Skip to main content

Spiritual-Center-6-30-10-67The past is not dead. It’s not even past.

William Faulkner thus alerts us to the history of the journeys we take and the lives we live.

We know this.Long before the dawn of writing, for millennia, the human family reached beyond the limits of their everyday concerns.The record is inscripted in cave paintings and ritual objects that we find wherever our ancestors journeyed.

Today we paint and write, build structures and compose music which link us with that past search for meaning and give it contemporary expression.

This restlessness and transcendental imperative never cease.

We are hard-wired to reach beyond every horizon and wander across every boundary. Scripted into our spiritual DNA is a hunger for total understanding. It entices us and eludes us, calls forth our energies and exceeds our capacities.

The limits are infinite, lost in a limitless mystery, belonging to us and yet taking us elsewhere. Ultimately, we surrender to the mystery and find, often, that we are left unsatisfied (we did not comprehend it) and reconciled all at once.

A meaning worthy of our search is worth the effort. The mystery that beckons us to search and to surrender to it brings together all people of good will, with gentle stirrings and ambiguities. The mystery surrounds us in silence and serenity and gives us a personal experience of sacred space, privileged places, treasured times.

Out of all this, something as modest as a spiritual center is crafted and bears witness. The center assembles those who hear the drum-beat of the inexhaustible in their hearts and reach for others summoned by it.

A College requires a center such as this if it respects the wide range of substantial and enduring human experience. It is not the cathedral or the temple, the ashram or the mosque, the tribal dance or the monastic chant which invite us.It is the human heart which understands the value of all these endeavors and yet the insufficiency of every one of them.

An authentic spiritual center is a safe place for the human heart and for all that is best in our humanity.

The vision is a vision only because we have been beckoned to be attentive to it.

Vision: A Spiritual Center

The concept of a spiritual center originated in 2001 when a founder of the College, Dr. Anthony T. Padovano, a distinguished professor, noted the absence on campus of a structure for religious services and contemplative gatherings for people of good will.

The model for the Center was the United Nations Meditation Room at its world headquarters, a space “dedicated to silence…and stillness.” Dr. Padovano had visited the Meditation Room when he was a student and never forgot it. He was influenced also by his subsequent work with the Parliament of World Religions and the Global Ethics Foundation.

Ramapo College is an apt environment for such an endeavor. From its origins, it has been an international, interdisciplinary, multi-cultural liberal arts college. The idea of a spiritual center was supported by all four presidents of the College: its founder, George Potter; his successor, Robert Scott; and two presidents in office as the project was proposed, Rodney Smith and Peter Mercer. Dr. Mercer, under whose tenure the Spiritual Center was completed, endorsed it as a meeting place for dialogue on values, meaning and interfaith concerns.

Ramapo is located on land sacred to Native Americans who called it “mahwah”, a “meeting place” for deliberation. George Washington encamped on what is now the Ramapo campus on August 26, 1781 and resided in an earlier version of the home of the college president. From here, Washington, the French General Jean-Baptiste Rochambeau, and the Continental Army marched to Yorktown, Virginia. They arrived September 30 and defeated the British forces. This decisive victory ended the revolution and made the nation’s transformation into a republic possible.

The College community participated in a vigorous dialogue which preceded its support of the proposed project. The Board of Trustees, with strong backing from its chair, Rev. Dr. Vernon C. Walton, formally approved the Center on April 20, 2005. Dr. Walton later cited the Salameno Spiritual Center as a place “where joy can be celebrated, where our hearts can be healed, and where love can be shared.” The Ramapo College Foundation, spearheaded by Institutional Vice President Cathleen Davey, provided advice, promotion, and financial support.

The College considered a number of sites for the Center. One possibility was a single-room facility in a carriage house on campus. The carriage house was one of the four structures remaining from the Theodore Havemeyer, and later, Stephen Birch estate. The carriage house was close to Kameron Pond and a central hub of College activity.

Another possible site would be a new small building across the campus (where the Sustainability Center is now housed). This proposal had the advantage of contemporary construction but it was remote from the core of campus life.

Ultimately, the College elected to locate and construct the Center on the edge of Kameron Pond, surrounded by woodlands, in the midst of College activity. Although at first the intent was to build a one-room structure, the Center eventually evolved into its present configuration of five structures.

Actors: Architects and Donors

It was now time to select a suitable architect.

A planning group made up of trustees and donors, construction specialists and College personnel met regularly over a two-year period. A substantial amount of time was given to the selection of the architect.

