Laughter is a great reflection of the “spirit of a place,” as Dr. Connell terms it to many a Thomas More student during their Rome Semester with him. Thursday evening arrived with lively and exuberant laughter resounding from the cafe of Thomas More College. While pots banged, the cappuccino machine steamed, and the piano sang, one sound stood out above all others: college chaplain Father John Healey’s infectious laughter.
Father Healey is an essential part of the Thomas More College community. During the school year he can be seen driving onto campus around ten o’clock on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday mornings. He comes to hear confessions and say Mass for the faculty and students, after which he joins them for lunch and conversation. Many students also come to meet with him privately at the small office he holds at the college.
During the summer, though most of the students have returned home, those working on campus recognize that Father Healey still remains a fundamental part of the community. So, when graduate and current Officer of Admissions, Hannah O’Connor asked the summer workers when Father Healey Night should be held, all were filled with anticipation for the highly esteemed tradition. Though not all the workers had experienced Father Healey Night, all knew it for the community gem that it is. In response to Miss O’Connor’s question, Father Healey Night was set to take place Thursday evening.
Tradition holds a place of primacy at Thomas More College; freshman orientation in the White Mountains, the Robert Burns Banquet, the Soiree, the German Oktoberfest, the thirty-cent pastry shop in Rome, and Father Healey Night. These various traditions are the very fibers making up the identity of the college.
As Thursday’s work day came to a close, students exchanged their tools for rosary beads, their work for prayer, and their music for silence. Mass began. One student served, another read, and the others sang; all came together to participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
Fed with the Bread of Life and spiritually strengthened by Father Healey’s blessing, the handful of students hurried down to the cafe to add final touches to the meal, set out a delicious caprese appetizer, and light tea candles. The conversations varied. Some talked about upcoming hikes they were hoping to take, others talked about driving tests and their first driving experiences. One participant cheekily asked if they had had driving tests when Father was younger, or if they just hitched up the buggy and went on their way. Father, without missing a beat, shocked the students by saying: “Well, I met Henry Ford.” He paused and added that it was when he was a young child and when Mr. Ford was extremely old.
After the meal was finished, the students, finding their ‘Roman roots’, began making cappuccinos, while others began playing the piano. Father, like any good guest, presented his addition to the evening: two boxes of fresh dessert pastries from a local bakery.
Father Healey Night is always a wonderful time in which all are both “socially and spiritually nourished,” the end which alum Joseph Myers had in mind when he first invited Father Healey for dinner in 2007, the beginning of Father Healey Night. As the final cappuccinos were made and conversations came to an end, Father Healey stood, gave the students his many thanks and his blessing and departed. All hope the opportunity to pause, ponder, and pray will come again soon – all with an eye to the next time Father Healey would grace them with his infectious laughter.