ROCHESTER — During his 1990-99 chaplaincy at the University of Rochester, Father Gary Tyman said he often was asked by other pastors what was different about working there.
"I had to do homework in order to answer their questions," Father Tyman would say of the erudite college students.
The contributions of the University of Rochester’s former chaplains were honored Oct. 13 during a Mass celebrating 50 years of chaplaincy at the university. Past chaplains were presented with a detailed medallion featuring images and phrases familiar to the Newman Community.
As part of the anniversary, the Newman Community is sponsoring lectures at 7 p.m. Dec. 5 with papal biographer George Weigel and on March 27, 2014, with William Mumma, president of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
The community also is raising money for an endowment fund named for Father Daniel Tormey; the fund will expand ministry to medical students and graduate students, said Father Brian Cool, director of Catholic Newman Community Pastoral Care. Father Tormey served as chaplain of Strong Memorial Hospital and the School of Medicine and Dentistry from 1980-87.
"Father Tormey is a legend in his ministry to the hospital," Father Cool said.
Like Father Tormey, the chaplains who have served the University of Rochester have left a long-lasting imprint on the school, according to a history of the Newman Community that is available on the community’s website, www.urnewman.org.
Bishop Bernard J. McQuaid, who served as the first Bishop of Rochester from 1868-1909, forbade Catholics from attending the university, which was founded as a Baptist institution, the history noted. A "Newman Club" was formed in 1929 on both the women’s and men’s campuses to celebrate and strengthen Catholic life for many of the students. In the 1940s, priests including Father Paul Tuite and Father Jack Hedges took it upon themselves to transport the men and women who were part of a Newman Club to Mass at area parishes.
The men, who stayed on the River Campus, attended St. Anne Church, while the women, who stayed on the Prince Street campus in Rochester, attended the former Corpus Christi Church. After Mass all students met Father Tuite at St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality. The men’s and women’s colleges were mixed in 1954.
Father Hedges worked on a part-time, unpaid basis in an interfaith setting with the university’s Jewish Hillel community and Protestant community chaplains, according to the Newman Community history. Since he was a full-time pastor at a nearby parish, he hired priests — Msgr. William H. Shannon and Jesuit priests Father Peter van Breeman and Father Cieran Ryan — to celebrate Masses at the college in Todd Union.
Father Hedges became the first full-time Catholic chaplain when the Newman Club became the Newman Community in 1963, and soon the community acquired housing: the "Newman Oratory" on Mount Hope Avenue in Rochester. The home was later donated to the university to be sold so that a fund could be established to hire a professor of Catholic thought, and a large, anonymous donation later supported the endowment for this
Catholic thought chair. At this time, a Catholic lecture series also was started at the university.
Courier photo by Sam Oldenburg
The Newman Community now coordinates community service, on-campus activism and has more than 7,500 alumni. Catholics comprise the largest single faith denomination at the university.
In welcoming remarks during the Oct. 13 celebration, University of Rochester President Emeritus G. Dennis O’Brien noted that the Newman Community has a unique character.
"You belong to this community not by your lived faith, but by the grace of God," he said.
Emily Vreeland, a 2012 graduate who attended Notre Dame High School in Batavia, said in retrospect, she sees the important role that the Newman Community played in her college experience.
She recalled taking study breaks at night to attend the 10 p.m. Mass, called "Instamass," on Wednesday nights and eat pasta afterwards before heading back to the library for more studying. Yet one anecdote can’t sum up the whole Newman experience, she said.
Coming from a Catholic-school background, she said she found it important during college to have a support system and a way to hold on to her faith.
Former chaplains said they enjoyed being part of students’ formative years at college.
"It came to the point where I would look at people and I would wonder where they would be in 40 years," said Sister Joan Sobala, who served as chaplain on the River Campus from 1971-78.
Among her accomplishments with the community, Sister Sobala helped institute a tradition of a "night pilgrimage" to the Abbey of the Genesee in Piffard for night prayer at 2 a.m.
Letting students take the lead and plan events was an important component of the chaplain’s role, said Father Tyman. He recalled one memorable chaplaincy experience when members of the Newman Community wanted to reach out to a Chinese graduate student and colleague whose mother had died in China. Though the woman did not come from a religious background, her colleagues decided to show their support by organizing a memorial service.
The gesture had a profound effect, he said.
"Without trying to push faith, they showed how they were helped in dealing with death," Father Tyman said. "I found that so beautiful how the students were able to internalize their faith and reach out, and yet at the same time be respectful."