In the parishes I’ve belonged to, and I imagine in yours as well, we pew-sitters are always being encouraged to invite our friends to Mass. When I was a student at Yale, worshipping at St. Thomas More Catholic Chapel, I actually did. I was eager to show off what went on there, as if it were a window into the best of me. And, in particular, I was proud to introduce my friends to the chaplain, Fr. Bob, whose homilies were as good as any lecture I heard during the week and whose casual conversation was a delight. I knew the liturgies where he presided would communicate everything I cherished about my faith better than I could.
Fr. Robert Beloin, who died September 23 at the age of seventy-one, was one of two chaplains at St. Thomas More during my college years. Sr. Jo-Ann Veillette died, also too soon, in November 2016. I returned to campus a few weeks after her death to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Golden Center, a splendid Catholic student center that stands next to the chapel and that was still in the planning stages when I was an undergrad. I had been asked to join a panel of graduates reflecting on our days at St. Thomas More. As I looked back at the paradise I had found there, I was struck by the memory of what I decided to call “confident Catholicism.” Fr. Bob and Sr. Jo-Ann created that atmosphere and welcomed everyone into it.
The confidence I am referring to was nothing like triumphalism. At St. Thomas More, I found a community of believers who were simply, calmly confident that the Catholic faith had a natural place at Yale, and in the modern world in general. Fr. Bob made being a Catholic seem like the most sensible thing a person could do. For him, the expansion of St. Thomas More was necessary not just to create a refuge for Catholic students, but to enhance the intellectual and spiritual life of the university as a whole.
It was easy to believe in that vision when you listened to Fr. Bob preach. His homilies were masterful. Always centered in the day’s scriptures (and not only in the Gospel), they were thoughtful, polished, and challenging without being hectoring. He could teach and correct and inspire, all without going on too long. Once during my junior year, preaching on the “seventy times seven” passage in Matthew, he explained that, sometimes, loving as Christ commands requires a person to forgive the same sin over and over. I remember the timing because, during that year, we had all lived through the shock of 9/11, and alongside that trauma I carried my own personal troubles, as college students do. That homily reached me in a moment of both universal and personal brokenness—a moment in which Fr. Bob, somehow, said precisely what I needed to hear. He showed me what needed fixing in my life to help me live up to the Gospel, but with gentleness, leaving me with the sense that I might actually be able to do it.