Cupola tree-lighting event brings light, joy, music and blessing to rainy evening

December 8, 2022
tree top

The Christmas tree in the Founders cupola contributes to the spirit of the season mid-campus. (photos by Elizabeth Murray ’13)

Light, music and a joyful spirit penetrated the late-afternoon darkness of a bleak and rainy December evening Wednesday as more than 50 undaunted Saint Michael’s College community members gathered to celebrate the lighting of a Christmas tree in the newly placed Founders Hall cupola in the middle of campus.

“I’m hoping this can be the start of a new tradition at St. Mike’s that we can do every year to celebrate the holidays,” said Kristin McAndrew, vice president for enrollment and marketing, as she arrived with others from across campus for the short 5 p.m. ceremony.

Much appreciated by the assembled were hot chocolate and cookies from Sodexo that food service manager Brian Roper brought over. Event organizer Leandre Waldo, President Lorraine Sterritt’s chief of staff, spoke first to thank everyone for coming out despite the weather, explaining that the main idea was “to bring folks together to celebrate” a new home for the beautifully restored cupola.

Waldo introduced Fr. Brian Cummings, S.S.E. ’86, director of Edmundite Campus Ministry, who offered an opening blessing: “…. Emmanuel, God-with-us, the Prince of Peace, who fills us with the wonder of your love. … Let your blessing come upon us as we illumine this tree. May the light and cheer it gives be a sign of the joy that fills our hearts. May all who delight in this tree come to the knowledge and joy of salvation,” he prayed from inside the cupola rail beside the tree.

Fr. Brian

Fr. Brian offers a blessing.

After the blessing came the big moment when Director of Facilities Joel Ribout plugged in the strings of purple and gold lights on the attractive balsam fir in the center of the cupola with its newly applied shiny copper roof, drawing a robust round of applause. Ribout said the tree came from the nearby Whites Tree Farm on Route 15, secured by Ryan Longe and Mike Estey of the Facilities staff.

Peter Vantine of the Classical and Modern Languages and Literature/French faculty, said he was “excited to see the new copper roof of the cupola – this morning it wasn’t there, but I saw it before dusk tonight and I think it’s going to look fantastic. I think having a tree in the center is a beautiful idea.”

After the blessing came several well-received seasonal musical selections from two campus a cappella singing groups, the all-women Acabellas followed by the coed Sleepless Knights. First was Silent Night, and the familiar closer was the popular “Carol of the Bells.”

Some students had made their own ornaments independently. Jenna Farber, a junior psychology major from Rhode Island, showed off a toy dinosaur that she had attached to a hook to make it a unique Christmas ornament. “I make them at home – another one I converted from an earring to an ornament,” Farber said.


Community members add decorations to the tree.

Cassie Wardwell, a sophomore biology major with history minor from Canton, Maine and Farber’s roommate, said that, while she did not have a custom ornament, she had come to support Jenna as well as some friends who sing in the Sleepless Knights. Working the crowd also was Banana, a golden retriever brought over by Kelly Zimmer, a Resident Director in the suites residences.

As the a cappella groups sang, community members had a chance to further decorate the now-lighted tree with an assortment of ornaments. Many ornaments people had created during organized craft activities of the past two days. Organizers placed those creations in a bag with hooks by the tree for anybody to put on the tree. Vice President for Academic Affairs Jeffrey Trumbower got things rolling with the decorations by hanging one of the first ornaments alongside Instructional Technologist Patrick Volz.


A sign in Alliot urging ornament creation. (photo Mark Tarnacki)

Other campus leaders in the audience included VP Rob Robinson of the Finance Office and Dawn Ellinwood, vice president for student affairs/dean of students, along with Heidi St. Peter ’96, director of purposeful learning, who reflected about the affecting symbolism that the event offered surrounding  light shining in the darkness for these times. Edmundite Fr. David Theroux S.S.E., ’70, said, “it’s a nice time to dedicate it – a festive time to be doing it in the Advent season leading up to Christmas with the tree underneath the cross atop the cupola. It’s a strong symbol together.”

Said Ellinwood, “What a Saint Michael’s beautiful turnout of people and joy to usher in the season. This is very, very beautiful.” Ellinwood said she had joined other students and staff in making her own ornament thanks to the craft activities organized by RD’s in Alliot Hall in recent days that provided wooden templates and paints. Describing her own ornament design, Ellinwood said, “It’s a peace sign! I imagine it is in the bag waiting for somebody to hang it up now.”

Alexi Garrett, new history faculty member, adds an ornament.

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