Monastery tours offers glimpse into University’s roots



Song-Binh Ngo

Nestled between the majestic spires of the St. Thomas of Villanova Church and the formidable double doors of Tolentine Hall lies one of the cornerstone buildings of Villanova’s campus. Through the arch guarded by a statue of St. Thomas of Villanova is a quaint abode that houses 54 friars of the Augustinian order, making Villanova’s monastery the world’s largest Augustinian community housed within one building. Built in 1901, most of the original monastery burned down in a fire in 1932, but was quickly rebuilt in 1933. The monastery was renovated again in 2003 in order to improve accessibility for all friars. The monastery not only features relics from the University’s past, but also embodies the true spirit of Augustinianism here at the University by always welcoming students. Father Tom McCarthy, a member of the Monastery’s Augustinian community who resides in McGuire Hall, offers tours to students and members of the community who would like to visit the Monastery. “Our University is rooted in the Augustinian tradition,” Father Tom said. “This is our home and it is important for students to know that all students are welcome here.”

The monastery tour with Father Tom began in the dining hall, the only part of the original building that was not destroyed in the 1932 fire. 

“This particular room is important because it embodies one of the most important Augustinian charisms, which is community,” Father Tom said. “Meals are an important time during which the friars get together as one big community.” The dining hall features meals crafted by a private chef and a warm and homey environment in which the friars and the students who visit with the friars can grab a home-cooked meal. 

The next stop on the tour was the original main entrance of the Monastery, located behind the St. Thomas of Villanova statue. The word “cloister,” which dates back to the days in which only friars were allowed in the monastery, is still visible on the arch leading into the main hallway. The charming hallways, draped with red carpeting, are lined with paintings and wood carvings of Augustinian saints, crafted by Augustinian friars who live or have once lived in the monastery. The first, third and fourth floors of the Monastery house the friars, some of whom are retired and some of whom work on campus or at local parishes. The second floor of the monastery is an infirmary with a 24-hour nurses station and houses Augustinian friars who are experiencing health issues.

Downstairs is the Augustinian Heritage Room, which houses an extensive collection of historical pieces that are significant to the Augustinian order, such as the chalices of friars who have since passed and Bibles that were saved from the 1932 fire. The Augustinian Heritage room is also the home of the Liberty Bell’s sister that rang during the reading of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and was later given to the Augustinians. 

Upstairs, by the current main entrance to the monastery, is the chapel known for its beautifully intricate stained glass and grand open windows. Morning and evening prayers as well as daily 5:30 a.m. Mass take place in the chapel for the friars. Daily Mass and Eucharistic adoration, which are open to students and members of the community, also take place at 11 a.m. Every day at this time, the friars can be seen celebrating Mass through the glass windows of the chapel. The glass windows are one of the many features of the monastery that reinforce the Augustinian values of being welcoming and open to the community. “Daily Mass takes place every single day of the year,” Father Tom said. “And all are welcome.” 

The monastery is not only a building that houses the Augustinian friars, but also a true testament to the Augustinian value of community. The friars who work both on campus and around the local community devote their lives to fulfilling and passing on the Augustinian tradition to students and members of the community. “We want to invite younger people to daily mass,” Father John Byrnes said. “Anybody can visit the monastery, whether they want to say hello or chat. We are delighted when students come to visit and when we see them in church.” 

The Monastery encourages students to increase their understanding of Villanova’s Augustinian tradition by inviting students to visit with friars through programs such as Caritas. 

Caritas gives students the opportunity to visit with friars who live in the Monastery. “Caritas bridges the gap between generations,” Julie Fabiano, a student and participant in the Caritas program, said. “It allows students like me to gain insights from the friars who have so much life experience and gives the friars an opportunity to lead the younger generation to fulfill Villanova’s Augustinian values.” 

Villanova’s monastery offers the unique opportunity for students to experience the monastery by welcoming students with open arms. “The monastery is completely open to students,” Joseph Barowski, a student, said. “I think this openness really says something about the order and how Augustinians like to be in the community and help others in their journey to finding God. I think the monastery is a good symbol of that.”