Fourteen architectural firms from across the Northeast responded favorably. It was unexpected that so many prominent, prestigious and creative architects would be interested in such a modest proposal. The answer they gave to queries was that a spiritual center was not a conventional building, such as a classroom or a residence facility where so much is predetermined by the use and the need. A spiritual center, especially the one we envisioned, would allow an architect to be poetic and creative, transforming the ambiguity and resilient nature of the building into art and beauty. Malcolm Holzman, from New York City, recognized as one of America’s leading architects, was chosen in 2006.

The initial proposal to build one structure with one room for meditation was converted into an assembly of buildings. Holzman wanted the architecture to express the original vision for the Center as a place for both dialogue and solitude. The complex of buildings, pond, woodlands, and gardens would be situated in the midst of student activity and on the most scenic site of the campus.

The largest gathering place would be the Padovano Peace Pavilion. Its design was creative, indeed startling: triangular and trapezoidal, with sloping planes and 800 square feet of interior space, accommodating eighty people. There would be views of the sky at its apex and two bands of windows, three feet high, composed of translucent and transparent glass, affording views of the pond, the woodlands and the horizon. Wood from a large oak tree, removed to build the Center, would be used for benches on three sides of the pavilion and in the meditation rooms.

The Padovano Peace Pavilion would be built in the shape of a tent, one of humankind’s most ancient symbols of the presence of the divine or the cosmic spirit and, indeed, a traditional symbol of hospitality. The building would be called a “pavilion” from the Latin for “butterfly”, a sign of stunning transformation from earth-bound caterpillar to freedom and flight and beauty.

Gracing this site would be two other structures, the McBride and Marino Meditation Rooms. They would be curving structures, each with a small window allowing light to enter at the top and a lower window providing a view of the pond. These spartan spaces would accommodate up to three people and provide an environment of solitude, silence and serenity. The bend of the structures toward the horizon suggests spiritual yearning.

Five gardens planted with indigenous flowering plants alter the landscape throughout the year and complement the buildings.

Transported to the center is a glacial erratic, a huge boulder remnant of the last ice age that shaped the terrain of northern New Jersey. Near the Padovano Peace Pavilion, at the edge of the pond, a deck offers unimpeded views of the water and the woodlands.

The Center occupies 1,525 square feet of the one acre site. The buildings are geo-thermally heated and environmentally sensitive. A gracious field-stone wall and pavements surround the Center.

The construction costs for the Center came to $1.2 million of the total $2 million project cost.

One first encounters the utility buildings on entering the Center. They serve as a wall shutting out the hurried pace of everyday life. To make this point clear, a talented sculptor at the College, Professor Jay Wholley, donated his time for two years to construct a sculptured, workable gate. The gate is a two-part circular structure, with one half on each side of the aperture. The sculpture’s imagery is derived from the mystical beast, the Ouroboros, holding on to its tail, with the encirclement symbolizing protection of the spiritual life within the universe and constant renewal.

Donors

The major donors played an indispensable part in making the Center happen. A number of donors verbalized how touched they were by the vision of the Center. At the end of this written record there is a list of all the other donors who were indispensable for the success of this endeavor.

The Salameno Spiritual Center

The entire Center is named after Lawrence and Theresa Salameno for the magnitude of their gift. Together, they support a wide range of philanthropic and public service initiatives. Lawrence was trained in law and worked for financial service institutions. Theresa had a career in hospitality management. Her clients included the Queen of England. Theresa also worked in conflict resolution strategies. Both of them have received honorary degrees from Stonehill College, in Easton, Massachusetts. Their daughter Francesca graduated from Ramapo College in 2006. The Salameno family felt a kinship with the Spiritual Center and saw it as a further expression of their desire to make the world a better place.

The Padovano Peace Pavilion

Anthony and Theresa Padovano have been active for years in issues of social justice, global education and non-violence. Anthony is a distinguished professor, College founder, author of 29 books, and world-wide lecturer. His personal and professional papers are preserved in the archives of the University of Notre Dame. Theresa has been an educator and a nurse and has been recognized for advocacy work with the New Jersey Legislature. Together they have also initiated the Anthony and Theresa Padovano Endowed Lecture Series at the College.

The McBride and Marino Meditation Rooms

Pamela and Peter McBride have had a special relationship with Ramapo College from its early years. Pamela is a licensed architect and volunteer with Habitat for Humanity. Peter works with McBride Enterprises in residential, industrial and office development projects. Peter is a College Trustee and serves on the Board of Governors. They have generously supported many Ramapo efforts.

