FAIRFIELD, Conn. — When Rabbi Abraham Skorka, a close friend of Pope Francis since childhood, was asked to help dedicate the new Sacred Heart University residence hall named for the pontiff, he asked his old friend for a little advice on what to say.
“How strange it could have been 30 years ago the fact that the rabbi is representing the holy father,” the pope told the Argentinian rabbi and biophysicist in an email.
But Skorka said that naming the new sophomore dorm Jorge Bergoglio Hall — after Pope Francis’ birth name — is a fitting tribute to the pope as both he and universities are champions of dialogue and understanding.
“This is the first thing that connected us,” said Skorka, who co-wrote “On Heaven and Earth” with the pontiff.
Hundreds gathered for the official ribbon cutting for the new 86,000-square-foot, $30 million dorm, home to more than 200 students, at a dedication and reception Tuesday. The hall features two-bedroom, four-person “pods” connected by a shared bathroom.
The building also sports a soaring, hotel-like lobby and a game room, with a CrossFit gym is scheduled to open next week, said Sarah Kosha, president of the sophomore class.
Kosha called the new building “a great environment for all of us students.”
Lauren Silver, a senior who serves as a resident success assistant for Bergoglio, proudly showed off her pod to those touring the building.
“I am so proud to be a part of Sacred Heart,” she said.
The building fills the corner of Jefferson Street and Park Avenue, directly across from the equally eye-catching Frank and Marisa Martire Business & Communications Center, which the university opened in 2015.
Tuesday’s ceremony was marked by Pope Francis’ dedication to dialogue in several ways.
The Rev. Anthony Ciorra, Sacred Heart’s associate vice president for Mission and Catholic Identity, pointed out a reproduction of Marc Chagall’s “White Crucifixion” that hangs in a prominent space in the lobby. A papal favorite, the 1938 work presents Jesus as a Jewish martyr and calls attention to the persecution of Jews in Europe in the 1930s.
Skorka joined several local rabbis in offering a blessing on the new building in both Hebrew and English.
University President John Petillo said he hoped students will learn from the examples of those whose names grace all of the university’s buildings, especially that of Jorge Bergoglio.
“Tell your good friend Jorge we’ve very proud,” he told Skorka.
Click here to sign up for Daily Voice's free daily emails and news alerts.