November 24, 2009
It had been a dream at St. John’s University since the
Queens campus opened in 1954. In fact, plans for a free-standing
church on the new campus had been included in the original
architectural drawings completed that year.
That long-envisioned dream finally became a reality in 2004, when
construction of the awe-inspiring St. Thomas More Church was
completed and the very first Mass—an Opening School Mass—was
celebrated in the magnificent edifice.
Today, St. Thomas More Church stands on the Great Lawn of the
Queens campus and serves as the heart and soul of the University
community. Whether for mass, devotional services, lectures, or
choir practices or simply for personal visits, members of the St.
John’s community flock to St. Thomas More. Its carillon is a
familiar and comforting sound around campus.
need only come to our Queens campus on Sunday evenings for 5:30
Mass to see the impact St. Thomas More Church has had on our
students and the St. John’s community. This Church is the vibrant
core of our faith community,” says
Rev. Donald J. Harrington, C.M., President of St. John’s
This past Sunday, St. John’s marked the church’s fifth anniversary
at two masses celebrating its dedication on November 21, 2004.
During each of the two liturgies celebrated, the original
dedication candles were again lit and special intentions were
mentioned in the prayers.
Pamela Shea-Byrnes, D.Min., St. John’s Vice President for
University Ministry and University Events, explains the importance
of commemorating the dedication. “We continue to mark this very
important anniversary in recognition of how it has so totally
transformed the campus community.”
The 15,000 sq. ft. church was made possible through the support and
generosity of John’63C, ’66L, ’93HON and his wife Anita Brennan,
who had made their donation in 2001 for a church named for St.
Infused with Vincentian Charism and
Every item, every space, was designed to foster the Vincentian
charism and the University’s mission of providing an education that
integrates scholarship with service to the poor and
disenfranchised. As one enters the narthex, or gathering space,
service and mission are depicted in vibrant and colorful detail on
the walls at the entry of the church.
Created entirely in enamel glass tessere, or tiles (2.5 million of
them), crafted in Italy by Mellini Mosaics and Art Glass, the
mosaics in the narthex present a progression of events beginning
and ending with St. Vincent de Paul, including the journey of the
members of the Congregation of the Mission from France to Brooklyn
and ultimately to St. John’s University in Queens. It took more
than a month for Italian artisans to assemble the pieces of the
mosaics on site
The interior space, which seats about 500, was designed to draw all
attention to the altar (also octagonal shape) located at the center
of the church. Surrounded by stained glass windows, meticulously
designed by artist Sylvia Nicolas, worshippers gaze on gospel
stories and scenes from the Old and New Testaments.
A statue of St. Thomas sculpted by David Wanner stands in one
corner of the octagonal nave at the St. Thomas More Shrine. In an
opposite corner Mary, Seat of Wisdom, also by Mr. Wanner, occupies
a shrine built in her honor. Both statues are cast in bronze.
According to University Provost Julia
A. Upton, RSM, Ph.D., “every piece of art in the church is
original and created especially for St. Thomas More. The church, as
an integral and inspirational part of the University, demanded such
uniqueness,” she emphasizes.
A third shrine in St. Thomas More commemorates St. John’s alumni,
family members and associates who perished in the September 11th
tragedy. Two rough granite walls represent the two towers while
falling water flows between them. The words “Send down your
water…wash the blood of the land,” taken from an American
spiritual, are etched at the top and a cross fashioned by an
ironworker at the World Trade Center is located beneath.
At the center of the glass-enclosed, also-octagonal, Blessed
Sacrament Chapel stands the bronze tabernacle, signaling Christ as
the center of Christian life. The windows here, created by noted
stained glass artist, John Calligan, emphasize the Vincentian
mission, and illustrate the work that students and faculty
contribute to the Church’s role in the world through their service
Dr. Upton, a liturgy specialist who chaired the committee that
served as liaison to all who planned and worked on the church,
recently reflected on the role St. Thomas More Church has played in
the life of St. John’s. “St. Thomas More has become more of a
presence than anyone thought it would be. I can’t imagine it not