From Old English to O’Hare: The busy ministry of Fr. Martin Chase

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Given that Fordham professor Martin Chase, S.J., focuses on medieval studies in his scholarly work, it is fitting that he came to the Bronx by way of Denmark.

Though American-born, Fr. Chase was teaching at a Jesuit secondary school in the northern European country when the religious order shut down the school in 1999. He wanted to return to America, and had a strong interest in teaching at Fordham.

“I needed to come home,” Fr. Chase said. “And I had several friends at Fordham because of its strong medieval studies program.”

Fr. Chase soon joined their ranks as an associate professor in the English department. Among the courses he teaches is History of the English Language, which was the undergraduate class that first got him interested in Old English; this dialect has become one of his main areas of study.

“I got a little taste of it and thought it was really fun,” Fr. Chase said.

Fr. Chase teaches both an introductory Old English class and a course on Beowulf in Old English for more advanced students.

Though he realizes keeping students engaged in Old English is an uphill battle, Fr. Chase hopes students will see the language’s appeal through his passion for it.

“Plenty of students hate English of any kind, but if it’s something that the teacher really likes it’ll be a little bit more interesting,” Fr. Chase said.

Fr. Chase’s students say he makes Old English accessible to them.

“He acknowledged its difficulties while also showing how easy it can be to learn,” James Murtagh, FCRH ‘15 said.

Outside the classroom, Fr. Chase is one of Fordham’s faculty senators. He was appointed in early 2014, right before the group passed a final agreement on salary and benefits.

“The committee negotiated that extremely well,” Fr. Chase said.

As part of the Faculty Senate, Fr. Chase meets with his fellow senators once a month to debate various issues. Fordham’s faculty is not unionized, and so the senate helps the faculty give input on university governance. Aside from budgets, a big sticking point for the group is hiring.

“We argue with the administration about how many people we can afford to hire and what to build up,” Fr. Chase said.

Much of Fr. Chase’s time is also taken up with ministry work, as he is a resident minister in O’Hare Hall. He says he enjoys living among the students because the tone is more civilized when an adult is around.

“In my corridor there’s never a pizza box on the floor,” Fr. Chase said. “The students know an adult is going to see that.”

It was in O’Hare that Fr. Chase began his most visible service at Fordham. The 5:30 pm vigil mass that he celebrates every Saturday night in Keating Blue Chapel began as a service for O’Hare students; Fr. Jeffrey P. von Arx, who was dean of Fordham College at Rose Hill from 1998 to 2004, wanted there to be a mass in the dorm every week.

“Campus Ministry didn’t want to have it on Sunday, as it would compete too much with their program,” Fr. Chase said. “So they compromised on the Saturday night vigil mass.”

Fr. Chase substituted for Fr. von Arx when he was away, and when Fr. von Arx left to become president of Fairfield University, Fr. Chase took over. When O’Keefe Commons, which once contained a chapel, became strictly an event space, the mass was moved to Keating Blue Chapel.

The liturgy has no music, but for Fr. Chase this silence ensures that worship is at the forefront of parishioners’ minds.

“It’s nice to have a quiet mass,” Fr. Chase said. “The people are very prayerful.”

Many faculty members regularly attend Fr. Chase’s vigil. William Gould, assistant dean of juniors, said he valued the mass, and Fr. Chase’s message.

“Fr. Chase is one of my favorite Jesuits,” Dean Gould said in an email. “I find his homilies to be a consistent source of insight and inspiration.”

In his role on campus as a spiritual director, Fr. Chase combines the roles of preacher and teacher. He, like many priests at Fordham, meets with students, faculty and Jesuit scholastics to advise them on their faith lives, in a longstanding Jesuit tradition.

“We make a big deal of it,” Fr. Chase said. “It’s part of our own training.”

Fr. Chase paraphrased the literary critic Northrop Frye in summing up his work at Fordham.

“I attempt to re-create the subject in the student’s mind, and my strategy in doing this is first of all to get the student to recognize what he already potentially knows,” Fr. Chase said.