Close-knit congregation finds a home at RIT

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Graduate student Tom Kopchak plays the piano as the choir leads the congregation during Sunday Mass.

J-Jay Donowski ’96, ’98 (graphic design, sign language interpreting) and her husband, Vincent Donowski, ’00 (mechanical engineering), visited Catholic churches in the area but didn’t feel a connection. So they returned to the congregation they knew was a right fit—the Newman Community on the RIT campus.

“RIT is home for us,” J-Jay says. “I couldn’t imagine my children growing up anywhere but there.”

After Kathy Routly’s husband died, she found it difficult to attend her regular Catholic church because there were so many memories. She started attending services on the RIT campus and has never left.

“It is such a close community,” says Routly, who is assistant to the senior vice president for student affairs, for budget and personnel.

Every Sunday morning, a group of about 40 alumni and RIT neighbors worships in the Allen Chapel on campus. Rev. Richard Hunt says this core community participates in all of the usual religious ceremonies, from baptisms to funerals to weddings. The only difference is that they are joined by dozens of students.

More than 300 students are active in the RIT Newman Community, Hunt says.

Dan Muggeo, a fifth-year computer science student, has been attending services regularly since he came to campus and “my mother dragged me to Mass.”

He says he has enjoyed meeting students who share his faith as well as core community members, who not only organize community service projects but also make sure students are taken care of, such as inviting them to dinner when they can’t get home for the holidays.

“They give us this backing,” says Muggeo, who is from Binghamton, N.Y. “We are all so busy with school. They let us run the Mass but when we need something, they are there helping out.”

The core community started long before the RIT campus opened in 1968. Helen Cody, who at 90 is the oldest member, remembers having Mass in a nearby firehouse on Riverview Drive.

After the campus was constructed, the small group of parishioners moved to an auditorium and then to the Interfaith Center.

Over the years, the group has grown with students continuing as members after graduating and neighborhood residents who like the close-knit atmosphere.

Renae Veneziano ’04 (mechanical engineering) and Jeff Veneziano ’04 (mechanical engineering) started attending services even before they were RIT students. They moved to a house in Henrietta in 2001 and this was the closest parish to their home. Now they attend Mass with their daughters Elizabeth, 3, and Natalie, 5.

Dan Viggiano III ’97, ’05 (engineering, business) has been a member of the congregation since 1992. He and his wife, Trina Viggiano ’97 (hotel administration) also looked at other parishes after graduating from RIT but they like how the ever-changing student population invigorates the congregation.

The students serve as altar servers, lectors and greeters. A choir of students and a few alumni fills the Allen Chapel with harmonized hymns. At a service in January, Deacon Lon Smith ’92 ’04 (electrical engineering technology, multidisciplinary studies) directs his sermon at the students, referencing the challenges of living in the dorms and eating dorm food. He asks the congregation to pray for all RIT students, staff, faculty and alumni.

Smith, who was ordained last spring and asked Hunt if he could preach at the service to get more experience, says the combination of students and community members makes the Mass special.

“The students need to know there’s something more than focusing on studies,” he says. “And it’s great for the community because they get to see the future of the church.”

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