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New Residence Hall Dedicated to Pope Francis

Pope’s friend, Rabbi Skorka, offers blessing

Sacred Heart University recently dedicated its new residence hall, Jorge Bergoglio Hall, to Pope Francis at a ceremony featuring guest speaker Rabbi Abraham Skorka, close friend to the pope.

Inside the residence hall’s lobby, students, faculty, staff, clergy and special guests took in the spectacular architectural features before settling in for the ceremony.

Father Anthony Ciorra, assistant vice president for Mission & Catholic Identity, commented on the hall’s impressiveness, but noted that the people inside make the building beautiful and meaningful.

Bergoglio Hall, a three-story, 80,000-square-foot facility that took just under two years to construct, is the new home to over 200 sophomore students. The building is on SHU’s Fairfield main campus, across the street from the Frank and Marisa Martire Business & Communications Center. The residence hall is equipped with a CrossFit gym, video game playroom/classroom, laundry facilities and shared kitchen spaces. Its spacious lobby includes a cozy fireplace and plenty of chairs and couches for relaxation and study sessions

Ciorra mentioned various things that made the day special, including the “significant number of rabbis [who] have come here on this day to offer a blessing.” Ciorra noted that having a Jewish rabbi offer a blessing on a building named after the pope never would have happened 50 years ago. “This is highly significant and not to be taken lightly,” Ciorra said.

Skorka, who is no stranger to SHU, co-authored a book with Pope Francis, and he was one of the first people the pope called when he learned of his appointment to lead the Catholic Church.

“How strange it would have been 30 years ago, the fact that a Rabbi is representing the Holy Father in the inauguration of a building in a Catholic university,” said Skorka, who is also from Argentina. “A very long way was paved since then until now.”

Skorka talked about the first time he met Pope Francis, who was then archbishop at the Cathedral of Buenos Aires. He said the pope’s homilies had a “prophetic style. He used a simple language, a great commitment with the poor and the weak people, demanding for social justice and mercy. He reminded me of the Gospels, especially the synoptic, those who have a great affinity to the traditional prophetic sources of the Prophets of Israel that I had studied with a special emotion and shaped my own spirituality. This was the first thing that connected us. We identified this passion in one another.”

Together the two friends tried to teach the value of dialogue as a key for understanding and peace. “Our relationship was not merely encounters with sympathetic expressions,” Skorka said. “We understood that to leave a mark that is able to make a turning point, we must go much more ahead.”

Skorka said he emailed the pope a week or so before the dedication, telling him about his trip to Connecticut to bless the new hall. He said he asked for advice on his speech, which the pope provided.

After Skorka’s speech, SHU students went to the podium to talk about the new residence hall. Lauren Silver, senior resident success assistant, said everyone in the hall is “beyond excited” to live there. She said she couldn’t wait to work with the student community and would do her best to help them love SHU as much as she does.

University President John J. Petillo said SHU names all its residence halls after model people. Having Pope Francis’s name on the building “enlightens the spirit of what the University was founded on,” he said.  After thanking everyone for their participation in the residence hall’s completion, Petillo asked Skorka to “please tell your friend Jorge we’re very proud to bear his name.”

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Members of SHU administration, along with students, joined President John Petillo and Rabbi Abraham Skorka for the ribbon cutting.