National Catholic Register

Education

Yale’s More House Celebrates 60th Anniversary

Cardinal Keeler highlights St. Thomas More as a model for Catholics at the university

BY James Malerba

December 27, 1998-January 2, 1999 Issue | Posted 12/27/98 at 2:00 AM

 

William Cardinal Keeler, archbishop of Baltimore, told a fall gathering at More House, the Catholic center at Yale university, that he was gratified “to see the dedication and commitment of Catholic alumni to this chapel.” He said that Saint Thomas More, the center's patron saint, had been “deeply influential … in the lives of so many Catholic men and women at Yale.”

Undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, administrators, and alumni gathered to commemorate the center's founding in 1938. Some traveled from as far as California and Italy to be part of the 60th anniversary event.

Among the more prominent graduates of Yale who have been associated with More House are Francis (Faye) Vincent, the former commissioner of Major League Baseball; Virgil Dechant, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus; William F. Buckley, Jr., editor-at-large of the National Review; and Judge Guido Calabresi, former dean of the Yale Law School.

Cardinal Keeler presided and preached at the opening session of the celebration, which was an evening of prayer. He was joined in the three-day celebration by a number of clergy—including Archbishop Daniel Cronin of Hartford—and prominent lay people, among whom was Buckley, who has received numerous awards for his accomplishments, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1991), and a television Emmy for his weekly TV show, Firing Line. He is the author of 38 books, including God and Man at Yale (1951) and Nearer My God, An Autobiography of Faith (1997).

In his address at a symposium on the second day of the event, Buckley noted that despite the “progressive demotion of religion by the culture of science,” there is a refusal by religion “to perish by any sword.”

Buckley also took “political correctness” to task, saying, “Why do we, in deference to an unrealistic fear of giving offense, deprive ourselves of satisfactions to which the majority of a college community are entitled. … Might not classes be suspended on Good Friday, and religious exhortations cited at convocations? What are the reasons for this deracination, as we bustle through the Easter season without any inclination to pause over the Resurrection, and sap the ampler joys of a religious tradition by pledging at Christmas not to let the image of the Christ Child pass through the mind?"

The theme for the anniversary event was “The Legacy of Thomas More: Catholic Faith and Intellectual Life at the Threshold of the 21st Century.” A special tribute was paid also to the founder of the center, Father T. Lawrason Riggs, himself a graduate of Yale in 1910, and a Catholic who hoped and planned for construction of a chapel and center on the campus that would fulfill the spiritual needs of all Catholics at Yale.

Father Riggs was ordained to the priesthood in 1922 and was assigned to the campus ministry at Yale. He immediately enlisted the help of fellow Yale Catholic alumni, whose financial contributions led to construction of the chapel and an administrative wing in 1937. In 1938, the chapel was dedicated by Bishop Maurice McAuliffe, Bishop of Hartford.

Father Riggs and other founders named the Georgian-style chapel and center after Saint Thomas More, the English martyr who was executed in 1535 and who was canonized in 1935 by Saint Pius XI. Saint Thomas More was deemed an appropriate patron for the chapel, since he was a layman, scholar, lawyer, writer, and statesman, not unlike so many young people who have attended Yale and made their mark in the world.

Since the time of Father Riggs the number of Catholics at Yale has grown considerably. When he attended Yale, before answering the call to a priestly vocation, the Catholic population at the university was around 10%. Today, it is 20-25%, according to Father Robert Beloin, the current More House chaplain.