An Interview with Fr. Brian Ching, C.S.C.
Every year students return to campus to see a number of changes. There are new students and professors, while former friends have graduated and moved on from their “home under the dome.” Rectors and priests-in-residence also come and go, with a vital part of dorm life coming and going with them. The University seems to always be building something new and the landscaping of the campus, ever-beautiful, is also ever-changing.
One such change to campus was announced last year. After nearly 23 years, Fr. Peter Rocca, C.S.C. retired as rector of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. Coming with the announcement of Fr. Rocca’s retirement came also the announcement of his successor, Fr. Brian Ching, C.S.C.. Fr. Ching officially stepped into his role as rector over the summer on July 1.
The selection of the Rector of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart is a unique and highly involved process. The position is both a part of Campus Ministry and an ecclesiastical position. As a result, the selection process for the new rector started with the head of Campus Ministry, Fr. Pete McCormick, C.S.C. who, working in conjunction with the Provincial Superior of the Congregation of Holy Cross, Fr. William Lies, C.S.C., selected Fr. Ching as a faithful priest and one who they felt worthy of the position. After they had made their decision, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, confirmed the decision, thus permitting Fr. Ching to be bestowed this ecclesiastical duty. The decision, Fr. Ching said, was “surprising, but certainly an honor.”
Fr. Ching is excited to take on this project. He wants to see the Basilica become a place where people, especially students, “can come to encounter the Lord” through the many offerings of the grand gothic church. He foresees students, faculty, and staff encountering the Lord, primarily through the sacraments, but also through the timeless art and music that present themselves in this church. This is an entirely realistic task considering that the Basilica was built back in a time when art, music, and even the
architecture of the church were created to be just as much of a prayer as the words spoken by the priest.
As rector of the Basilica, Fr. Ching has already been able to oversee some projects. Though set in place before his tenure as rector began, he has been able to watch as aesthetic projects have taken place. These include the landscaping of the Grotto and the front of the Basilica, in addition to the repairs of the exterior frames of the Basilica’s windows. These projects will continue to be completed as the exterior of Corby Hall is finished and are, according to Fr. Ching, part of a greater “master campus plan” to unite all of God Quad with the Basilica, Grotto, and Corby Hall in an effort to blend the center of campus’s faith life with its student life.
In addition to serving as rector of the Basilica, Fr. Ching also serves as rector of Old College Undergraduate Seminary, chaplain of Notre Dame’s Knights of Columbus Council #1477, and chaplain of the softball team. With the academic year just beginning, learning how to balance all of these jobs is an ongoing process, but one that has been “fun,” says Fr. Ching. He is grateful to the men of Old College and the Knights as well as the members of the softball team for their patience and understanding. He is willing to put in the effort to balance all of these jobs saying that “this is where God is calling me. If we truly do believe that God speaks through our superiors, in religion especially, then that means something.” He also admits that having an “incredibly capable” Basilica staff is a blessing, though he gives also gives high, perhaps even higher, praise to Google Calendar.
Fr. Ching has found that some of the most difficult tasks of the job have been the details that no one thinks about. He cited the example of needing to determine how often the floor gets mopped or how to get glitter off of the floor. “Proclaiming the Gospel, in a certain sense, is easy. The surprising stuff is the very detail-oriented stuff.”
While he admits that he has not been able to think about it much, Fr. Ching says that he is most excited to see how the Basilica can serve the world as a “model of liturgical excellence” in terms of how the liturgy is celebrated. He seeks to do this by blending the art and space, including the University choirs, to help fit the Basilica into “the broader mission of Church and Christ” which is to bring people to the Father through the Son with the Holy Spirit. He hopes that the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, a sacred space, will become the sacred heart of campus: a place “where we can come and remember the reason why we are here.” The reason? The basilica is the heart of the campus, just as Jesus Christ is, and should be, at the heart of everything that this University does.
Patrick Gouker is a sophomore studying mathematics and theology. Patrick often goes on long tangents about liturgical theology for no reasons; cookies will shut him up though.