Fordham celebrated the dedication of the renovated University Church on Wednesday, Oct. 13, with pageantry befitting its standing as the center of the University’s religious life and one of the finest examples of Gothic construction in the Bronx.
“We do not gather this afternoon merely to celebrate the past or to rededicate a building,” said Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham University. “We really gather to renew our dedication to the mission of the University, the mission of providing the world with a graced arena in which religion and culture, faith and reason can meet and interact, and the mission of educating leaders who will…transform the world through their grace-filled lives.”
As the local leader of the Catholic Church, His Eminence, Edward Cardinal Egan, J.C.D., D.D., of the Archdiocese of New York, symbolically re-opened and blessed the University church, which was built in 1845 as a seminary chapel and parish church for surrounding farms and was closed in June 2003 for extensive renovations. After tapping his crosier upon the door of the church, Cardinal Egan was invited inside by Father McShane and Gerald R. Blaszczak, S.J., vice president for University mission and ministries. Cardinal Egan blessed a set of plaques in the church’s vestibule that commemorate the event and pay tribute to the benefactors of the renovation. He then followed a procession of bishops, priests, administrators and faculty into the church.
Cardinal Egan, who presided over the liturgy, recalled Fordham’s tumultuous beginnings in 1841 under the tenacious leadership of New York’s first archbishop, John Hughes, D.D., and praised the Jesuits, who took charge of the school in 1846, calling their work “the finest in higher education.” However, Egan told the Fordham community, the University will need to muster the same strength of spirit exercised by its founder, Archbishop Hughes, to overcome the challenges facing the Catholic church and Catholic institutions of higher education.
“Secularism has become the national religion,” Cardinal Egan told the congregants, who filled every pew. “Religious concerns are to be kept to oneself…to be made little of to ensure that they do not impede [what society perceives as progress].” Equally troubling, Cardinal Egan said during his homily, is the skepticism that has become part of the world culture, blurring the certainty of knowing right from wrong. Education that realizes divinity, he said, must have a place in society.
“It’s not easy for Catholic universities to stand square with the teachings taught to us by Jesus Christ,” Cardinal Egan said. “There will be ridicule, attempts to marginalize and retaliate, but…if we give in to secularism and skepticism, then we have betrayed our foundation.”
Cardinal Egan thanked Fordham for “being a beacon here on a hill.” He said the Catholic Church “couldn’t be here without you,” citing the hundreds of Fordham graduates who are leaders in education and in the church throughout the world. Cardinal Egan read a prayer of dedication and blessed the University Church with holy water. He and Father McShane also blessed the Cardinalatial Coat of Arms, representing cardinals affiliated with Fordham.
Fordham’s resident cardinal, Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., the Laurence J. McGinley Professor of Religion and Society, served as a principal concelebrant during the liturgy, along with the Most Rev. Celestino Migliore, titular archbishop of Canosa and apostolic nuncio, permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations; the Most Rev. Jose Iriondo, D.D., auxiliary bishop of New York; and the Most Rev. William J. McCormack, D.D., retired auxiliary bishop of New York. Robert R. Grimes, S.J., dean of Fordham College at Lincoln Center, served as the cantor.
Both Cardinal Egan and Father McShane thanked George Doty (FCO ’38) and his wife, Marie Ward, and Fordham University Trustee Stephen E. Bepler (FCO ’64) and his wife, Kim, for their generous contributions that made the church renovations possible.
The 14-month project included a comprehensive exterior restoration, during which crews re-pointed the entire building, treated the marble stonework to prevent further deterioration, replaced exterior woodwork and restored windows in the nave. A permanent entrance ramp for the disabled was also installed.
The University Church, which was declared a New York City landmark in 1970, underwent significant interior renovations in 1929 and 1990.
The church is probably most famous for the six 19th-century stained-glass windows lining the nave, which were originally gifts of King Louis Philippe of France to Archbishop John Hughes for Old St. Patrick's Cathedral in downtown Manhattan. However, the windows were too large for Old St. Patrick’s and were instead given to Fordham. Created in Sevres, France, the stained-glass windows depict the four evangelists and St. Peter and St. Paul.
Father McShane closed the Mass by symbolically returning the windows to the archdiocese, presenting Cardinal Egan with a set of framed miniature replicas.
“I hope that this small gift will serve to remind you always of the historic links that exist between the Archdiocese and the University, and between the archbishop and the president of the University,” he said.