“Do you know how to make holy water?” Fr. Charlie asked. “You take ordinary tap water and boil the hell out of it.” Then he chuckled and apologized for the bad joke. But it seemed like a fitting comment to start his visit to Hope College that night. Fr. Charlie Brown, pastor of St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Holland, MI, was on campus last week to bless the dorm rooms. Fr. James VanderLaan, the associate pastor, accompanied him.
The blessing of dorm rooms is a common sight on Catholic college campuses, an annual tradition that marks the beginning of a new year. But this is the first time it has ever happened at Hope College. The event was organized by the Saint Benedict Forum.
“We wanted to find ways to bring our priests into closer contact with our Hope Catholic students,” said Dr. Jared Ortiz, assistant professor of Religion at Hope and Director of the Saint Benedict Forum. “Pope Francis says that the shepherd should smell like the sheep. And after walking through Durfee, our priests will surely do that . . . Just kidding (Sorry, Durfee).”
The dorm room blessing is rooted in the more traditional blessing of new homes. Since the students will be making these rooms their homes for the academic year, it seemed fitting to extend this blessing to dorms as well. “The blessing is not magic,” Dr. Ortiz insisted. “It is a way of consecrating our things—in this case our room—for a holy purpose. By blessing our home with holy water, we say that we will use our room for prayer, for study, for fellowship and not for anything contrary to God’s will. And the blessing helps to bring about this good intention.”
Before the priests blessed the rooms, they met students for dinner in the newly-renovated Phelps Dining Hall. Only a few students were scheduled to dine with the priests, but once they entered the dining hall such a large crowd gathered that two tables had to be put together.
After dinner, several students guided the priests to the rooms of the students who had signed up for a blessing. “It was great to be there,” Fr. Charlie said. “We got a lot of double-takes, but also a lot of smiling faces. I think people appreciated it.”
At each room, the priests would talk to the students for a few moments and then pray,
Lord, we have prepared a place for you here. Be with all who will live in this dorm room this semester, Bless their studies with your Spirit of Wisdom. Be their shelter when they are at home, Walk with them when they are away, And welcome every guest that comes to visit. And, when life’s journey is done, May they dwell with you in the place you have prepared for them in God’s House, Where you live forever and ever. Amen.
Then they would sprinkle holy water on all four walls of the room and say, “Let this water call to mind our baptism into Christ, who has redeemed us by his death and resurrection. Amen.”
During a breakfast for Hope students at St. Francis a few days before the blessings, Dr. Ortiz explained, “You don’t know who lived in your room before you or what they did there. Jesus talks a lot about demons and how they dwell in certain places. No amount of Windex can clean that out! Holy water will help.”
The blessing of dorm rooms was so warmly received by everyone involved that the Saint Benedict Forum wants to make this an annual tradition at Hope College.
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