His is a name known by most Catholics at Yale. The 30,000-square-foot building next to Saint Thomas More Chapel, the heart of Yale’s Catholic ministry, bears his name on the wall at its front entrance.
But few know the story of Thomas Golden Jr. ’51.
Golden’s impact is unprecedented: he declined to disclose how much money he has already donated to Saint Thomas More, but he has pledged to donate 75 percent of his estate or $25 million (whichever is greater) to Saint Thomas More. Golden — with his slow, deliberate speech and probing green eyes — rallied University alumni to fund the Catholic center that now bears his name. Catholic by baptism and engineer by training, Golden has never seen a conflict between faith and science; he hopes the projects he funds for Saint Thomas More will help others to see the same.
A GOLDEN BOY
The leaders of Saint Thomas More say Golden’s influence on Yale’s Catholic ministry is unmatched by any individual in decades. Jennifer Anaskovich, Saint Thomas More’s executive director, compared Golden’s dedication to Catholic life at Yale to that of the University’s first Catholic chaplain, the Rev. T. Lawarson Riggs.
“Rather than viewing religion as a once-a-week obligation, Tom sees the opportunity to make Catholicism relevant in students’ day-to-day activities,” Anaskovich said.
And now he is sponsoring the Golden Lecture Series in Science and Faith, which brought Golden to the University again last Thursday afternoon.
He reclined in a plush chair at Saint Thomas More, wearing a neon green rain slicker and talking excitedly. The day’s lecture topic was radiation, but all Golden wanted to talk about was alternative energy.
“I’m looking forward to the all-electric car,” Golden said with a smile. “I stay in Darien, so I only travel 30 miles a day, so an electric car would suit me just fine.”
Golden grew up attending St. John’s Church in Darien, where his father was a trustee of the parish. But Golden does not go to mass much at St. John’s anymore, he said — his spiritual home is Saint Thomas More.
At the Cesar Pelli-designed center, Golden reclined in a seminar room and spoke of the Golden Center as one would a child.
“Of all the mistakes I made in life, probably not getting married and having a family was one of the main ones,” Golden said, “But I believe I’ve overcome that by making this legacy for Yale.”
Golden said he almost never attended mass in New Haven as an undergraduate. Most weekends in college he spent with his parents in Darien, attending mass at St. John’s.
FAITH AND SCIENCE
Consequently, Golden was never involved with Saint Thomas More.
But he came to the 75th anniversary of Saint Thomas More because the focus on intellectual Catholicism appealed to him.
Robert Beloin, the reverend father at Saint Thomas More, said Golden only came for the afternoon session of a symposium on Catholic intellectual life. But coming away from the event, Golden instantly realized he was needed at Saint Thomas More.
After Saint Thomas More’s 75th anniversary, Beloin and Golden had a series of lunches and meetings. They discussed the growing ministry of Saint Thomas More and how Golden could be a part of it.
Beloin convinced Golden that Saint Thomas More needed a new building to support its programming. In 2001, Golden issued a challenge to Yale’s Catholic alumni: if they could raise the money to build a new 30,000-square-foot Catholic center, he would match their funding — by giving 75 percent of his estate or $25 million (whichever is greater) to Saint Thomas More.
Among the programs sponsored in his name is the Golden Series on Faith and Science, which Beloin said seeks to bring in experts in both fields to discuss the ways religion and science lead toward higher truth.
Golden is a Catholic who believes the progress of science and religion go hand in hand. On a trip to Rome after his graduation from Yale, Golden noticed the words “Lux, Veritas et Historia” painted on one of the Vatican’s art-covered ceilings. Golden instantly associated the first two words of this phrase with the University’s motto, but the “historia” struck him especially. For Golden, who received a master’s in engineering from Yale in 1952, the words were a perfect pairing of science and morality.
“I felt as if there was a lot of disparity in a lot of the faith-based backgrounds that really needed a shot in the arm” Golden said.
Golden may not walk the halls of the Center often, but four Catholic students said his presence there is ubiquitous.
“He isn’t a person you’re likely to encounter while hanging out at the Golden Center,” said Marysa Leya ’11, spirituality chairperson for the chapel’s undergraduate board. “[But] the support he provides to the Catholic community is definitely tangible.”
Anaskovich said Catholic life at Yale would not be the same without Golden.
“Tom challenged us to build a building that was unimaginable a decade ago,” Anaskovich said. “He challenged Yale to embrace Catholics as never before.”