Fairfield University's Jesuit Community Center groundbreaking ceremony set for Earth Day

Fairfield University's Jesuit Community Center groundbreaking ceremony set for Earth Day

On Tuesday, April 22 at 10 a.m., Fairfield University will have a groundbreaking ceremony for its new Fairfield Jesuit Community Center, an environmentally friendly home for the Jesuit community and a gathering place for spiritual direction, retreats, meetings and entertaining. It will be built on the side of a gentle slope on campus, overlooking Long Island Sound and will feature a garden roof and a geo-thermal heating and cooling system. The building's design promotes sustainable principles and has minimal impact on the environment, evidenced by the building's placement so it won't disturb a grove of centennial beech trees. From its perch on a hill near Round Hill Road, the Center will be oriented to capture heat gain in the winter and cooling breezes in the summer.

The ceremony, scheduled to take place at the foot of Bellarmine Lawn, will include a blessing of the site and the planting of a St. Ignatius medallion in a small, wooden box as a way of sanctifying the ground. The ceremony coincides with the Feast of Our Lady, Mother of the Society of Jesus, and Earth Day, a fitting time because the building will include many green elements, including bamboo floors and recycled contents from structural steel to carpets. Construction on the 20,000 square-foot Center will take 10 to 12 months. Total project costs are $10.5 million.

Rev. Walter Conlan, S.J., Rector of the Fairfield Jesuit Community, said, "This will be a residence reflecting that we are religious men rooted in prayer and the spiritual discipline of St. Ignatius. It will help us communicate our core values to our lay colleagues who will continue the tradition as the number of Jesuits declines. Its design also speaks to our mission of being good stewards of the Earth."

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 - the current residence for the Jesuits - was only one-third occupied.

The Jesuit community also desired a more central location on campus than St. Ignatius, which is located off Barlow Road, near the south end of campus. The Center will provide Fairfield's Jesuits with just that, for better integration with the University and Fairfield Prep communities. The Center will be more accessible by foot to the campus community.

The Center will have public, semi-public and private spaces. It is conceived as an Apostolic Community Center. Part of the building will have rooms for meetings, retreats, spiritual direction, dining, entertaining, chamber music concerts, spaces for faculty and staff development and programming and guests, as well as a chapel - a place for living and learning. A two-story residential wing is expected to be home to 12 Jesuits who serve the University and Prep communities. Some Jesuits will continue to live in University dorms among students and elsewhere in the area, according to Rev. Charles H. Allen, S.J.

The architectural firm of Gray Organschi Architecture, of New Haven, Conn., was selected to design the Center, which will be built with respect for the surrounding landscape and topography. Architects Elizabeth Gray and Alan Organschi, who have served as instructors at the Yale School of Architecture, were asked to come up with a style of building which would be appropriate to the simplicity of a group of priests, and one that will help in the dialogue about Jesuit identity with their lay partners. From the earliest design stages, decisions were made with sustainable goals in mind. The result is a beautiful building, stunning in its simplicity and environmentally sound in its design.

A green "living" roof, with grass and wildflowers growing on it resembling a meadow, will help insulate the building, absorb as much as 95% of rainwater, protect the roofing membrane from damaging ultraviolet light, and capture run-off during heavy rains.

A geo-thermal heating and cooling system will also minimize impact to the environment, reduce carbon dioxide emissions by eliminating fossil fuel combustion and save significant money on energy costs.

The living quarters look toward the Sound. Residents will have the feeling of living in a tree house, as this part of the Center will be situated near the grand beech trees planted by the Lashar family, the former owners of what is now Bellarmine Hall.

Fr. Conlan said, "This building will be a boost to the green movement on campus. It also could serve as a living classroom for our engineering and environmental studies students."

A "great room" will serve as the heart of the residence, connecting the public and semi-public spaces. The chapel will include a restored historic organ, as well as altar stones from altars which were located at different parts of campus. A diseased tree on the construction site will be cut down and used to fashion the altar, ambo and celebrant's chair. Light will stream in from the ceiling via a skylight that looks like a wing of a bird.

Other design choices contribute to the high standard of environment responsibility. For example, careful management of storm water results in no increase of site run-off from impervious surfaces eliminating surface erosion and pollutants. The Center preserves parkland and will beautify an area of campus.

Posted On: 04-17-2008 10:04 AM

Volume: 40 Number: 249