St Thomas Aquinas is a Catholic Parish served by the Dominican Friars in bearing witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, celebrating the Sacraments, fostering spiritual and intellectual growth, and serving the students, faculty, staff and greater University of Virginia community.
A University Parish is not just a Parish near a university; it is a place where those who befriend complexity in the world of the intellect may also embrace it in the life of Faith as God has designed it to be experienced, in the gathering of all sorts of people by the Holy Spirit.
— Fr. Walter
A University Parish
The two most distinctive qualities of St. Thomas Aquinas University Parish—its definitional association with the students, faculty, and staff of the University of Virginia, and the pastoral ministry of Dominican Friars—are discernable in its origins as a Newman Club and Center. In 1943, this center established a Catholic presence at UVA. In 1948, the center acquired an official location on Jefferson Park Avenue, a major thoroughfare for the southern part of the University’s Central Grounds. This geographical intimacy was well-suited to both John Henry Cardinal Newman’s desire for “an intelligent, well-instructed laity” and to the high academic values of the University.
The Order of Preachers
As the Catholic population of the University grew, and the need for evangelizing discourse intensified, a robust new force arrived on Ground to assist: the Friars of the Order of Preachers, founded by St. Dominic in 1216. Beginning in 1959, when they first took charge of the Newman Center, these Friars from the Eastern Province of St. Joseph, headquartered in New York City, established a close partnership with Bishop John Russell of the Richmond Diocese. Together with him, they developed plans for the establishment of the University Parish.
Our First Church on Alderman Road
In 1962, led by the vision of Pastor Fr. William Stickle, O.P., the Dominicans purchased land on Alderman Road, with the aim of eventually constructing a church on that site. The following year, Bishop John Russell established St. Thomas Aquinas Parish. At this time, he ratified the special character of this uniquely non-territorial parish. The Dominicans would provide a pastor and parochial vicars for the parish and chaplains for the University Hospital. Their mission was to the University. Two years later, Bishop Russell and the Dominican Friars determined that the location of the new church building would indeed be on Alderman Road. The Bishop dedicated the new church on this site in October 1967.
Our Second Church
Within twenty-five years, growth—another defining attribute of this University parish—necessitated yet another change. Charlottesville, which had been predominantly Southern Baptist in preceding decades, witnessed a strong Catholic influx. The dedication of Catholic students, joined with the strength of Dominican preaching to attract many—even in their selection of the secular University. By 1990, it was necessary to construct a new church to serve the expanding population of the Parish. Bishop Walter Sullivan dedicated the new church in November 1995. A new parish center followed, beginning in 2002 and reaching completion in the Spring of 2004.
50 Years with the Dominicans
In 2013, the Dominicans and Bishop Francis DiLorenzo celebrated fifty years of Dominican campus ministry at the University of Virginia. This historic moment was one of renewed commitment, as the Bishop blessed and formally opened the Dominican Priory constructed beside the church. This Priory afforded a proper place for Dominican life—which is rooted in contemplation and life in community, from which apostolic ministry flows. It also emphatically seconded the church as an expression of unabashed Catholicism, a gracious invitation to the entire University community to come and encounter Jesus Christ.
Our New (and Final) Church
Within a few years of this dedication, growth once again necessitated industry and change; an aging church building and growing pastoral needs required special consideration. Supporting the Bishop in a landmark combined campaign for both diocesan and parish funding, St. Thomas Aquinas University Parish initiated a plan for a new—and lasting—church building. This project brought to the forefront many important aspects of the University Parish’s enduring life: the special character of the Dominicans, for whom the parishioners and wider community maintain a strong affection, respect, and gratitude; the cordial cooperation between the Order of Preachers and the Diocese of Richmond in their shared mission of spreading the Gospel; and the enthusiastic dedication of this Catholic community to proffer to the secular university that same invitation.
For weather-related closures, we follow Charlottesville City School.