Rev. Ryan Rooney
Rev. Ryan Rooney

Thursday marked a homecoming of sorts for Rev. Ryan Rooney, who offered the midday Mass in Our Mother of Perpetual Help Chapel at Thomas Aquinas College. A graduate of the Northfield Mount Hermon School (original owner of the College’s New England campus), Fr. Rooney was returning to a chapel he knew well, albeit now with a rather different appearance and a new name.

“It’s a great joy to come to this place to celebrate Mass as a priest,” he said in his homily. “I was a young student here when it was Northfield Mount Hermon, and I sang many concerts in this place. I was also privileged to serve Mass here for my childhood pastor, Fr. John Ayers … when it was Sage Chapel, to celebrate his 50th anniversary of priesthood. And now I come into this sacred space which your institution has beautifully changed into this amazing chapel, to celebrate the Bread of Life with all of you.”

Fr. Rooney is a true native of Northfield, Massachusetts. He was baptized at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in the heart of town and grew up only blocks away from campus. In 1999 he enrolled at Northfield Mount Hermon, attending classes in many of the same buildings where the College’s students can now be found. He fondly recalls studying Chinese in Sanda Countway, poring over advanced calculus in Palmer, enjoying a snack in Tracy Student Center, and performing at the blackbox theater on the upper level of Stone Hall.

It was while on retreat after completing his first year of high school that Fr. Rooney first experienced a strong desire to preach the Catholic faith: “I got prayed over, and I started to weep,” he recalls. “And I knew I wanted to evangelize. … That changed all of my studies at NMH. I suddenly had to start to learn to debate my own faith and stick up for it. And over a year it grew into: ‘God’s calling me to be a priest.’”

After graduating from high school in 2003, he studied at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. During this time he was privileged to visit Rome during the final Ubi et Orbi blessing of Pope St. John Paul II — after which he decided to apply to seminary for his home diocese of Springfield, Massachusetts. Upon graduating from FUS, he immediately entered St. John’s Seminary in Boston and was ordained to the priesthood in 2011. He now serves as pastor of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Parish in downtown Springfield.

Fr. Rooney is elated to see a Catholic school bringing the Northfield campus back to life. After Northfield Mount Hermon left the campus in 2007, consolidating operations in Mount Hermon, be began praying for a Catholic institution — TAC, in particular — to move in.

“I remember doing a Rosary walk around,” he recalls, “and just praying, hoping that you guys were going to come there.” Fr. Rooney was able to welcome the College’s top administrators to Northfield at a Mass in 2017, on the day the National Christian Foundation formally donated the campus to the College.

Fr. Rooney hopes his visit will be the first of many to the repurposed home of his alma mater. “To have a Catholic institution there in Northfield is everything,” he says. “I wish the school the very best.”

On his trip to Thomas Aquinas College, New England, Rev. Ryan Rooney visits with two old friends, Dr. Nancy Faller (campus nurse) and Joanne Dowdy (mother of Will ’05 and a teacher at Northfield Mount Hermon).
On his trip to Thomas Aquinas College, New England, Rev. Ryan Rooney visits with two old friends, Dr. Nancy Faller (campus nurse) and Joanne Dowdy (mother of Will ’05 and Peter ’22) and the wife of a teacher at Northfield Mount Hermon).