Who’s watching who in the Villanova Zoo?

Kerry Lester

Construction on the Augustinian monastery is finished. Returning from Christmas break, I was delighted to find the rudimentary pedestrian walkway of yellow construction tape and cement blocks gone, and in its place a clear view inside of a cloistered community.

The beautiful glass-walled chapel facing Mendel field – intended as a reminder of the devotion at the heart of the University – strikes me as an exhibit at Villanova Zoo.

On daily treks to and from Tolentine, I trip over my own feet as I peer past my reflection in the glass, examining the behavior of the priests. How many of them are in there? What are they wearing? Are they sleeping, laughing, listening?

A friend of mine suggested the chapel should bear a small plaque – saying something to the effect of:

“Augustinian (aww-gus-tin-eean): Founded by Pope Innocent IV as the order of hermits of St. Augustine. Noted among Augustinians is St. Thomas of Villanova, 16th century Spanish bishop and namesake of the University. Nearly extinct, typical friars are over the age of 50, male, celibate and underappreciated.”

Now, my intent is not to slam the men who gave their lives in selfless devotion to the University, making students like myself more intellectual, spiritual and balanced persons.

It just scares me that their numbers are so low that they have become a rarity to watch, like the ostrich, the cheetah, the panda, etc.

A priest is an admirable thing to be, but these days, it doesn’t seem practical for a guy to don a white collar, follow a stringent set of rules, and give up money and thoughts of a wife and family for a pious life with an eternal reward.

Catholicism is running out of options, fast – the University monastery claims to be at “full capacity” with 57 Augustinian residents. How many of those, however, are retired and require continuing care?

I did some interning for a Catholic newspaper in Chicago this summer. One of the copy editors, Sister Mary, was a toughy who gave blunt answers to every subject imaginable.

One day, I asked her which she thought would come first – married priests or women priests?

And, in typical fashion, she shot back right away: “Catholic priests have only been celibate for the last 1,000 years. The Church can get over it.”

Some “Googling” informed me that enforced celibacy has very little with Christian theology. In the 11th century, Pope Gregory VII banned priests from marrying in order to solve the problem of their families inheriting Church property.

So, it’s possible that the University monastery’s walls could one day be dirtied by knee-high fingerprints and become a facility equipped to handle children along with the aged.

Or, the many empty rooms could face an influx of young women interested in the livelihood so many males have forgotten. I’m just speculating. For now, we’re stuck with Villanova Zoo.