Caffeine Catalyzer

February 16, 2016


When I arrived at St. Catherine’s a year and half ago, the undergraduate student population had fallen on somewhat hard times. As the newly ordained associate pastor, a number of shifts in parish staffing and management had made a sustained ministerial effort to the University difficult. St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Newman Center is a parish of the diocese, which simultaneously serves the needs of the students at University of Utah. St. Catherine’s has long been a home for families and an older permanent community who prize the communal and social dynamics of the parish, along with the Dominican presence, which, in line with our charism, highlights good preaching, catechesis, and liturgy. A strong young adult group was present as well. But the undergraduate numbers were conspicuously thin.

Fr. Lukasz Misko, O.P., almost immediately on arrival last August, got together with our campus minister Julie Bellefuille, who cooked up—or brewed?—the idea of starting a coffee-shop. The student lounge on the corner of the building was a meeting room for various groups at the time; and pretty prosaic. A few couches. An old and clunky television. Photos on the wall that stretched back a ways to students who had graduated and moved on. Why not start a coffee shop? St. Catherine’s… Hmmm… How about, “Cate’s Café”?

Fr. Lukasz began promoting the idea last August, and the idea received immediate and generous financial support from a broad cross-section of parishioners—older, younger, middle-aged, daily mass goers, even students. Long and grueling hours were put in by all groups, stripping and laying down a new floor, excavating a fireplace which had been covered up out of one side, and gathering various furniture and accoutrements to ready the way.

On Friday, January 15th—just five months after the idea was broached, behold: Cate’s Café. Or rather: Catès Café™. The opening ceremonies involved gathering outside the entrance, Julie turning on the “OPEN” sign to cheers and hurrahs, then proceeding inside for a “coffee shop blessing” by Fr. Lukasz—holy water and all-capped by a Marian hymn under the watchful gaze of the two Marian art pieces which deck opposite corners of the space.

In the short time the shop has been open, it is already attracting students, young adults, even professors—as a convenient and comfortable place to imbibe caffeine, socialize and meet up, and get work done. Julie especially has put an artist’s touch into the décor and atmosphere—she majored in art history at University of Washington and just graduated Spring 2015, a product of the Dominican-run Newman Center there. Trevor Woods also, a recent resident of the fourth floor and professional graphic designer, has contributed a beautiful tryptich of the Creed stylized and prominently displayed. The coffee is slow-drip and brew-it-yourself, with easy instructions to follow posted on a board. It is funded solely by free-will donations. To cap it off, a liturgical sanctuary bell hangs at the entrance, and is rung to alert those present that the divine office or mass is about to begin in the chapel.

So far, I have regularly seen students studying at Cate’s; meeting with their small faith-sharing groups; and sipping tea and coffee mid-morning while taking care of schoolwork, looking out into the downtown Salt Lake City skyline in the distance. I engaged one student recently in an impromptu conversation on evolutionary biology, God, and philosophy, other students sitting around, cool jazz playing the background.

Economists know that some products—no matter how bad the economy gets—are never without a market. Like bread. And gasoline. For the college student, it’s perhaps not going too far to say that coffee is a kind of universal staple. Never out of style. The hope is that Catès Café™ will provide not only a place of social gathering, good coffee, and a productive, relaxed environment to get work done; but be an avenue for students to encounter  life-changing ideas, community, and indeed the Lord Jesus Christ. Prayers are appreciated for the continued success of Cate’s!

By: Fr. Peter Hannah, O.P., Associate Pastor, St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Newman Center, Salt Lake City, Utah

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