1908-1935: THE BEGINNING YEARS
The Catholic presence at Syracuse University began in 1908 with the formation of the first Brownson Club. They held their activities in the old Knights of Columbus hall on Larned St, about a mile west of campus. In 1915 the Brownson Club officially changed their name to the Newman Club. The Newman Club and SU remained without a full time Chaplain, until 1935, when a 31 year old Priest by the name of Gannon Ryan was appointed full time Chaplain by the Syracuse Diocese. His appointment would change the course of the Catholic Ministry at SU completely.
1935-1962: THE GANNON RYAN ERA
Upon his appointment to the Chaplaincy, Fr. Ryan took his office in Hendricks Chapel. But their was a problem. The university refused to provide a meeting space for use by only Catholic students, aside from a room in Slocum Hall for Sunday Mass. After meeting with Bishop Walter Forey and prominent local laity, the St. Thomas More Foundation was started. The foundation was charged with raising funds to purchase a permanent home for the Newman Club. In 1939 the foundation found the premises, an old fraternity house located two blocks from campus at 112 Walnut Pl. Just after moving into their new home, the board members came up with a fund raising idea. They held a ball for the students of the Newman Club to raise money for the foundation.
The ball became a tradition that lasted through to the 1990’s. The ball was an instant success, so much so that in 1950, the foundation had accumulated enough money to put an addition on to the back of the house to become a community room, as well as a makeshift chapel to say Mass in (currently known as the Great Room). One noted incident in Msgr. Ryan’s time as chaplain. He was vehemently apposed to noted geologist Kertley F. Mather speaking at the then annual Hendrick’s Chapel Interdenominational Student Brotherhood Banquet. Msgr. Ryan’s issue stemmed from a list of so-called “red-ucators” given to him by an alumni. Dean Nobel upheld Msgr. Ryan’s complaint and Mather did not speak. The incident gained attention in the New York Times, after the Protestant Chaplain then invited Mather to give a sermon the following Sunday at their service.
1962-1991: THE FR. CHARLES ERA
The John G. Alibrandi Jr. Catholic Center
On December 7, 1962 Msgr. Ryan died suddenly, at age 58. It was another young Priest who took over following his death, Fr. Charles Borgognoni. Like his predecessor Borgognoni changed the course of the Catholic Campus ministry at SU. Before his arrival at St. Thomas More, Borgognoni was the director of the Pompian Players, an amateur theater group that was run by a local parish. He kept his position as the director, and was able to get a portion of the proceeds to go to the Newman Center. He instituted an annual golf tournament that continued until 2005. He also began the weekly pasta dinner, a tradition that still goes on to this day.
Perhaps his most successful, and longest lasting legacy to the Catholic Ministry came in 1982. After the neighboring Sorority house was demolished, Fr. Charles purchased the land and a massive addition was put on, the John G. Alibrandi Jr. Catholic Center. Despite being named a Monsignor by Bishop Francis J. Harrison, he always insisted on being called Fr. Charles. He stayed another nine years at Syracuse after opening the Alibrandi Center before retiring from active ministry.
1991-1999: THE JIM LANG ERA
Following Fr. Charles, the diocese appointed SUNY Oswego Chaplain Fr. Jim Lang as the new SU chaplain. Fr. Lang kept many of the old traditions that both Monsignors Ryan and Borgognoni had started: the ball, the golf tournament (which was affectionately renamed the “Fr. Charles Open”) and the pasta dinners. Fr. Lang stayed at Alibrandi for eight years before he was appointed the Vicar for Parishes of the Syracuse Diocese by Bishop James M. Moynihan. Despite his move to the Diocesan Office, Fr. Lang remains a familiar face at SU. He is still the adviser to Alpha Phi Omega, the SU Service Fraternity, and often celebrates Mass at Alibrandi when the current Chaplain is unable to do so.
1999-PRESENT: THE FRANCISCAN ERA
Following Fr. Lang’s reassignment, the Conventual Franciscan Friars took Alibrandi on as part of their well-developed ministry on Syracuse’s north side. They started by appointing Fr. Adam Keltos to the Chaplaincy. Fr. Keltos stay was short, only until June 2001 when he was commissioned to run The Franciscan Place at Carousel Center. At that time Fr. Tim Mulligan was named Chaplain. He immediately began to put new traditions in place. With the help of the students the concept of More House was formed. While Alibrandi was under the control of the Diocese, the Chaplain needed a place to live, and did so in the house attached to the center. When the Franciscans took over the house was empty, as the Friars live in community at Assumption.
The interior of the house was remodeled and on September 5, 2004 the original house that started the St. Thomas More Catholic Campus Ministry, was rechristened More House, a Catholic living community for students. The occasion was celebrated by Bishop James M. Moynihan. At the start of the 2006-2007 academic year our Knights Council joined the Newman Association at Alibrandi in ministering to the needs of SU’s Catholic Community. At the close of the Fall 2006 semester Fr. Tim left SU to peruse other ventures and Fr. John Ruffo was named the interim Chaplain beginning January 2007. Fr. John stayed on until a permanent chaplain was chosen. On December 1, 2007 Fr. Linus DeSantis was formally named the Catholic Chaplain and took over at Alibrandi. Fr. Linus welcomed the sitting Bishop of Syracuse to the Catholic Campus Ministry for the first time in five years. The Most Rev. Robert J. Cunningham celebrated the Parents Weekend Mass on October 25, 2009 and stayed for brunch afterwords to meet and greet the family of current ministry students.
Under the leadership of Fr. Linus the center has undertaken two large capital ventures: a $150,000 capital campaign to fix the roof of the entire complex which was completed before the start of the Fall 2010 semester. Following the completion of the roof campaign, a $4 million capital campaign has been started to renovate the center in its entirety. The Fall 2011 saw the Great Room converted into a coffee shop called the More House Cafe. The venture funds the Catholic Campus Ministry and is run by business students from the Whitman School of Management. The next project planned in the campaign is remodeling the interior of the Alibrandi Center (the portion build in 1982) to be more traditional as a Catholic house of worship while not losing its functionality for a diverse campus ministry and its ability to host other events.