What you’re missing in Nicolle Hall
By Meg Friel
Nine o’clock at night on Saint Michael’s College campus means students filing in and out of dorm halls, making a last minute Cumbies run for a late night study snack, or Father Ray quietly sneaking out of Nicolle Hall to break into Alliot for his nightly ice cream treat.
A dozen priests live together on two floors of Nicolle Hall, each individual room equipped with a “living room” area, a bedroom, and a private bathroom. Located to the right of Alliot, Nicolle Hall has housed priests since 1963, and still maintains its essence with minimal changes since its beginning.
“You know who the first person to move in was? Me!” said Father Richard Vanderweel, S.S.E. “I moved in Labor Day of 1963. Physically, Nicolle Hall hasn’t changed much. It’s pretty much what it was. Except that they plopped the Welcome Center in front of us. We can’t find parking here either.”
When you walk Nicolle Hall through its connecting doors to Alliot, on the left you enter the prayer room, where every night at 5:10 the priests gather for their 10 minute evening prayer, or Vespers, except on Sundays, when the brothers begin Vespers at 5:00 to allow themselves more free time.
“It gives us a little extra time to shoot the bull,” said Father Marcel Rainville, S.S.E. “Some guys will have a drink. Then at a quarter to six, we’ll have dinner, sit around, chat. Father Brian, he can be pretty wild. After that, most guys go to our rooms and watch TV.”
After Vespers, the brothers sit down for a drink, their fridge stocked with Coke, ginger ale, and a shelf for beer. On a recent Wednesday night, the brothers shared conversation while eating cheese they joked about smuggling from Canada, laughing while they unwound from the day. After this, dinner is served in their private dining room. The meal is made specially for them by two Sodexo workers, and tends to be a step up from the usual stir fry or hamburger station one would find in Alliot on a Wednesday night. Wednesdays and Sundays the food is “enhanced,” with dishes such as stuffed peppers or chicken and pasta with a creamy sauce.
“We usually try to get together for community time,” said Father Lino Oropeza, S.S.E. “After prayer, we gather in our living room and we talk to each other about the weather, Brexit, the fire in California, you name it. It can be detailed conversations, or it can be really silly. When we’re together, we’ll just play pranks on each other or mock each other. It’s never bad or ill intended. It’s love.”
While Nicolle Hall itself has its rare mishaps, such as a recent toilet overflow, living with 12 men has its own quirks, said Father Lino, one of the younger brothers in the group.
“The walls are thin, and the guys are going deaf,” said Father Lino. “They watch TV or listen to music really loudly. I live across from Father Paul Kocher, and he has this audio system that has a really loud bass, so when he listens to TV, it’s all I hear.”
“As far as the walls, you really can’t hear your next door neighbors,” Father Vanderweel said.
“Father Michael lives above me, and once in awhile I hear him, when I have my hearing aids in.”
The group also tends to pick up the habits of one another. Their routines are set in stone and recognized by the rest of the brothers.
“Father Ray goes out every night at 9:00 to get ice cream in Alliot,” said Father Lino. Father Paul Koucher comes to pick up the New York Times in the bookstore every morning. Some of the guys have breakfast at 7:00 in the morning. So, you can tell if someone isn’t feeling well if they’re not at breakfast at 7:00.”
“There are pluses and minuses,” said Father Brian Cummings, S.S.E. “I like living there because I’m living with other people. You know, I’ve got 11 other men living with me. Father Ray is across the hall, I hear his radio. We listen to the same music, so I enjoy listening to his radio. My and Father Michael Carter bedrooms are adjoined, and sometimes he’ll hear me at night when I’m having nightmares. We’ll joke about that.”
For many of the brothers, living with older and more experienced priests gives them a mentor to look up to. Father Lino said they often learn from one another and enjoy living with each other because of the sense of family it gives them.
“Sharing and living with our brothers is our first ministry,” Father Lino said. “So, caring for the others and making sure everyone is well is our ministry. The community offers that opportunity.”
“What’s nice about being in a community is that you can engage in conversation and learn things from the men that are older,” Father Brian said. “There are men who are scholars in philosophy and theology and they’re very smart guys. They have strong academic interests, and they’re very well read. I learn a lot from the guys. “
While many of the brothers actively work on campus and in the surrounding community, the community aspect of the brotherhood comes together in the heart of Nicolle Hall.
“It helps to just have someone to laugh with, to sit down with, to share your frustrations once in awhile,” said Father Lino. “At the end of the day, you’re tired and you want to sit down and have a beer with someone and just talk.”