Kay center celebrated at 50th anniversary celebration
Students, chaplains, faculty, staff and guests of the AU community gathered Wednesday Nov. 18 in the Kay Spiritual Life Center to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its dedication.
The Kay Spiritual Life Center has a prominent spot on the northern part of the Eric Freidheim Quadrangle, directly across from Bender Library and visible from all angles of the tree-lined space. Thousands of visitors and AU community members over the past 50 years have come to pray, mourn, celebrate, organize and learn there.
The 50th anniversary ceremony in Kay’s chapel served as a remembrance of the center’s history as well as a celebration of its contributions and importance to the AU community. Fifty years ago, Abraham Kay, a Jewish businessman, and former AU President Hurst Anderson, a Methodist, envisioned building an interfaith house of worship where individuals of different religious backgrounds could use together. After its completion, Kay was one of the first interfaith houses of worship in the United States, according to historical information on AU’s website.
“Long before, it became part of our common lexicon,” Joe Eldridge, the University Chaplain and Director of the Kay Spiritual Life Center, said. “They [Anderson and Kay] were trailblazers ahead of their time. This building stands as reminder of their friendship.”
Eldridge commenced the celebration by highlighting Kay’s importance to the AU community in times of joy and honor as well as in times of sadness and commiseration .
“This building becomes the center of community life when people are stopped in their tracks and confronted by something that challenges the limits of our human understanding, shocking us with [the] reality of our own ability and furgility,” Eldridge said. “The untimely death of a student, faculty or staff, the Boston Marathon bombing, the Haitian earthquake, Ferguson, 9/11.”
Eldridge said Sept. 11 stands out to him as an important moment in Kay’s history because of the large amount of students who came to the center to support one another.
“I will always remember on Sept. 11, students came in droves from the residence halls — faculty and staff from their offices — came to the steps of [Kay], where we all found comfort in being together,” Eldridge said.
For 50 years, Kay has functioned as a community space for prayer and community building activities for around 30 religious groups and organizations. The Collective Action and Social Justice coalition, a campus activism group, also has an office in the building.
Izabella Banka, a senior in the School of International Service and member of the Muslim Student Alliance, said she felt nostalgic about her time spent in Kay last year and said she will miss it when she graduates.
“I lived in Kay last year, I really did. I cleaned up the trash, I vacuumed the prayer room,” Banka said. “So now that I am leaving AU next year [ to graduate], I was standing in Kay the other day and was about to cry. I know this place way too well.”
In addition to the main chapel, Kay has other notable features including the spiral on top, for which Kay earned its on-campus nickname “the flaming cupcake.” Kay also includes a lower level where many of Kay’s religious organizations and other clubs hold events and meetings.
Andrew Episcopo, a junior in the School of Public Affairs and member of the Methodist-Protestant community, said he considers the space in the basement the most special part of Kay.
“I spend lots of time in Kay,” Episcopo said. “I think the lounge downstairs is the most important part. Every different faith group uses that space. It is a way for us to cooperate and be together.”
President Neil Kerwin also spoke at the anniversary event, highlighting Kay’s importance for efforts of inclusion and alignment with AU’s values of diversity and inclusivity.
“It may not have changed the world, but it changed American University for generations.
Kay Spiritual Life Center is the inclusion we seek, but still so struggle to achieve,” Kerwin said. “Kay Spiritual Life Center is a University flagship, a beacon and certainly one of our best ideas.”