The Best Church in the World

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.)

Father Luke!

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.

The Art of Dying
Catholicism: Making Rockstars Since 36 A.D.
In Case You Needed Another Reason to be Catholic...
Do Something Crazy
  • Michelle @ Catholic Unveiled

    Some day you and I (and hopefully a few others with cool glasses) will find ourselves lazing about in a gazebo at FUS, and I will relate to you the long tale of my parish, and why this post gives me hope :) Pax et bonum, my friend. And tell your priests I said thank you for their love and generosity if you get a chance.

  • Stacy Trasancos

    Marc, my very first Mass was at that church back in 2002, but I remember asking, "What was the point of it all?" I didn't actually convert until 2004 in another state.

  • Christina

    "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"What is this referring to?

  • Christina

    oh – and as a parishioner of St Thomas who came back home due to the wonderful priests here, I totally agree. Although, I also remind myself constantly that it's by the grace of God that this is happening, if that is forgotten and we start thinking we are special just cause…well that usually doesn't end well.

  • Allison! A beautiful worship experience. My husband is a UVa graduate and we visited with our sons late last year. I wrote about that experience here…

  • Manda

    I don't think my Church is better, but we do have a lot of what you described, and our RCIA classes are huge as well! We sing traditional mass songs in a traditional way, no clapping or dancing but with reverence and awe for what is going on at the altar. Tons of classes like bible timelines and studies. I love it. Oh! And we have perpetual adoration. nah nah.

  • Anonymous

    Wonderful to hear! Many years ago I was on the student board there; sigh, people can be quietly, and strangely mean. I still scratch my head about it to this day. Weirdest experience of my life. Meh, humans are humans with human failings and such (myself included!)But I walked away with a love of my faith, a desire to explore the Bible, and a fascination with the Church's history. Sounds like the opportunities to grow in faith have only increased at St. Thomas. I am glad the Lord is hard at work among my fellow Cavaliers and I pray for the guts to serve my Church community once again.

  • Fr. Benedict Croell OP

    I am the Director of Vocations for the Province of Dominicans that run St. Thomas Aquinas. Check out my blog: I agree, there are many vocations coming out of St. Thomas Aquinas. We have a number of men who have come from there into the Dominicans and other dioceses/religious orders. In our current class of novices who start their novitiate on August 8, one is a UVA grad: I am currently talking with other St. Thomas Aquinas/UVA grads as well. But I know there are others out there. When you get into college you come visit us at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC or come on a vocation weekend with us: Lord certainly is blessing the university parish of St. Thomas Aquinas at UVA! Fr. Benedict Croell

  • Karen

    Marc, you forgot the awesome parish NFP ministry which for the last two years taught about 1% of the persons taught nationally as reported to the USCCB…in no small part due to your MOM. :)And I'm fairly certain I know the three young men in the first picture, as well as the photographer. Let us know when we're getting the first royalty check!Great job, BTW.

  • Jay Egan

    Dominicans ftw. They are, as one Dominican described them, "God's nerds". But I think Christ the King Catholic Church in Ann Arbor, MI would totally give this place a run for its money. Even though that's not my parish. And as far as the building and stuff goes, you ain't got nothing on ours. :D Check it out:

  • Allie

    your church sounds awesome!

  • Anonymous

    Nice blog Marc. A few thoughts though. First,it is vitally important to keep Christina's words above in mind. Remain humble and give the glory and credit to God. Remember Matthew 20:16. Second, keep in mind that it is not about a competition, about which church is better. We are all part of one family. It is about each church living up to it's potential, using the particular gifts God has blessed it with to accomplish the work He expects it to- and to help its fellow churches reach their potential. Finally, remember that STA is not special because it is run by Dominicans but rather because the Dominicans who lead it are being true to their God. God bless you in your journey and work.

  • Anonymous

    You must also have the Tridentine Mass… That is incredible,,

  • Marc

    Thanks for all the comments errbody! i will take your advice, and pass on your praise to the appropriate priests. ( :

  • Anonymous

    Wow. My parish, St. Andrew's in Eagle River, Alaska, has perpetual adoration, and for me this is the real attraction and gift. We have multiple adult and youth faith formation programs, more than 60 parish ministry programs, and two of the best archdiocesan priests in the world. There is a strong home schooling community, and we have several vocations–our parish is only 30 years old. We moved 6 years ago into our new building, and the welcoming atmosphere of our people makes visitors eager to return. I hope one day your travels will bring you our way so you can see what I am talking about! (By the way, our archiocesan church is Holy Family Cathedral, and the Dominicans are a very visible and wonderful presence there–God is very very good to us in Alaska!)

  • Mindy Goorchenko

    I felt like I was reading about Holy Family Cathedral in Anchorage. God does truly bless us here in Anchorage/Eagle River. Thank you, Lord.

  • Benjamin Malec

    Do you know Fr. Jacek Buda?

  • loveline

    i like my chuch

  • loveline

    i want God to come in to life