Just around the corner from the main entrance of the Church of the Incarnation lies a small chapel. Used as the Eucharistic chapel in the past, it is now home to a beautiful display case of relics from all over the world.
Fr. Thomas More Barba, O.P., began the process of creating a relic collection in 2018 when he was chaplain of UD. “I was thinking how UD students appreciate visiting shrines and saints’ tombs in Europe during the Rome semester, and how they would appreciate having relics available for them to venerate,” he said.
“I reached out to a Dominican friar, of my own province, who was serving in our Order’s curia in Rome, at Santa Sabina, to ask him how I could request relics for veneration at UD. He happily informed me that larger relics of our Dominican saints have been entrusted to our Dominican sisters at Monte Mario, in Rome, and they carefully remove parts of these larger relics, place them in a small, often circular container (sometimes called a ‘theca’), with a small document testifying to the authenticity of the relics,” said Barba.
Multiple relics were also given as gifts. A UD alum gifted the relics of St. Augustine and St. Dymphna, according to Barba. Fr. Christopher Kalan, O.Cist., also inherited many relics from a friend at Mepkin Abbey in South Carolina and gave them to UD’s chaplain, Fr. Joseph Paul Albin, O.P., to add to the collection.
“Fr. Christopher from the Cistercian Abbey actually inherited a great deal. And when I said I was going to do a reliquary, he said, ‘Would you like any more?’ And I said yes. So I went through a list and picked out ones that I thought would be relatable to our students and that would display well together,” said Albin.
Albin has since continued Barba’s mission of creating a collection of relics for the Church of the Incarnation. He has collected more relics and he has also expanded the reliquary collection.
“When Fr. Joseph Paul became chaplain and rector and he told me about his idea to create a reliquary atop the stone plinth in the former Eucharistic chapel, I knew the relics had found a home where they could edify the faith and love of UD students, professors, and the wider community,” said Barba.
“Most of them [the bronze reliquaries] we already had, and then I ordered a number from a company called Adrian Hamers. They’re a liturgical supply company and they make beautiful bronze objects for use in the church. And so we picked out ones that looked like they would look good together,” said Albin.
Each relic is unique and representative of UD in its own way. According to Albin, many UD students particularly connect to St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas since their works are part of the core readings in theology and philosophy. St. Bernard of Clairvaux and St. Dominic are also uniquely connected to UD because they founded the Cistercian and Dominican orders, respectively. Both of these religious orders have been incredibly impactful on the culture of UD.
“Looking at the list of relics — that has expanded since 2018 — I see in all of them, together, intercessors for our university community: monasticism and mendicant orders, men and women, clerics, vowed virgins, laity, preachers, scholars, active and cloistered, all represented. When UD is at its best, all of these ways are welcomed and esteemed as paths of holiness,” said Barba.
Albin’s personal favorite relic is one of the lesser known saints represented in the reliquary.
“We have a personal patron of mine, St. Peter Julian Eymard. He is a French saint who had an incredible devotion to the Eucharist who formed my love of the Eucharist and my own devotion to the Eucharist. While he’s not the most well known, I’m very glad that we have him because I just really like him,” he said.
Albin wants the room to be a place of prayer and devotion for students. “So that chapel used to be the Eucharistic chapel. And what we wanted to make sure of is that it was a place where students still wanted to pray. So I’m very glad that we’ve preserved it as a place of prayer, because I think that room could have easily just been sort of a strange little side room. And so the fact that it’s a place of prayer and devotion, I think is incredible.”
As Lent comes to a close and Easter draws near, everyone is encouraged to visit the relics in the Church of the Incarnation. You may find one of your patron saints there, or perhaps you will learn about a new saint that touches your heart in a special way.
Here is a list of all the saints represented in the reliquary:
St. Thomas Aquinas
St. Catherine of Siena
Pope St. Pius V
St. Thomas the Apostle
Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati
St. Maria Goretti
St. Peter Julian Eymard
St. Clare of Assisi
St. Rose of Lima
Bl. Bartolo Longo
St. Albert the Great