Uniting hearts, minds and stomachs

Christa Sweeney

Each Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, the five friars at Burns Hall take off their academic hoods and set their lightly stained dining room table for visitors. Today, Father Martin, a professor of core humanities, dons the chef’s hat and prepares dinner for his four housemates and a group of students coming to visit.

Burns Hall originally existed as a part of the Morris Estate on whose grounds the University currently sits. Acquired by the University in 1978, the home was relocated to West Campus behind St. Clare’s Hall. On cold winter days, students might even spot smoke rising from one of its many chimneys.

“Who would think that Father Martin, who teaches ancient Christianity, knows how to cook?” the chef says as he chops garlic and slices peppers in the middle of a dreamy kitchen adorned with sconces, which cast gleaming light on avocado-green walls above stainless steel sinks. The radio, set on a warmly stained cabinet, glows indigo blue while radio talk-show hosts hum in the background.

Father Martin, in his checkered purple-and-white apron, overlooks tonight’s recipe for Mediterranean pasta, which lies open on the brown marble counter-top of the island. Chicken Delicious, a meal of sausage, chicken and peppers, bakes in the oven.

But don’t let the claret-wine colored curtains or the dark-wooden wine cabinet fool you. These priests are here to serve.

The Augustinians have long embraced community living and they see their placement on West campus as an informal opportunity to reach out to the juniors and seniors living in the neighboring apartment complexes. Here in Burns Hall, learning does not end in the classroom.

“Community is getting involved with people on a variety of levels and multi-dimensions,” says Father Martin. “Hosting student groups allows us to put down the books and offer hospitality. It’s another way of nourishing besides the classroom.”

Though all Augustinians take a vow of obedience, residence in Burns Hall is by invitation only. The friars recognize that their lifestyle is challenging and not intended for everyone. Therefore, a resident of Burns Hall must welcome participation in community projects and feel comfortable in a student environment.

On warm mornings, students might see Father Denny, who currently acts as chaplain to the University’s Law School and teaches undergraduate theology, tending to the gardens at Burns Hall.

Father Denny often remarks on the respect students have for the friars’ presence on West Campus. Fortunately, Burns Hall is surrounded by three parking lots and thus is a little removed from the loud weekend life. However, the friars jokingly express the wish that students be a little quieter at 3 a.m.

Though the friars hope to provide students with a comfortable setting and a chance to relax, they admit to a hidden agenda. “We’d like to have someone come here and afterwards say, ‘I’d like to be an Augustinian,'” says Father Martin.

Student groups who make appointments in advance are welcome to join the Augustinians for dinner. Residents may coordinate dinners through their RAs or other group leaders. As word spreads about their cooking, meals are becoming a hot commodity and time slots are filling.

“We can only host so many groups a year,” says Father Martin. “If you miss out, you miss what the Augustinians are really like.”