I graduated from the University of Rochester with a bachelor’s degree in engineering in 1976. I have only had a chance to visit a few times since then, the last visit being about 4 years ago to help the Catholic Newman Community (Catholic parish on campus for students) with strategic planning and fund raising to support their growing student population.
As a student, I was quite active in the Newman Community (or “club” as it was sometimes known back then) writing and typing and printing the weekly bulletin (I was involved in “publishing” even 35 years ago!), frequent attendance at Mass (in those days, every Sunday liturgy was a “Folk Mass” with guitars, etc.), and lots of other activities. During my sophomore year, I attended Mass every day, which was an informal gathering of the chaplains (we had a full-time priest and nun assigned by the Diocese of Rochester) and a few students, at noon on M-W-F and 7:30 pm on T-R, much like a class schedule!
Even in my freshman year, I organized “Jack Figel’s Dixieland Band” to play dance music, including polkas, for the annual campus Mardi Gras that we held as a party on the Sunday before Lent. I was a member of the parish council, a group of volunteers students who did most of the work running the parish, and in my junior year was elected to the five-member Executive Committee to help the chaplains even more extensively. One year, I also organized a Byzantine Catholic priest from Harrisburg, PA (the closest parish of my Church at the time) to come and celebrate a Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom in English and expose all my Roman Catholic student friends to who I was as a Byzantine Catholic. So, I did an awful lot back then, and wonder how I ever completed my engineering degree!
Early in January of this year, Father Brian Cool, the current chaplain, emailed me an invitation to visit the last weekend of February and participate in a panel discussion about Catholic-Orthodox relations today. I was quite surprised that such an event was going to happen at my alma mater, and even more pleased to be invited to participate. It was organized by the Newman Community and a newly formed (since my day there) Orthodox Christian Fellowship of students. The other panelists were Father Curt Cadorette, a professor of Religious Studies at the university, and Father Patrick Cowles, a local Greek Orthodox parish priest.
So I flew up on Saturday morning and had lunch with the chaplains that I knew back during my years there, Father Jim Lawlor and Sister Joan Sobala. It was great to see them both after so many years. Father Jim is retired about two years, but still serving in his last parish, and Sister Joan is parochial administrator of a parish cluster where a priest comes to celebrate the sacraments, but she is the administrator. Saturday evening, I drove out to Newark, NY about 50 miles east of Rochester and had a lovely dinner with Gail and Bruce Chambes. Gail was assistant to the dean of engineering when I was a student, and we have kept in touch all these years.
On Sunday morning, Father Brian invited me to serve as Lector for the Mass and in my Byzantine style sticharion, chanted the Epistle in Carpathian style and gave a short reflection on myself as a Byzantine Catholic. After Mass, the students held a pancake breakfast and I had the opportunity to chat with a number of students. I did the same at the Sunday evening Mass.
The panel discussion was held at 5 pm Sunday with about 25 students and others attending. We also shared various Lenten foods that the Orthodox students brought for the event — vegetables, fruit, chips, hummus, dips, etc. I started the discussion laying out the early history of the Church and how the current dialogue was trying to heal the separation of 1000 years. The three of us spoke briefly on our own background, and then responded to questions. After a two-hour session, all seemed quite happy to with the discussion and we then went to the second Catholic Mass for the day.
It was a great weekend and I was very pleased to participate and see the interest among the students, and visit with old friends.