Summer suppers at Thomas More College are quite different from their school year counterparts: they are no longer full meals prepared by Chef Pat and begun regularly at 5:45 P.M., but rather, in the absence of a summer program, dinners now are doctored leftovers from the walk-in, scrounged up by anyone at all and usually ready somewhere around the hour of six; the much smaller group of diners sits cozily around one table in the caf or, more often, outside in the piazza; finally, meal-time announcements now need no prefacing ring of the bell. So when it was announced one evening that Father John Healey would be coming over that Wednesday to say Mass and dine with us, it was in a casual tone, befitting the normalcy of an long-established custom.
In the small but robust community at Thomas More College, traditions are the very lifeblood or the community: feasts, Oktoberfest, a trip to the Frost farm, the Jr. Project, the Soirée, a favorite cappuccino spot in the Eternal City. Every semester when a group of students travel to Rome they get to read notes scribbled to them by the previous class and hidden in a rock wall halfway up a mountain hike to the Benedictine monastery of Subiaco. Not empty motions but strong traditions. After four collegiate years at the college, a joy and respect for tradition is ingrained in each member of the community.
The very first student to ask Father over for Mass and a dinner was then rising senior/alumnus Joseph Myers—in the summer of 2007. Though this does not sound like a very old date, at the time Father Healey was not at all the regular fixture at TMC which he is today. Mr. Myers recounts how he had only become acquainted with him by attending Mass at St. Patrick’s Church in Nashua, though later on he also “heard in passing that Fr. Healey was ‘long ago’ affiliated with the college.” During that summer of 2007, however, Myers and his fellow summer workers, who were suffering from “that drought of not having the opportunity of daily mass,” invited Father Healey back to Thomas More.
He accepted the offer and thus began the tradition of “Father Healey Nights,” when Thomas More students receive heavenly meals in exchange for earthly ones and the good company of Father Healey. This most recent Father Healey Night began with Mass at 5:30 P.M. After a long day of manual labor the students hurried to change into something worthy of the occasion. Paint was scrubbed off arms and hands. Mass was said. To an onlooker it may have seemed a small crowd, but every single student worker was present, so it was in fact, the whole community, drawn together at the beating heart of campus. Without any planning the students even sang parts of the Mass, while one served and another read.
After Mass the workers charged down to the cafe to put the finishing touches on the meal. This time it was Pasta Carbonara, a harkening back to the travels in Rome experienced by all members of the community. The warm Italian bread and tossed salad were set out and tea candles lit to spruce up drab cafeteria tables. The topics of conversation at the table ranged, but on this particular evening they certainly swayed more toward the silly than the serious: for example, plans were discussed for the purchasing of a private jet specifically for travel to and from Rome, to be passed off as a buildings and grounds expense. Also, some rather more realistic suggestions were made for a game of poker later that night. “Oh, I mean—if that’s okay, Father . . .” junior Sabina Adams added. It was funny to hear Father, after a pause, reply in the same slow and deliberate tone which he uses at the altar, “I will be an indifferent bystander.”
Rising senior Bridget Skidd had the much coveted seat at Father Healey’s right hand. “Father Healey is a wonderful priest and so kind,” she remarked later “but he is also hilarious–he joyfully joined in the jokes and conversation passing around the table and would often erupt in his typical infectious laughter. He is unhurried and deliberate in the most delightful way, bringing calmness to those around him. The evening was such a pleasure.”
As implied earlier, Father John Healey is now seen at Thomas More College more regularly than an occasional summer evening. During the school year, he serves as the college’s chaplain; he offers the Sacrament of Confession and Mass for the students and faculty every Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday and is always happy to meet with students in his cozy little office in the White House. “When I asked Fr. Healey to come, I simply wanted to provide an opportunity to have a priest be on our campus in a capacity that was social and spiritually nourishing at the same time,” Joseph Meyers explained. Little did he know that Father Healey would bring those at Thomas More College as much nourishment as he has these past six years, and which he continues to bring. And thankfully, despite all the other roles he has since filled at the college, Father John Healey still blesses those who stay the summer with wonderful evenings—evenings on which not only social and spiritual natures are nourished, but stomachs, too.