Anthony and Gail Marino manage and direct the family-owned Century 21 Construction firm. They donate regularly and generously to philanthropic enterprises, including Ramapo College. Century 21 built the Overlook and original Maple residence halls and the Trustee Pavilion. Their endowed scholarship fund provides students with an opportunity to pursue international study abroad.

The Mann Contemplative Terrace

Emily Kosstrin Mann is on the Ramapo Foundation Board of Governors and has been a College Trustee. Sam Mann is founder and CEO of the multi-national Inverness Corporation. Active in a variety of causes that support the arts and education, they have also received numerous awards as vintage automobile collectors.

Architects and Donors became the authors and patrons of the Center. They caught the vision and provided the concrete resources which gave visible expression to a dream. They made the Spiritual Center not only an idea that could be shared but a home all could enter.

Advantages: Benefits for the College Community

The most immediate benefit of the Spiritual Center is the positive influence it may have on individual students or on visitors by its very presence. The Center says, without words, that we need to attend to the transcendental, large issues which form a context for our lives. By its open and welcoming presence, it tells us we have been made for more than the anxieties of the moment.

A second benefit is inclusivity. The Center leaves out no one. It is as inclusive as humanity itself. Humanity existed and developed before the world religions were formed. The human heart learned how to love before anyone taught it to do so. Inclusivity benefits all of us and its absence sooner or later leads to violence on a minor or a major scale. Inclusivity makes all of us safe.

A third benefit is peace. Unless we are at peace with ourselves, we cannot be agents of peace in the world. Peace is not only a strategy but a state of being. There can be no peace in the world without dialogue between the religions. The Center promotes this dialogue. Its religious events are open to everyone.

There cannot be peace in the world unless there is dialogue also between those who profess a religion and those who prefer an alternative path. No one has an absolute or unalterable truth that cannot be amended or enlarged.

A fourth benefit is generosity of spirit. In constructing this mandela of life and identity, in walking this labyrinth to the center of ourselves, we pass through the awareness, inclusivity and peace we have just addressed. Generosity of spirit emerges from a heart that is authentically human. We cannot harm the other without wounding ourselves and we cannot be generous to another without enriching our own lives. Soldiers testify to how willingly they will give their lives to rescue their comrades. They also tell us that they would rather build hospitals or schools, homes or shelters for the people who suffer from their presence and the violence that war brings with it. Our instinctive human response to the world is not violence or competition or plunder. It is nurturing. We are summoned to generosity of spirit. Every lover knows this as well as every parent, every child, every professor or physician or professional worthy of the name.

A fifth benefit is celebration of major life experiences or events. Since the Center calls us to substantial levels of the self, it is an appropriate place to assemble for solemn moments: marriage, funerals, painful loss and unexpected success, the birth of a child, the joy of friendship.

A sixth benefit is dialogue and ethical awareness. Our deepest meaning is in meeting. Talking is an act of hope in the self and an act of faith in the other. A lack of communication breaks the human heart. No one can take the measure of the grace which is present when someone says “I love you” or “I forgive you” or “I will never forget you.” We are made to say such words and to hear them. Dialogue, in all its forms, is meant to lead to such words. All violence stems from a sense we are not respected. Dialogue builds respect for the other. All of us respond affirmatively to the notion that we must not do to others what we do not want done to ourselves.

The list could continue but the essential point and character of the Spiritual Center has been stated. If the College community brings these values to the Center or discovers them there, then the institution will be more than it is now in a way that gratifies all of us.

Assembly: The Promise is Realized

The Center was endorsed by the Ramapo Community, its faculty, officers, students and staff in a manner that exceeded all expectations. Beginning in September of 2010, a month before its dedication, and thereafter, the Center was reserved every day, sometimes four times a day, for special events. The rush to the Center for the sense of the sacred led to ceremonies that were Catholic and Protestant, Jewish and Muslim, Hindu and Unitarian. A Zen Buddhist ordination, Sabbath celebrations, Catholic Mass, Protestant biblical services were and are part of the Center’s life.

The College Community and the public at large are welcome to celebrate here and to find a home here. The Center may be reserved by contacting the appropriate College authorities and reserving a time that does not conflict with already scheduled events.

The Salameno Spiritual Center, the Padovano Peace Pavilion, the McBride and Marino Meditation Rooms, the Mann Terrace and Gardens now belong to the people who come here in hope and meaning, in good will and peace, searching for the values that make our lives significant and the world we live in safe and sacred.

