It is with great pride and the fondest of memories that I bid my home-parish, St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church at the University of Virginia, farewell, and thanks. St. Thomas is a church that gives me hope in the Church. Run by the ever-wonderful Dominicans – who seem to know everything about everything, and are entirely willing to preach about everything at length – I have experienced more spiritual growth within that incense-smelling second-home than anywhere else. So if my posts aren’t leading you towards an inner circle of hell, you have St. Thomas Aquinas to thank.
The church wasn’t always the brilliant and powerful hub of Catholic orthodoxy that it is now. Not long ago there were no kneelers, there was clapping during the Gloria, parishioner-baked communion bread, a weird triangle-shaped metal altar, a tabernacle far away from the altar, and low attendance. But thanks to the magnificent efforts of a few particular pastors, the willingness of the people of Charlottesville, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit – Who showed a woman driving in Virginia, who had nothing to do with St. Thomas, a vision of our church being showered with graces – the parish now serves over 5000, and has doubled in size. There are two well-attended daily masses, adoration is available all Tuesday and Wednesday – and perpetually during Lent – the confessionals are full, masses include Gregorian Chant, and delicious, meaty teaching abounds. Oh, and the tabernacle is front and center. (Coincidence? I think not.)
The Dominicans are freaking heroes, and there’s no other way to say it. It’s a certain rush of joy that I believe is felt solely by the Catholic to see, amongst a crowd of preppy college kids, a white-robbed Dominican making his way across grounds, or smoking by the street, or talking theology on a parking lot. These priests preach on the campus, help run “Ask a Catholic” tables on school grounds, minister to the three hospitals in the area, say 5 masses every Sunday, one in the heart of the UVA campus, at UVA’s non-denominational chapel. They are wise and compassionate, preachers every one of them. And they are blessed with so many new vocations that STA is currently in the process of building a priory to hold all these penguin-colored supermen. A priory! How wonderfully old-school. Right across the road from student housing, and from an Arena that has hosted U2, The Rolling Stones, The Police and Phish, friars will soon be singing vespers.
And the place is absolutely brimming with ministry. You can’t walk into the Church without one of the classrooms or youth-rooms being filled with Bible studies, prayer groups, Life in the Spirit seminars, Knights of Columbus meetings, Haiti ministries, adoration, or RCIA – which usually includes some 50 new converts/reverts each year. The parish hosts all sorts of speakers, giving talks and seminars on topics from Flannery O’Connor to Understanding the New Roman Missal, and the youth ministry, well: I’ve seen so many lives touched and turned towards Christ at the Antioch retreats our parish hosts, lead by juniors and seniors, ministering to their sophomore and freshmen brothers and sisters. You haven’t lived until you’ve spent a week with us STA kids. The LifeTeen Mass is packed. The church brings kids to NCYC, to Steubenville Atlanta, and to the March for Life. There is something to do every week, without fail. The campus student ministry is likewise booming, but I know much less about it.
And the music! I’ve had the honor of drumming for LifeTeen, and for packed nights of Eucharistic Adoration we called Ignite242. If you’re ever in town during the school year, see if you can make one. The music ministry at STA is so darn good and humble, it has been called on by the dioceses of Richmond and Arlington to play Diocesan Youth Conferences, Worker’s retreats, and Middle School Rallies. We took Ignite242 on the road and played at William and Mary and VCU, Bristol and Virginia beach. And everywhere, everywhere, everywhere hearts are being turned to God in the Eucharist. My own included.
And that’s the point. I honestly could go on with this post forever, naming work after work after success after success, but the point is this: what matters is that is that a church helps its parishioners to heaven. And STA has, and does, incredibly. So those of you who feel like your parish is boring and your liturgy crappy, take heart! Believe that God will makes all things new.
So thank you St. Thomas, from the bottom of my heart. I will never forget the truth I’ve come to know from your teachings, nor the grace from your sacraments, nor the friendship from my brothers and sisters in Christ and parish. Think your Church is better? Let’s hear it.