One hundred and fifty years ago, as the nation was torn apart with brother fighting brother, Geneva was seeing new life and new spirituality take root as the foundation for St. John’s Chapel was laid. The chapel has offered solitude through world wars and economic despair, and has been a home to joy in weddings, baptisms and holy days.
It was this remarkable building and sense of transformative place that was celebrated during Homecoming and Family Weekend with a service in St. John’s Chapel.
“I am struck by the beauty of this sacred place,” remarked President Mark D. Gearan. “I am also struck by how it has been a wonderful home to the performing arts. It is enlivened by the music of our ensembles, recitals, masses and choirs.”
“This chapel holds important parts of our lives together,” explained Gearan. “This structure that occupies our campus is a constant reminder of our responsibility to building community and of our responsibility to one another.”
In addition to doing a reading, Professor of Sociology T. Dunbar Moodie shared the ways in which the chapel has acted as a spiritual home to him throughout his time on campus. “This is a place where I have always felt welcome. When I arrived, there was a real sense of community that has continued,” said Moodie. “I have undergone spiritual and intellectual growth – and I am truly grateful to have found that here.”
“This is a place of refuge,” shared Danielle Stokel ’15, who is the president of the Newman Catholic Club. “After a long week, I like to come to mass and reflect, thinking about the questions I have for myself. I almost always receive the answer.”
John Norvell ’66, P’99, P’02 introduced his classmate – and fellow Vietnam War veteran – Bishop George Packard ’66. Following an exemplary military career, Packard served as a military chaplain, and has recently been a major figure in the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Taking his place behind the pulpit, Packard looked out across the familiar sanctuary, where he spent much time as a student during mandatory service, and spoke of topophilia – the love of place. However, instead of recounting the hours of worship, Packard reflected on what the chapel as a building, as a being and as an occupier means to the Colleges.
“The Colleges are a place where students will test out the limits of freedom and reality, and the chapel is a ‘house of being,'” stated Packard. “Here, we have a sense that God will remain on-call. This is the place where God is made manifest in you.”
This undeniable connection the chapel provides, explained Packard, forces dialogue at the Colleges to include spiritual sentience. “It is our goal in 2012 to reexamine the more primitive sense of place, as the campus community wrestles with the chapel’s relevance in a world that deemphasizes reflection.”
For Packard, there is no other location on campus as paradoxical or meaningful as the space of St. John’s. “The chapel is a place that is at once permanent and precarious,” he explained. “It is a place that inspires those who are unsettled to feel settled, and to shake and unsettle those who are complacent.”
In a world that is smaller now than it has ever been, we have grander vision of the future. Packard urged those who contribute to the beating pulse of the Chapel – those who attend mass, those who share pasta weekly at the Chaplain’s residence – to create a newer community in the future, a space that will have an expansive sense of self and house all faiths.
“What will be the next 150 years of this chapel’s destiny? This can be a place where ‘the now’ can be brooded over, delighted in,” said Packard. “This is not a non-place – a lobby, a restaurant, a drug store or lounge – a place empty of personal feeling. Here, we commit ourselves to dangerous and important living.”
Also contributing to the celebration was Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester Trustee Rt. Rev. Bishop Prince G. Singh, Llewellyn Lafford ’71, who performed a piece arranged by his father, Professor Emeritus Lindsay Lafford, Lord of Ridley P’65, P’71, LHD ’87, William Smith Dean Susanne McNally and Hobart Dean Eugen Baer P’95, P’97, HON’07. Andrew Hellmund ’14 shared a poem, and both Abbe Center for Jewish Life Director Lorinda Weinstock and the Venerable Tenzin Yignyen offered prayers.