As I’m approaching my fourth month at Rensselaer, I’m honestly overwhelmed by the warm, generous welcome I’ve received. I’ve settled into the chaplain’s residence; the leadership at the Rensselaer Newman Foundation has made sure that house– after being mostly unoccupied for two years– is refreshed and comfortable. Moving is never easy, but this relocation has been smooth, even in the midst of the pandemic.In my previous assignments at the St. Thomas More Newman Center at The Ohio State University and the University Catholic Center at the University of Texas in Austin, I’ve come to appreciate how the mission of the Paulist Fathers can shape our approach to campus ministry. Our focus on evangelization, reconciliation, and ecumenical and interfaith collaboration is uniquely suited to the campus setting. We Paulists see our Catholic faith not in opposition to American culture, but in creative dialogue with it, affirming what is good and virtuous, while still challenging what needs to be shaped by the values of the Gospel. Here at RPI we are perfectly situated to engage in that dialogue.
The RPI staff in the Division of Student Life and at the Rensselaer Union have been incredibly helpful and welcoming as we re-establish the Chaplains’ Office. As students arrive (or return) to campus this fall, we’re anticipating a substantial need among our students for support and community. For most of us, even those who haven’t lost a family member or friend to COVID-19, the effects of the long-term low-grade trauma of the pandemic has left us longing for human connections, reshaping many of our social structures and expectations, and asking important questions of faith and meaning. My task as chaplain of the Institute is to listen, facilitate dialogue, and offer the wisdom and guidance that our faith provides.
Sadly, we’re not out of the pandemic woods yet. As we’re planning for fall semester activities and programs, I’m aware that we will also need a workable Plan “B” in the event that COVID-19 cases continue to surge. RPI has experienced an extremely low rate of COVID-19 spread, but that has come as the result of very strict public health protocols. Those protocols have eased a bit, and we’re anticipating a full return to campus this fall, but as virus variants spread we may need to return to the isolation and restrictions of last year. May God’s mercy and Providence protect and guide us!
Despite the uncertainty of the immediate future, I see tremendous potential for the growth of our campus ministry at RPI. We have a dedicated staff, a supportive parish community, a storied history of innovation and service, as well as unique access and support from the Institute itself. The single obstacle to actualizing that potential is the scarcity of resources we need to grow our program. If you are already supporting us financially, please know I’m deeply grateful for your trust and generosity. If you’re not yet on board, please consider a monthly gift to help us bring faith, arts, and humanities to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Your investment in our campus ministry, the Chapel + Cultural Center, and the Rensselaer Newman Foundation will bear dividends for generations of new leaders who will change the world.
With gratitude and prayers for you,
Fr. Larry Rice, CSP
PS: If you find yourself in the Capitol District, please let me know. I’m eager to meet more of our community of friends and alumni!