Located on the campus of Xavier University in Cincinnati, Bellarmine Chapel serves the wider community; parishioners of all ages come from more than 60 zip codes. The parish illustrates the benefits of being on a college campus, blessed with the intellectual contributions of faculty and the enthusiasm of students.
Father Eric Sundrup, SJ, pastor since July 2019, has a unique perspective — he’s a Xavier alumnus who attended Mass at Bellarmine as a student. “I love Xavier,” he says. “I had an amazing time here. It was where my vocation to the Jesuits was born and nurtured.”
Bellarmine is the “shared home for the parish and the students,” says Fr. Sundrup. The parish is developing programs to better integrate with the university, including a new internship program, where Xavier students work at the parish.
The pandemic has shown the benefits of the parish and university working together as perhaps nothing else could. When in-person Masses came to a halt with COVID-19 lockdowns in the spring, Fr. Sundrup pivoted to livestream Masses and was aided by many young adults.
Luckily, Fr. Sundrup’s previous assignment was in media and communications in New York, so he didn’t have to learn everything from scratch. And it gave others, like Jesse Waits, a chance to help.
“People who had skills in those areas and didn’t know how they fit with the Catholic Church came out of the woodwork,” Fr. Sundrup says. “Jesse joined the church last year through RCIA and now this year, he’s making livestreaming possible.”
Another one of those parishioners is Lance Borden, a junior in high school who attends Bellarmine with his family. When the lockdown began, Borden set up a help desk from home for parishioners, taking their calls and helping them get set up with Google meets and Zoom calls. He then volunteered to help with livestream Masses as well.
“I like that instead of just attending a service, I can use my talents and the things I have to offer to give to the community I’m in,” Borden says.
Bellarmine plans to continue livestreaming Masses after the pandemic to accommodate those who can’t attend in person. Father Sundrup jokes, “We will continue livestreaming until the second coming of Christ!”
Jennie Prial, a Xavier senior, who’s been involved with Bellarmine Chapel since her freshman year, also helped with livestreams. She says Fr. Sundrup has encouraged a connection between Xavier’s student body and the parish. “I love how active the parish is in social justice issues,” Prial says, “as well as the parish’s Jesuit identity and engagement with parishioners.”
“We want to create a space for all these young people to step up into powerful leadership roles in our church,” Fr. Sundrup says.
Nicholas Palmisano is another Xavier student who adopted a leadership role. For the last three months, he’s worked on the daily Mass livestreams. Palmisano is also helping to recruit more students to be part of Bellarmine. “They want to help and, in these trying times, literally feel a sense of purpose.”
The parish also shares the gifts of Xavier’s faculty, through events like a recent livestream where professors discussed trauma. “To be on a college campus and ask professors to do this is such a blessing. And they’re not just at your doorstep —they’re your parishioners,” says Fr. Sundrup.
Bellarmine is also developing a program where staff can train lay leaders to expand the pool of parish leadership so the parish can do even more. Father Sundrup says, “This is an amazing parish that has set itself up for growth and innovation.”
Becky Sindelar does freelance communications work for several Jesuit provinces. She is a graduate of Loyola University Chicago.