“It works,” Archbishop José Gomez quipped unlocking the double dark wood doors of the new Our Savior Church on the campus of the University of Southern California at 1 p.m. on Dec. 9.
The light tan, rough Italian travertine stone exterior seemed almost to breathe in the midday winter’s sun, which shimmered into the vestibule of the Romanesque-style structure at West 32nd Street and University Avenue. Some 400 invited guests filled the courtyard partly framed by the recently opened red brick USC Caruso Catholic Center, named after Rick Caruso, major donor and real estate developer of the Grove in the Fairfax area and Americana at Brand in Glendale. Another 300 watched the consecration Mass from inside the center.
The nearly three-hour liturgy included the blessing and sprinkling of holy water by Archbishop Gomez, Cardinal Roger Mahony and Auxiliary Bishop Edward Clark; a prayer of dedication; sacred anointing of the Carrara marble altar with an onyx face and walls of the church; incensing of the altar and church and lighting of both; the Liturgy of the Eucharist; inauguration of Blessed Sacrament Chapel and lighting of the tabernacle light. The chapel, located behind the altar and below the domed apse, has kneelers and chairs in an intimate setting before the gold tabernacle.
“It’s wonderful to be with you this afternoon to consecrate this beautiful church,” the Archbishop said at the beginning of his homily. “Today in this holy Mass, we want to thank God for the many people whose hard work and sacrifices helped to build this church in the heart of this great university. “And we ask God to bless this church and all the ministries of this Catholic center. May the Catholic presence on this campus always be a living witness that the Christian faith is the foundation of Western civilization and culture — and the ‘soul’ of any true liberal education.”
Archbishop Gomez said USC students who attend the new campus church share the “special responsibility” of Jesus’ mission of evangelization.
“So in this beautiful church — and in everything we do — let us always ensure that God’s truth is proclaimed in all its richness and in all its fullness,” he urged. “We need to let his Word be heard. We need to let his Word challenge us and challenge our culture.”
In his closing remarks of the service, with more than 20 priests present, Father Lawrence Seyer, pastor of Our Savior Parish and director of campus ministry, exclaimed, “Well, we did it folks!” before adding, “Notre Dame, you can keep your dome.”
C. L. Max Nikias, USC president, pointed out the historical connection between USC’s Catholic Community and its founding. In 1879, Irish-American politician and the seventh governor of California, Joe Downey, was one of three men to donate plots of land to establish the university. Nikias also noted that famed USC baseball coach Rod Dedeaux, while an undergraduate in 1944, helped to reorganize the faltering Catholic Newman Club, which was formed by a group of 62 students two decades earlier. And on Oct. 5, 1958, a small church costing $250,000 was finally dedicated by Cardinal James Francis McIntyre.
“Today, USC is home to more Catholic students than Notre Dame,” Nikias observed, drawing laughs and then applause from the congregation. “And Our Savior Church and the USC Caruso Catholic Center will offer students a home away from home, a place of reflection in their demanding lives. Just as USC is an intellectual gift to Los Angeles, this church and the Caruso Center will be a vital visual anchor in the community.”
Two seniors heavily involved in the campus ministry spoke next. Victoria Alonzo, peer ministry president, noted that during college it’s easy to put one’s faith aside and even see it as irrelevant. And she started to feel that spiritual malaise herself until the Catholic high school grad started attending events at the Catholic Center.
“The center has been a place where I have been able to stay in touch with and grow my faith,” the 22-year-old said. “It has been a place of inspiration for me, and I hope that it can continue to inspire students to grow in Christ’s love and stand as a place for faith development for many generations of Trojans to come.”
Sergio Avelar, 21, confided that he, too, had developed a deeper and closer connection with his Catholic faith because of his involvement with the center. This included preparing and serving meals to the homeless on L.A.’s skid row; traveling during spring break to El Salvador, where his family immigrated from, to build houses; as well as participating in Sunday Masses and leading retreats.“
We hope, with this new place, to bring the Catholic Trojans of this school closer and be a part of this wonderful and strong community,” said the Loyola High School graduate. “But more important, we hope to develop Catholic leaders of the future that will be inspired by the Word of God and the love and fellowship of Christ to share their faith with others and someday give back to this community.”
After the consecration and dedication was over, a still-smiling Father Seyer said his primary feeling was relief. “You know,” he told The Tidings, “this has been a ten-year project, with two years of construction when we had to move into a lecture hall,” after having his picture taken at least 100 times with donors, guests and students. “I’ve been involved with it for all my time here, seven-and-a-half years. And there were many times we thought it wasn’t going to happen. Just various things like the economy mostly.” Then he added with an almost straight face, “Every time USC lost a football game, we lost money, too.”
The 51-year-old priest said the final amount raised for Our Savior Church and the Catholic Center was $36 million, which included a $6 million endowment that had almost grown by another million today.
“I think it shows that our parish is now relevant,” Father Seyer explained. “So many alumni and then the university got behind it; it shows that they see that faith as something important. So, hopefully, that will resonate with students. And now it’s a beautiful space with stained glass windows, pews that curve towards the altar and a seven-foot bronze Crucifix suspended above the altar depicting Christ in his last moments alive. “So it’s something worth coming to. I think that’s going to help their prayer life, get them to think about it and want to do more with it.
“We built this for the students,” Father Seyer went on. “They’re my parishioners. And some of America’s, if not the world’s, top and brightest young people — intellectually, in art, film, music, you name it — come here to college. So these kids are really going to be influential. And for them to leave here knowing about Christ is really something important.”