At St. Joe's, Masses for the masses

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PHOTOS: ST. JOSEPH'S UNIVERSITY Young Hawks exchange the sign of peace at the Mass of the Holy Spirit earlier this month.

EACH SUNDAY, the Chapel of St. Joseph at St. Joseph's University holds three Catholic Masses. Choosing the right one is a matter of "energy," said university President C. Kevin Gillespie.

The 11 a.m. service is the most traditional and is considered a "community Mass."

Looking for something more lively? Come by at 8 p.m. for a service that is often standing-room only and includes a 50-voice student choir and band.

And for those who seek a relaxing way to end the weekend, on student hours, the 10 p.m. gathering beckons. Called a "candlelight Mass," it features "a more quiet liturgy," Fr. Gillespie said.

The chapel, built in 1992 but designed with neo-Gothic motifs to match older campus buildings, is the principal gathering space for prayer and worship at St. Joe's. It goes interfaith once a year, in January, for a service called SJU Prays.

"It's a very welcoming space," Fr. Gillespie said. "We've tried to make it an environment where it both lifts spirits and allows God's spirit to touch our lives."

Where we worship: The chapel is at 5600 City Ave. and can fit 600 people. Its full name is the Chapel of St. Joseph - Michael J. Smith S.J. Memorial.

The Rev. Smith, who died in 1990, was a popular cleric who began working at the school in 1948. He went on to be a department chair, academic dean and the longest-ever member of the board of trustees.

What we're known for: St. Joseph's is the only Jesuit Catholic university in the Philadelphia area, which thrust it into the spotlight six months ago when Pope Francis became the first Jesuit to lead the Catholic Church.

Fr. Gillespie said he feels "honored and proud" of the new church leader.

Jesuwhat? Jesuits follow the teachings of St. Ignatius Loyola, who lived in the 1500s. The order places an emphasis on education, community, missionary work and "magis."

Not to be confused with the three wise men (the magi), "magis" (MAH-gis) comes from the Latin phrase "Ad maiorem Dei gloriam," which translates to "For the greater glory of God."

It asks followers to "be inspired so you can aspire," Fr. Gillespie said. "Be inspired by your teachers or working with the poor or through prayer or God's love, so you can aspire to serve others for the greater good."

Dress code: "Obviously, you want to be respectful," said Fr. Gillespie. But he's seen students wear shorts to Mass in summer.

Something new: Beginning next year, St. Joe's grads can get married in a Catholic service in the chapel.

Weddings were previously not allowed because the church is not part of a parish. Archbishop Charles Chaput recently gave his OK, although the couple's first choice should be the bride's home parish.

Fr. Gillespie thinks the change is fitting: A 17th-century painting depicting the marriage of Mary and Joseph is displayed in front of the altar.

But . . . Baptisms and funerals are not done at the chapel. Informal memorial services are permitted.

Magis in action: Public service is a key component of the spiritual life at St. Joseph's - be it in Philadelphia or Guatemala, Appalachia or Ecuador. Serving others "leads to a balance of body, mind and spirit," Fr. Gillespie said.

Big moral issue we're grappling with: Justice around poverty issues is one.

Part of the university's challenge is making sure students realize that not far from where they're studying, other young people want an education but can't afford to get one, Fr. Gillespie said.

One way of broadening student horizons is by having them take classes in prison alongside incarcerated people.

Pennies from heaven: If any fell onto Hawk Hill, they'd go toward scholarships to ease "the enormous burdens on students and parents," Fr. Gillespie said.

God vs. cellphones: They're not an issue, since most people automatically turn off their devices during services. This includes Fr. Gillespie, although, "I have to remind myself sometimes."

Words of hope: All things are possible if we work together, Fr. Gillespie said. "When we're with each other, working for a cause greater than ourselves, that's where we find hope."