Fairfield Jesuit Community Center groundbreaking ceremony paves way for construction to begin


Image: Jesuit groundbreaking

(l-r) Fairfield University President Rev. Jeffrey P. von Arx, S.J., trustee Kevin M. Conlisk, architect Alan Organschi, and Rev. Walter Conlan, S.J., Rector of the Fairfield Jesuit Community, at the groundbreaking of the Fairfield Jesuit Community Center.

Fairfield University recently broke ground on its new Fairfield Jesuit Community Center, which will be a place for apostolic outreach, spiritual direction, and retreats for the University and Fairfield College Prepatory School communities. The environmentally friendly building has a design that employs a variety of strategies and technologies that minimize its ecological impact.

A St. Ignatius medallion was planted to sanctify the ground where the Center will be built, not far from Bellarmine Hall. Standing near the future building site, Rev. Walter J. Conlan, S.J., Rector of the Fairfield Jesuit Community, asked God to "make it fertile in good works and charity." Fr. Conlan then asked University President Jeffrey P. von Arx, S.J., trustee Kevin M. Conlisk, and architect Alan Organschi to assist with the ceremonial digging. "Gentlemen, grab your golden shovels."

The Center will provide a more central location to the University and Fairfield Prep communities than the Jesuit community's existing residence, St. Ignatius, which is located at the southern end of Fairfield's property. Fr. von Arx made note of the fact that the new building's site is more a part of the campus, something that is reflective of the Jesuit tradition. "Jesuits were traditionally not far from the heart of campus... It is certainly my hope that by bringing the Jesuit community back to the heart of the campus we can facilitate the work of preserving the Catholic and Jesuit mission and identity of this University and Prep School."

The Jesuit community had been strategic in discerning a style of building appropriate to the simplicity of a group of vowed religious men that will help in the dialogue about Jesuit identity with lay partners. Fr. Conlan told those in attendance at the groundbreaking that the Jesuit community believes the Center's design "reflects that it's a house for religious men, rooted in prayer." The great room will be the heart of the residence, he said, and the chapel will offer a sense of the sacred. "It will promote a sense of simplicity while stirring a sense of spirituality."

It was conceived as an Apostolic Community Center for 30 Jesuits engaged in varied apostolates, and their colleagues, both at the University, Prep and elsewhere. It also will be home to 12 Jesuits. The Center will serve as the central gathering place of the Jesuits who are scattered in alternative housing arrangements in the dorms, local parishes, small communities and other universities. Thus, the Jesuit community will be able to maintain its strong history of hospitality, service and community leadership. It will include a chapel and spaces for meetings, programs, faculty and staff development, guests, and chamber music concerts.

It is designed to accommodate a mixed generational community, with the possibility of an easy reconfiguration at a later date for University and Prep uses, if and when the Jesuit Community no longer requires this space.

It was significant to hold the groundbreaking on April 22, which was the Feast of Our Lady, Mother of the Society of Jesus, and Earth Day. The Center's 'green' elements are considerable and its design promotes sustainable principles. It will feature a garden roof, recycled materials, and a geo-thermal heating and cooling system that will reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Construction is expected to be completed in mid-2009.

Rev. Gilbert Sunghera, S.J., assistant professor, School of Architecture, University of Detroit Mercy, served as a project advisor. The firm of Gray Organschi Architecture, of New Haven, Conn., was selected to design the Center. The Jesuit community was especially impressed by the firm's solid design sensibilities that integrate and respect the surrounding landscape. The firm is also highly respected for creating well-crafted buildings, which are environmentally sound and inspiring.

In 2005, Fr. Conlan was charged by Rev. Thomas J. Regan, S.J., the Provincial of the New England Province of the Society of Jesus, to restart conversations regarding housing options for Fairfield's Jesuit community. Among the reasons was that St. Ignatius was only one-third occupied. Construction on the 20,000 square-foot Center will take 10 to 12 months.

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Media Contact: Meg McCaffrey, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2726, mmccaffrey@fairfield.edu

Posted on May 20, 2008

Vol. 40, No. 271