Dedication: Completion, Celebration, Invitation

If one wishes to gain an appropriate sense of the Spiritual Center, one should take note of how its major ceremonies of ground-breaking and dedication were conducted. The words and rituals of these significant celebrations caught the vision, the advantages and the mission of the Center in a unique way. These events were planned with meticulous care and emerged from a broad consensus within the College of how they should be done and what should be said.

The Groundbreaking Ceremony occurred on June 2, 2008. Most of the significant actors in this endeavor participated: the chair of the Board of Trustees, Rev. Vernon C. Walton, the College president Peter P. Mercer, the chief donors Laurence and Theresa Salameno, Anthony and Theresa Padovano, Peter and Pamela McBride, Anthony and Gail Marino. Invited to bless the site were Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim chaplains of the College. Major addresses were delivered by Peter Mercer, Theresa Salameno and Anthony Padovano. Peter Mercer addressed the “spiritual dimension” of “discussion, debate and contemplation.” Theresa Salameno saw the Center as a place for “worship…and for contemplative meditation.” Anthony Padovano cited the historic significance of ground sacred to Native Americans and in the conduct of the American Revolution and in the founding of the College some forty years ago. He cited the influence of the new millennium and of the United Nations in the initial conception. The Center was to be a place of joy and love, a place where grief and celebration and reflection would find expression.

The Spiritual Center caught the attention of the major media in the area and of New Jersey’s prominent newspaper, The Record.

Construction on the center began in early September, 2008. The site was transformed over the next two years, reaching completion in September of 2010. A wooded non-descript acre became an architectural jewel and an unused area became a gathering place for the Ramapo community.

The dedication ceremony was celebrated on October 5, 2010. All the major donors, the architect, Malcolm Holzman, College personnel and students were in attendance. The dedication address was given by Dr. Martin E. Marty, distinguished professor emeritus of the University of Chicago, a prominent theologian, awarded some eighty honorary degrees by American colleges and universities. Dr. Marty addressed the Center as a place which would honor the spiritual search of many in the College community. It would provide “a roof over our heads and space under the sun to have experiences, not read about them.” “There is a difference between reading a book about love and having someone say ‘I love you’.” This address was also the inaugural lecture of the annual spirituality series at the College, the Anthony and Theresa Padovano Endowed Lecture Series.

Chief Dwaine Perry from the nearby Ramapough Lenape Nation led participants in a traditional ceremony in which College officers and donors expressed their good wishes for this Center’s future and use. An ancient tobacco ceremony gathered these wishes, mostly for peace and enlightenment, and directed them heavenward.

Peter Mercer in his dedication address saw the Center as a place of healing from the divisions that destroy the potential humanity has for nobility.

The most dramatic moment in the Dedication Ceremony was its central ritual. The ritual celebrated air, fire, earth and water as the symbols all religions see as sacred and all people of good will celebrate as essential to life. The ritual, developed by College founder Anthony Padovano, addressed air as a sign of life in the outdoor ceremony of dedication. A fire was ignited by the Salameno and Padovano families and candles were lighted for all present. The passing of fire one to another symbolized our dependence on someone other than ourselves to give us truth or, indeed, life itself. Fire brings the light of the sun within our reach and into the dark moments of our lives. Water from the nearby pond was poured over the prehistoric rock from the ice age symbolizing earth and water. Water reminds us of our birth in water from the womb and from the seas of the planet. Earth gives us nourishment, wheat and wine, corn and rice. There is no religion, no person who can be identified without air, fire, earth and water. These symbols are common ground making all our unities possible and all our divisions superficial.

A decade after its first proposal Ramapo College had a spiritual center.

Mission: A Statement of Intent

The Salameno Spiritual Center at Ramapo College of New Jersey is open, on an equitable basis, to all assemblies of people of good will who work within the boundaries of College regulations and all religious services that are in accord with College standards.
The Salameno Spiritual Center defines itself as a place available for groups who pursue issues involved with spirituality, contemplation, meditation, study, dialogue, social justice, and other issues within the broad parameter of these concerns.

The Salameno Spiritual Center supports in its programs and availability the four pillars of Ramapo College of New Jersey: internationalism, multiculturalism, interdisciplinarity, and experiential learning. It is in harmony with the official standing of Ramapo as New Jersey’s Liberal Arts College.

The Salameno Spiritual Center is open to the general public under the same guidelines of the College community. In all cases, prior registration for specific programs is required to assure the availability of the Center for a specific group and purpose.

The mission of the Salameno Spiritual Center intends to give credibility and support to the mission of Ramapo College of New Jersey. It especially endorses programs that promote peace or dialogue between the religions or reflection on ethical behavior or on inclusivity.