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Work begins on new SJU Catholic church

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Ground was broken Tuesday for a new Catholic Church, which will be constructed in the center of the St. John’s University campus in Jamaica.

The project was made possible by a $10 million donation from John Brennan, an alumnus of St. John’s undergraduate college and law school.

“There is a concern in our culture that many of us are searching for material goods,” said Brennan. “I believe it’s more important that we look for the spiritual side of the whole person. I thought wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing if we could build a church in the center of St. John’s University as a symbol to others to think somewhat differently.”

According to Brennan, the church should serve as a daily reminder to students to reflect upon their relationship with God.

“It’s going to be difficult for students to come onto campus and not see the church,” said Rev. Donald J. Harrington, the president of the university, which has an enrollment of more than 19,000 students and is the largest Roman Catholic university in the country.

The church will be named after St. Thomas More, and is scheduled to be completed in the spring of 2004. It is one of the key components of the University’s Queens Campus Master Plan, which includes the construction of residence halls, athletic facilities, parking garages, a dining hall and support buildings. The site where the church will be constructed is currently used as a parking lot.

“From its earliest days, we have believed that a place of prayer and a place of worship must be central to and integral to a place of study,” said Harrington. “We thank God that this dream will now become a reality.”

Brennan received his bachelor’s degree from St. John’s in 1963, and graduated from the law school in 1966. He then became a practicing lawyer, and met Harrington shortly after he became president of the university in 1989. The two found that they shared the same values, and talked about the possibility of building a free- standing church for the University.

“The reason they gave this gift to St. John’s University is because they wanted this to be a place of vibrant faith,” said Harrington, referring to Brennan and his wife Anita. “They wanted to enliven all aspects of life here, especially the life of faith.”

The groundbreaking ceremony began with a short prayer service held at the existing Chapel of Our Lady of Lourdes. Harrington and Rev. Thomas Daily, the bishop of the Archdioese of Brooklyn, spoke at the service, and led the congregation in a singing of “Holy Ground” and “How Lovely Is Your Dwelling Place.”

The congregation, led by four people carrying a plain, eight-foot wooden cross, then proceeded across the campus to the future site of the church, which was demarcated by colorful flags. The cross was placed in the spot where the future altar will stand, and the ground around the cross was blessed and broken, using the shovel that has been used in virtually every St. John’s groundbreaking since the university’s founding in 1870.

“This is a thin spot, where the walls between the eternal and the here and now start to break down,” said Daily, who blessed the site with holy water. “May the walls inside this space become very thin in the years ahead, and may this place become a place of encounter.”

The St. Thomas More Church will be the only free-standing church among any of St. John’s five campuses. The other campuses in Staten Island, Manhattan, Oakdale, L.I. and Rome have chapels.

Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 155.

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