In his 24 years as Yale’s Roman Catholic chaplain, Rev. Robert Beloin has shepherded thousands of Catholics through the University’s classrooms. He has spearheaded major institutional projects at the St. Thomas More Catholic Center and Chapel and even been arrested at a demonstration.
But after decades of service, Beloin’s time at Yale is coming to an end. In January, he announced to the STM community that an MRI scan had discovered a malignant tumor in his brain. And in June, the news got even worse, as the STM leadership notified the community that physicians had advised Beloin that further cancer treatment would not improve his condition.
Beloin has offered spiritual guidance to thousands of Catholics at the University since 1993. His fundraising efforts were pivotal to the 2006 construction of the Golden Center, a spacious student center adjacent to the STM chapel.
In day-to-day work, Beloin has also helped introduce a number of popular, now firmly established traditions at STM, including the 10 p.m. Mass on Sundays — with an accompanying late-night snack afterwards, in addition to other meals offered on Sundays — that has become a cult hit among many Catholic students. He has also led the Small Church Community program, a popular lectionary-based Bible study session offered each week by STM that has now grown to 10 groups.
A year ago, Beloin and Rev. Karl Davis, an assistant chaplain at STM, made headlines after they were arrested for blocking the entrance to a courthouse in Hartford during a demonstration against the planned deportation of undocumented immigrants.
“I just find it morally appalling that we’re deporting hardworking people making a contribution to our society,” Beloin said at the time. “Pope Francis talks about going to the margins and accompanying people, and I can’t think of a way to go further to the margin and accompany people than to go to a protest and be arrested.”
In a message provided to the News by one of Beloin’s caretakers, Beloin described his time at STM as a “distinct highlight” of his 45-year career as a priest.
“To accompany students as they cultivate an adult, mature faith in God has been a blessing,” Beloin wrote. “My priesthood and ministry has been truly enriched by the conversations and friendships with Yale faculty, students, staff and alumni. Yale is a world class university and it has been an honor help bring a Catholic intellectual and spiritual center of consequence to fruition in such a setting.”
Since January, Beloin has received more than 800 letters expressing support and admiration for him from members of Yale’s greater Catholic community, his previous parish communities and other personal friends. Assistant chaplain Carlene Demiany, who converted to Catholicism in 2014 under Beloin’s guidance, remarked that Beloin has not gone a single night since he announced his illness without receiving a home-cooked meal from various volunteers, in addition to flowers that have come every week from supporters. Beloin said he has been “tremendously grateful” for the gifts, letters, meals and prayers.
Annie Killian ’11 GRD ’19, who has known Beloin since she came to Yale as an undergraduate in 2007, said that Beloin’s “pastoral sensitivity” has always stood out to her. When Killian’s mother died of an illness during her second year of graduate school, she recalled, Beloin personally made a trip to her hometown of Nashville to help her family pray and grieve for their loss. She also recalled being struck as an undergraduate by Beloin’s work hosting soup kitchens, advocating for Dreamers — a group of young undocumented immigrants who are protected from deportation — and hosting a conference on church governance and accountability after revelations of clerical sex abuse threw the Catholic church into turmoil in the 2000s.
“He likes to call students ‘the hope of the Church,’ expressing his confidence that the gifts of young people can renew a church in crisis,” Killian said.
Allan Esterson, another assistant chaplain at STM, told the News that Beloin “personifies the biblical image of a good shepherd.” Davis, known to members of the STM Yale community as “Father Karl,” echoed Esterson’s sentiments, noting that Beloin was not only a jovial man with an “infectious” laugh, but also a devout priest who frequently told him their ministry was not “work” but rather “who we are.”
Despite his sickness, Davis explained, Beloin has held onto his defining qualities.
“Moments of challenge in his life have become opportunities for discovering a greater truth, opportunities for growth and excellence which resonates with the character of Yale” Davis told the News. “Recently, Father Bob said to me after naming the challenges of being ill, ‘I am surprised by the many blessings that have come with a life-changing illness.”
Britton O’Daly | firstname.lastname@example.org
Correction, Sept. 11: The headline of this story has been updated to reflect the fact that physicians have advised Beloin that further cancer treatment would not improve his condition.