At the University of St. Thomas, students’ Sunday evening mass march to O’Shaughnessy-Frey Library is countered by another Mass march to St. John Vianney Seminary, nestled on north campus between Ireland and Flynn halls. As the bell tolls 9 o’clock, hundreds of students and alumni gather in the St. John Vianney Chapel to celebrate Last Chance Mass, a weekly service hosted by the seminarian community.
Father William Baer, rector of St. John Vianney until spring 2010, began Last Chance Mass for the Tommie football team, because busy Saturday game days made attending Mass difficult. News of the Sunday evening service spread, and, well, attendance “exploded,” said Jack Dingbaum ’16, one of the two seminarians who coordinate the service. Father Michael Becker, the seminary’s current rector, now leads Last Chance Mass, which “is open to all students and always jampacked,” Dingbaum said.
What about the service attracts so many Tommies? For some, the evening start time and shorter service are convenient. For others, the contemporary music is more appealing than the traditional hymns sung in many Roman Catholic churches. While the draw of Last Chance Mass varies among students, the gathering fosters a palpable sense of community. Voices ring loud in prayer and song; signs of peace are hearty and genuine; and jokes mingle with messages of love and service in Becker’s student-focused homilies.
Crafty logistical work is the foundation for Last Chance Mass’ ubiquitous fellowship. Dingbaum and his fellow seminarian Christian Rodakowski ’16, who stepped into their leadership roles last spring, recruit their fellow brothers to pull all the pieces together.
Following the seminarian services at 8:15 p.m., eight seminarians quickly prepare the St. John Vianney Chapel. Another eight seminarians serve as greeters, welcoming students into the chapel. Two seminarians rotate with other students to lead the community in song. Another two serve as altar servers. Six seminarians organize and serve the famed post-service snacks, such as Oreos and milk, croissants and punch, or pie and hot cider. Two more seminarians from Vianney Media, the seminary’s communication organization, assist with the acoustics and record Becker’s homily. As the students return to their studies following the 45-minute Mass, another eight seminarians reorganize the chapel.
If you’re counting, that’s 38 seminarians assisting with Last Chance Mass. Add Father John Bauer, a spiritual director at St. John Vianney Seminary, who hears confessions before Mass, and Becker, who also hears confessions and leads the service. Along with seminarians, student volunteers serve as lectors, musicians and Eucharistic ministers.
Amidst these logistical details, communally celebrating Christ remains the focus. Most important is that “we’re there for (the students), or with them really,” Rodakowski said.
“With them” is the heart of this Tommie Tradition. Last Chance Mass brings together students from different majors, different years and different journeys of faith to “grow in our relationship with Jesus Christ, wherever we may be at,” Dingbaum said.