The blessing and dedication of the St John Paul the Great chapel and student centre at the University of Sydney on 16 September heralded what one student leader described as “the most exciting time to be Catholic on campus” in the 165-year history at the university.
The Archbishop of Sydney, Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP was the principal celebrant in blessing and dedicating the chapel, joining numerous students, priests, religious and dignitaries for the occasion.
At one point, the archbishop removed his chasuble – one worn by John Paul during his visit to Australia in 1986 – pouring chrism on the five crosses on the altar, commemorating the five wounds of Christ; anointing the altar by rubbing it in with his bare hands.
The altar was then dressed and the sanctuary adorned with flowers before a single censer, set in the middle of the altar, gave up a cloud of incense.
These followed the ceremonial presentation and installation of a relic of hair from St John Paul into a cavity in the altar, the congregation waiting while the cavity was sealed by a craftsman.
In his homily, Archbishop Fisher said St John Paul the Great was a great champion of young people who had too much love for people during one of the most formative times of life to romanticise or pander to them.
“His capacity to be close to [young people] was already evident when, in the shadows of Nazis and Communists, he joined youth drama groups and a clandestine seminary, and later worked as a priest, lecturer and youth chaplain,” the archbishop said.
“He expected a lot from the (young people), set the bar high, and challenged them to a full-on humanity and a full-cream Catholicism.
“He knew youth is the time for settling ideals, when conscience is tested, and sexuality and relationships developed or deformed …
“Uncle John Paul knew what young people need; that they long for identity and truth; and so their university years can be truly graced times of seeking and finding …
“He knew these had to be treasured if young people were to grow into their personal vocations, which are always expressions of the core vocation to love.”
The chapel and surrounding centre, which also includes a library and common areas for formation and social events, as well as the offices of the University of Sydney Catholic Chaplaincy, were “significant additions” to the university and the archdiocese, the archbishop said.
“Here at this altar, the surrounding chapel, and the concentric circles of the chaplaincy building and the mission to the university that goes out from it, the Catholic Chaplaincy will build on the long and fruitful history of the Church as the originator of the very idea and first examples of the university and as long-time chaplains to this one,” the archbishop said.
Speaking at a reception after the Mass, the president of the Sydney University Catholic Society, Alessandro Cowley invoked the memory of the Angel of Knowledge, which once stood atop of the Great Hall of the university, removed by a vote of the senate in 1874.
“In the Catholic understanding, this search for knowledge is never an end in itself but should lead one to an encounter with the divine source of all things.
“The visit of St John Paul the Great in 1986 demonstrated the universal message of hope and purpose that Christianity brings to academic life. He is here again, in the altar, and praying for us all in the communion of saints.
“With this building there has been no more exciting time in its 165 history to be Catholic at Sydney University … Young people, mentored by the chaplaincy team will, God willing, go on to achieve great things”.
Begun under the former Archbishop of Sydney, George Cardinal Pell, the project is a work of the archdiocese in partnership with Urbanest (CEO Bub Nickel was present on the day and has committed to donating stained glass windows for later installation).
Bates Smart (Guy Lake, Rob Moore, Tonie Maclennan and Merissa Lam) and Otto Cserhalmi were the architects for the project.