Jim Graves is a Catholic writer and editor living in Newport Beach, California. He previously served as Managing Editor for the Diocese of Orange Bulletin, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Orange, California. His work has appeared in the National Catholic Register, Our Sunday Visitor, Cal Catholic Daily and Catholic World Report.
Richmond Bishop Barry Knestout offered the dedication Mass for the newly constructed church at St. Thomas Aquinas University Parish at Charlottesville’s University of Virginia (UVA) on Sept. 20. (The project was profiled in the Register on Oct. 11, 2019.)
The new structure has drawn attention for its traditional architecture and is staffed by the Dominican Friars who have served at UVA for more than 50 years.
Joined by Dominican Father Joseph Barranger, pastor of the university parish who was interviewed by the Register in October, Bishop Knestout dedicated the church, which was the result of more than five years of discussion, design, furnishing and construction that included raising more than $10.6 million for the project. The students had roles in the dedication Mass, including presenting the bishop with the keys to the church. They also were servers. The dedication was originally scheduled to take place in April but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Not only is St. Thomas Aquinas a beautiful church building, but it is a vibrant, undaunted community of faith, offering young people, students, staff and faculty of the University of Virginia a home and refuge in a time of uncertainty,” said Bishop Knestout.
“The Catholic community has made this a place of healing from sin, and a place of faith, hope and love for those who live in Jesus Christ and who give witness to his Gospel.”
During the Mass, Bishop Knestout placed and sealed within the altar holy relics of St. Maria Goretti, St. Dominic, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Martin de Porres, St. Albert the Great and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. He anointed the altar with holy chrism, making it a symbol of Christ.
“It was a beautiful Mass and a joyous occasion for the parish,” said Dominican Father Mario Calabrese, who serves the community. He noted that the local secular media covered the event.
“The architecture and art lift one’s heart and mind to God,” Father Barranger added. “The church’s presence on the grounds of UVA is significant because of the parish’s mission to serve the Catholic faithful at the university.”
The church has seating for more than 1,100 worshipers and features artwork depicting aspects of the Catholic faith and a custom hybrid pipe organ that will allow the community to gather for concerts and other cultural events. Students are taking lead roles in being ushers for parish Masses, and serving as sacristans, lay readers and other volunteer positions.
While construction is finished, the Dominicans are still fundraising for the building. Of its $13.4 million cost, $10.6 million has been raised. More on the project and fundraising efforts can be found at stauva.org/our-church-building.