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On April 27, the Chapel and Cultural Center (C+CC) on the campus of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy took a trip to Italy in celebration of the building’s 50th anniversary. Wine, coffee and sparkling water, along with garlic bread, salad and lasagna were served to eager diners at tables in the C+CC’s main auditorium.

The dinner looked like a delicious Italian feast, a celebration of a milestone year in the building’s history. What wasn’t as apparent was that the same space at RPI is the home of Christ Sun of Justice parish.

The C+CC is a multipurpose performing arts and spiritual building on Burdett Avenue, owned by the Rensselaer Newman Foundation. Christ Sun of Justice parish shares the space with other RPI and community events.

Rev. Edward Kacerguis, pastor of the parish, said the C+CC is “where we see the coming together of art, science and religion.”

Father Kacerguis cooked the Italian feast in honor of the C+CC’s birthday, and parishioners were eager to party. “When Father Ed offers you a chance to try his cooking, you don’t say no,” said Paul Kraus.

More than stones

Kevin Krolik, director of the C+CC, reflected on the anniversary: “The building is simple: concrete, steel and wood. It’s the people [who] make it come alive and fill it with color.”

Mr. Krolik said the creation of the C+CC came from the RPI community’s “growing need” in the 1960s to “practice faith and bring about art.” At the time, RPI had a predominantly male student body, and its focus on the sciences created a corresponding need for arts and theology.

In 1963, the Board of Regents of the State of New York chartered the Rensselaer Newman Foundation to foster and develop artistic, educational and religious programs in Troy. After the closing of the chapel of the Convent of the Good Shepherd, where local Catholics had been worshipping, the Newman Association saw a need for a permanent worship space for Catholic students and others.

The Newman Foundation acquired land near the RPI campus and drafted a design for a building with a main hall, sliding partitions and movable chairs and platforms. A 1968 article in The Evangelist called the C+CC “a departure from the classical idea of a church as only a place of worship with its activities confined to religious affairs and with the structure arranged in a traditional manner. In the new center, flexibility is the keynote.”

Innovation

That year, the Chapel and Cultural Center officially opened, and in 1970, the parish of the Christ Sun of Justice was chartered by the Albany Diocese. Rev. Thomas Phelan, Catholic chaplain at RPI at the time, presented a paper to the Catholic Art Association describing the C+CC; the paper’s title was, “Meeting of Profane and Sacred.”

“The Church is rapidly becoming aware of its opportunities to learn and to contribute in the creative centers of our society, the universities,” Father Phelan wrote. “It must begin to make contract with de-sacralized society all over.”

The C+CC’s “unique and imaginative” design drew national attention. Architect Peter Levatich, an RPI graduate, was honored in a church architectural competition; articles about the C+CC appeared in The New York Times and elsewhere.

Mr. Krolik told The Evangelist that, while the C+CC was designed and built with “the intent to become a church,” the center “is so much more than that.”

The C+CC has a main auditorium where Masses are held — but, on other days, a lecture, a tai chi class, a blood drive, meditation or a concert might be held in the same space.

Father Kacerguis told The Evangelist that sharing the space only adds to Christ Sun of Justice’s theology that all are welcome in the parish.

Anniversary applause

RPI students, faculty and staff, along with Catholics and Troy-area residents, are looking back on how the C+CC has helped to foster a close-knit community filled with faith.

“There are a lot of things that happen in this building,” said parishioner Christine Relyea. “I moved here four years ago, and when I came here we just knew this was the place to be. The lack or ornate stuff and having nothing fancy [in the building], that just spoke to me.”

“We’ve been here almost 40 years,” agreed parishioner Dee Dziewulski. “To me, this place is home.”

Father Kacerguis has been pastor of Christ Sun of Justice since 1989. He said the parish’s connection with the C+CC building and RPI as a whole brings students and staff from around the world to the parish.

“I’ve gone places and seen things I could never imagine,” said the pastor. “I’ve been all over the world because of here.” Alumni, he said, have invited him to weddings in Poland and their child’s baptism in the Vancouver Islands.

Chris Englebert, a senior at RPI, said that the C+CC is “really unique” and that it’s “great to see your priest around campus.”

Parishioner David Dziewulski summed up the center’s golden anniversary: It’s “the spirit of the people who bring the building to life.”