St. Thomas More Oratory serves the Catholic community at the University of Delaware
NEWARK — It’s been a year since the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales assumed pastoral leadership at the St. Thomas More Oratory, and the Catholic community at the University of Delaware continues to evolve.
The pastor, Oblate Father Ed Ogden, has a new associate and has brought some new ideas to the Newark campus, but he has tried not to undo the good that has been done by Kim Zitzner, the longtime director of Catholic campus ministry at UD.
“What we’re trying to do is find some new ways, continuing what was done,” Father Ogden said last month. “But I like to use the word ‘building’ on what was done, from (Msgr. Michael) Szupper to the Dominicans to here. Nothing’s really been broken.”
Msgr. Szupper led the oratory for more than 40 years before retiring 10 years ago. He was followed by the Dominican priests for nine years, and the Oblates arrived last summer.
Some of the changes have been physical. The Oblates came in just in time to realize the fruits of the last diocesan capital campaign, and some of those proceeds were used to completely renovate the social hall in the basement of the building. Some of the programming is by happenstance, such as when a group from Delaware went to see Pope Francis in Philadelphia last fall.
There has also been an infusion of Salesian spirituality into St. Thomas More. Over the summer, four university students were among a group to travel to Annecy, France, the home of St. Francis de Sales.
“Their job was to look at it so that we could do a parish-wide pilgrimage in two years. We would like to do that in 2018, and they’re going to be organizing it,” Father Ogden said.
Erin Rezich, a rising sophomore from South Dakota, noted that this Annecy visit included differing age groups. She said the future trip should be geared specifically to college students.
“We took some notes on what changes would make the trip better for college-age students. We want to incorporate some things … so that college kids can get more out of it,” she said.
Zitzner said the Oblates are a nice fit for the University of Delaware, having a large presence and long history in the Diocese of Wilmington, and a focus on education.
“They have a history of working with youth,” Zitzner said. “It’s part of their charism. Obviously, it’s very specific to Father Ed. He has spent his religious life working with young people. He brings with him all of that history and all of his tools. It’s a group that he has a lot of great ideas for and he can resonate with.”
Francis Klincewicz, a rising junior and New Jersey native, said Oblate spirituality is more practical than that of the Dominicans. Father Ogden, he noted, is very energetic and mobile.
“It’s a really great thing for the campus to have an active member,” he said.
A common theme among all involved at the oratory is leadership. For Father Ogden, reaching more students is a goal.
“There are 17,000 students here. We’re seeing about 500 of them on a weekend, so there’s another 2,000 or so Catholics out there that we need to reach. Try to get them to come to church on Sunday,” he said.
“It’s a goal to do a broader outreach. We’re doing some leadership programs in terms of trying to draw more students.”
Klincewicz said one thing the campus ministry wants to accomplish is to have a more cohesive leadership team within the student population.
“We always have some trips scheduled, but this way we can have better planning. We also have our Friday night pasta dinners. We’re planning on having more people involved in the production of the dinners,” he said.
Zitzner is excited for what the future might hold at the oratory.
“When a pastor comes in who has worked with that population and inherently knows some of their needs and what might be helpful, it helps shape things. And now we have more than one,” she said.
That addition to the staff is Oblate Father Mark Wrightson, a former Salesianum School teacher, who just finished six years as pastor in Robesonia, Pa.
The oratory might be the parish of the University of Delaware, but it also has many members who are not students. There are faculty and staff, nearby residents and others who come from elsewhere to attend one of the four weekend Masses.
Father Wrightson will concentrate on programming for non-students. That will improve their experience while freeing up Father Ogden to perform other administrative tasks and to be the chaplain to Catholic students at Delaware.
“The oratory has been around long enough and functioning as a home parish for a number of people,” Father Wrightson said. “We have not done enough here to flesh out programs geared toward them.”