“We adore You, O Christ, and we praise You,” intoned Thomas Aquinas College’s head chaplain, Rev. Joseph Illo. In reply, some 200 voices answered, “Because, by Your Holy Cross, You have redeemed the world.”
The gathering of students, members of the faculty and Board of Governors, and friends of Thomas Aquinas College marked an occasion that was, at once, somber and joyful. The community had come together late in the afternoon on March 7, the first Friday of Lent, to pray the Stations of the Cross at the newly installed Via Dolorosa on the campus’s lower drive. Sorrowfully, the group contemplated the sufferings of Christ while, at the same time, delighting in the beauty of the College’s newest devotional treasure.
As Fr. Illo guided the procession, he stopped to bless each Station before leading the worshippers in prayer. Surrounded by oak trees and redwoods, the group contemplated the 14 scenes from Our Lords’ Passion and death. “To walk along and meditate upon these Stations is a profoundly moving experience,” said President Michael F. McLean.
The Stations are a gift of College Governor Robert Barbera. Each one contains a statuary tableau — e.g., Our Lord with Simon of Cyrene, or Our Lord meeting His mother — housed in a shelter of Mediterranean columns supporting Spanish-tile roofs. Their course, which begins by the original Ferndale Ranch gate at the entrance to campus, runs alongside the College’s three spring-fed ponds and slopes uphill, like the road to Calvary. The Stations alternate across the drive, with the odd numbers on the west side and even numbers to the east, mirroring the sequence of the Via Crucis in Jerusalem.
Following the blessing ceremony and prayer service, the community retired to St. Joseph Commons for a celebratory dinner. There, even though it was a Friday in Lent, all enjoyed a pasta dinner with meat, as March 7 is a Solemnity on campus, commemorating the Dedication of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel in 2009.
At the dinner Dr. McLean thanked Mr. Barbera for his extraordinary generosity in blessing the College with the Stations of the Cross. “Robert is very interested in the beauty of the campus and the spiritual life of the community. He understands in a real way the connections between the true, the good, and the beautiful,” said Dr. McLean. He then presented Mr. Barbera with a framed photo of the new Via Dolorosa, signed by the College’s students, as an expression of gratitude. The Stations, Dr. McLean added, “will be an inspiration to generations of friends, faculty, and students of Thomas Aquinas College — indeed, to all who wish to heed Our Lord’s admonition to take up your cross and follow Me.”
The president also honored Isauro and Carlos Rios, the father-and-son team whose company, Rios Remodeling of Los Angeles, installed the Stations and devised some of their design elements. “These two men’s dedication and craftsmanship, discipline and energy, brought these Stations to be,” said Dr. McLean. “In the words of one of our students, ‘They showed us the dignity of work.’ We thank them very much for their efforts here and for their contribution to the beauty of the College.”
Dr. McLean then thanked the College’s landscape supervisor, Dave Gaston, who directed the crew of Thomas Aquinas College students that performed all of the landscaping alongside the Stations. “Dave’s vision, energy, and eye for the beautiful had a great deal to do with the success of this project, so we thank him and all the students who have worked so hard with him,” the president remarked. Mr. Gaston’s student workers planted more than 900 plants and groundcover — all generously donated by Charles Norman of Norman’s Nursery in Carpinteria, Calif., — and installed some 2,000 feet of piping and 450 sprinkler heads to provide irrigation.
“I look forward to the Stations of the Cross down on the lower campus becoming a source of inspiration and edification and a deepening of the spiritual life of all of us in the Thomas Aquinas College community,” Dr. McLean concluded. “So thanks, again, to the Barberas and to all of these students who have contributed to the Stations and who, I know, will make it a great place of prayer and meditation.”