The University’s Catholic community is well into its second year as a flock without a shepherd. The Catholic chaplaincy has been vacant since the retirement of Father Louis Manzo in the spring of 2006. As the University searches for his replacement, Catholic students have endeavored to maintain a lively spiritual community on campus. But the struggle has been taxing.
“We have a dedicated core group,” said Nate Marvin ’10 of the Catholic Students Organization, a group that claims about fifty members. “But we need a chaplain to bring us all together.”
The University’s Spiritual Life website claims there is a Catholic Mass during the fall and spring semesters, but according to Marvin, this claim is “half a lie,” having not been updated for three years. Weekly mass in the Memorial Chapel ended in the fall of 2007, and students wanting to celebrate mass on campus now have to rely on available priests sent by the Diocese of Norwich. But priests have only been able to hold mass here four times in the past academic year. The rest of the time most mass-going students attend services at St. Sebastian’s in Middletown. But Rabbi David Leipziger Teva, the University’s Director of Spiritual Life, acknowledges that the situation is not ideal.
“There has been some attrition,” Teva said. “Many students are looking for a leader they can connect with on an intellectual level.”
Teva noted that the search for a new chaplain has left no stone unturned. The Catholic chaplaincy was initially offered as a part-time position, but, with the help of a contribution from the Diocese, it became a full-time position with benefits last year. The most recent search committee, which included Teva, Dean of Campus Programs Rick Culliton, Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures Octavio Flores, Professor of Classical Studies Andy Szegedy-Maszak and any students who chose to participate, met to interview three candidates last summer, and offered the position to all of them. However, none accepted the job.
Teva characterized the difficulty as a supply problem.
“It’s hard to get qualified candidates to a campus with a relatively small population when there are so many churches and outreach ministries which desperately need people,” he said.
Both students and administrators cite the national shortage of Catholic clergy to explain the absence of a chaplain at the University. According to a 2007 survey by Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, there was only one ordained priest for approximately every 1,500 Catholics in the United States, with over 17 percent of the 18,634 American parishes lacking a resident priest.
Rabbi Teva suggested that it may be time to broaden the search to include a layperson to serve as an organizational leader for campus Catholics.
“At some point, it may be better to cut losses and have a leader who can guide the religious community,” he said, while noting that since the other spiritual communities have clergy on campus, Catholic students certainly should in principle have an ordained chaplain.
According to Marvin and Emily Sheehan ’10, also of the CSO, the decision whether or not to expand the search ultimately lies with students, who have yet to reach a consensus.
“It’s all very confused right now,” Sheehan said, complaining that contact between students and administrators has been limited, and CSO members feel they have not been adequately informed.
For the Moment, campus Catholics will have to tolerate the present imperfect arrangement, and the irregular on-campus Masses, the next of which will be held this Sunday at 8 p.m. in the Memorial Chapel.