campus events and organizations. Beloin said St. Thomas More needed to expand to accommodate growing demands on its facilities.

“In the last 12 years I’ve been a chaplain here, I’ve seen the programs increase and the number of students who come here increase,” he said. “We’re just out of our space, and we need more to house the expanding program.”

But Yale Catholics have not always been so numerous. According to George Pierson’s “A Yale Book of Numbers: Historical Statistics of the College and University,” in the year 1910, Yale College graduated only eight Catholics in class of 1,229.

“The history of Catholics at Yale over this university’s first two and a half centuries is not one the institution is proud of,” University President Richard Levin said at the dedication of the new building on Saturday.

Levin said no Catholic graduated from Yale until 1838, and Catholics were subject to social prejudice throughout the 19th century. Today, according to Kerry Robinson, Director of Development for the Chapel, nearly 25 percent of the student body is Catholic.

But some students said they do not think the chapel’s presence on campus is a visible one. Caitlin Clements ’10 said she does not think many students know about its facilities.

“I don’t even know where [St. Thomas More] is,” Angelica Jaimez ’10 said.

In 1938, T. Lawrason Riggs ’10, one of the eight Catholics in the class of 1910, created a home for Yale’s small Catholic community at 268 Park St. The Golden Center marks St. Thomas More’s first major expansion, and a renovation of the main chapel and chaplain’s residence is the next stage of the building project.

The Board of Trustees put the chapel’s physical expansion in the hands of world-renowned architect and former Yale School of Architecture Dean Cesar Pelli, Beloin said.

A campanile of Minnesota limestone carrying three bells rises above the sienna brick and African mahogany entrance. Inside, natural light floods through thermally efficient windows. The main doors enter into a glass-covered atrium, but Pelli is quick to note its proper title.

“I hate the word ‘atrium,’” Pelli said. “It makes it sound like a hotel. That’s why we call it the inner garden.”

The new facility contains a dining hall, a modernized library, seminar rooms, a lecture hall, a recreation room and a meditation room.

Pelli said he wanted the center to be a welcoming place for students.

“I would like, above all, for [students] to feel that [the Golden Center] is also their home,” he said at Saturday’s dedication.

The Golden Center capital campaign, which began in 1998, drew $25 million in donations and a $50 million endowment for the center — far surpassing the original $5 million goal, Robinson said.

“We profoundly believed that money would follow mission,” Robinson said.

Thomas E. Golden, Jr. ’51 gave the primary gift to endow the center.

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