This past weekend there was a celebration in my community that brought a lot of people back home to our Catholic student center on campus. Twenty years ago, just a short while before I came to the University to school, St. Stephen's celebrated its first Mass in the new building so many worked so hard to make a reality.
They had a dinner after Mass this Sunday for those who could come back and celebrate, and one of the organizers asked me if I would write something for them to read about my memories of the building that not only housed our chapel, but the offices and classrooms and lounge and cafeteria. The building that housed so many of us over the years who needed a place to pray or study or escape or just generally goof off.
So I wrote about it and am putting it on here today for all of those past members of that community who I know come here to read but couldn't come home for the party…
I can close my eyes and remember it still.
The way the air changes when you walk into the building… all bricks and mortar, but so much more.
It’s the closeness of the Spirit.
It’s the communion of saints… the community of people who embody the true meaning of being home and being family.
I can close my eyes and feel myself to the right of the altar, saying a prayer silently before stepping up to the microphone to open my heart and sing. It helped me to remember, with each filling breath, that it wasn’t about me.
It wasn’t about the priest who presided or the lector who spoke. It wasn’t about the singer at the microphone or the minister who handed you the Eucharist. It was about the Spirit that filled each word and breath and message. It was about being a vessel… an extension of the building and the Mass and the words and the song… a vessel for the Spirit to touch another soul.
Just as much as this building was filled with the Mass and the songs of Sunday, it was filled with the laughter of kids – because we were all just kids – as we found our way into a strange and freedom-filled world. It was about the quiet corners for homework and loud letting off of steam in the lounge. It was Wednesday night Mass and popcorn socials and finding a family that treasured your tears as much as your laughter.
I was never known to be quiet in the corner, I’m afraid. I discovered quickly that my voice carried from the baptismal font to the front of the chapel… but I was always met by the community with accepting smiles and warm hugs. St. Stephen’s was a place to touch base and remember who we were in a world that sometimes, oftentimes, wanted to change us.
That quiet trickle of the font… the same one that haunted us on Good Friday would be filled with praise on the Easter vigil. The Spirit always came and met us where we stood. Or knelt. Or praised. Or grieved. The Spirit that manifested itself in the community, that welcomed then and welcomes still, all who travel through on their journey to become who God intended them to be.
It has been a privilege to be a part of it. To have walked through those doors and felt the air heavy with the Spirit welcoming all who came. I won’t walk through the doors again, but because of you – the community of believers – there will always be a place in me that calls St. Stephen’s home.