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Mass of Holy Spirit Unites Bishop O’Connell, GCU Community in Faith and Hope

Bishop in GCU chapel

It was standing room only on January 31 at Georgian Court University’s Dorothy Marron University Community Chapel as students, administration, faculty, and staff gathered with Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., J.C.D., for the annual Mass of the Holy Spirit.

Priest and GCU president smiling
Bishop O’Connell with President Marbach

The Mass, a longstanding custom that dates to 16th-century Europe, traditionally marks the opening of the academic year—or in this case, the spring semester—in Catholic colleges and universities. The liturgy serves as a means of invoking the Holy Spirit for guidance and wisdom throughout the year.

In the pastoral setting of the lakeside chapel, snowflakes intermittently flew past its wide glass windows as the Bishop prayed “in a special way” for the Holy Spirit to bless the members of the university community in the coming months.

This year, the Mass—concelebrated by Father Anthony DiPalma, university chaplain, and Father Michael Wallack, episcopal secretary to the Bishop, was held in the middle of Catholic Schools Week, a fact noted in the opening remarks of GCU President Joseph R. Marbach, Ph.D. He thanked Bishop O’Connell for including GCU in a busy schedule “where he has to be in three places at one time.”

Dr. Marbach described the liturgy as “especially appropriate as we pray for guidance and wisdom, especially for our leaders during this period of upheaval and unrest,” he said, referring to the current political climate.

The Bishop, he said, “is someone who, I am sure, has prayed for guidance from the Holy Spirit, particularly in the decisions he recently made to finalize the Diocese’s ‘Faith in Our Future,’ plan,” the prayerful and deliberative study aimed at strengthening and enlivening parishes, organizations, and ministries of the diocese in the coming years.

Catholic Teachings Unite All with the Holy Spirit

Priest shaking a student's hand
Bishop O’Connell greeted students, including freshman MCS member Danny Ginchereau, after the Mass.

In his own remarks as the Mass came to a close, Bishop O’Connell—who served for 12 years as the president of The Catholic University—spoke briefly of how his passion for academia dovetails with his tenure as the Bishop of Trenton.

“In this diocese with one Catholic university, boy am I glad it is Georgian Court,” where, he said, Catholic values and core teachings are available not just to Catholic students.

These words were very much taken to heart by Sarah Leavitt and Amanda Cavallo, both active members of the Mercy Collegiate Society (MCS).

“I think that is something the university as a whole values and our president has done a lot of work with ensuring that the principals of the faith are extended to those who are not Catholic,” said Sarah, a junior nursing major who has been an MCS member for two and a half years and is a part of its leadership circle. She gave the first reading of Hebrews 12:1–4 at the Mass.

Amanda, a sophomore psychology and elementary education major, said she presented the gifts at last year’s Mass when Bishop O’Connell was also in attendance.

“I thought it was cool. I was introduced to the Bishop and had a conversation with him and made a connection. I enjoyed it so much last year, I wanted to come back,” said Amanda. “A lot of people at the Mass were not Catholic, but they still came. There was a lot of focus, and I think that it helps people realize how great God and the Holy Spirit are and how much of an effect faith can have on their lives.”

Sarah agreed. “It was very inspirational. It made me feel a lot closer to God. It was such a good way to begin the semester because it kind of prepares you for everything that is coming.”

Story contributed by Lois Rogers.

Aerial view of GCU.

About Georgian Court University

Founded in 1908 and sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy, Georgian Court University is Central and South Jersey’s only Catholic university. GCU is a comprehensive, coeducational university with a strong liberal arts core and a historic special concern for women. As a forward-thinking university that supports diversity and academic excellence, GCU is known for expanding possibility for more than 2,100 students of all faiths and backgrounds in 35+ undergraduate majors and 10+ graduate programs. The GCU Lions compete in 15 NCAA Division II sports in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference (CACC). In 2020, GCU was named a Best Value College by and a Best Bang for the Buck (Northeast) by Washington Monthly. High student retention and graduation rates also make GCU a Top Performer on Social Mobility on U.S. News & World Reports rankings. The main campus is located in Lakewood, New Jersey, on the picturesque former George Jay Gould estate, a National Historic Landmark. Georgian Court, which is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, also serves students at other locations, such as GCU at BrookdaleGCU at Rowan College of South Jersey–Cumberland Campus, and through multiple online certificate and degree programs.

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