Clemson breaks ground on chapel bearing late student’s name

Miscellany/Terry Cregar: Mary and Ken Cadden speak at the groundbreaking celebration at Clemson University May 23 for the new chapel named in tribute to their son.

CLEMSON— Thanks to a Catholic couple seeking to honor their late son, a 20-year effort to build a chapel at Clemson University is on its way to becoming reality.

The slow-moving process was propelled forward by Mary and Ken Cadden, who launched a three-year campaign to raise the money needed to build a campus chapel.

On May 23, several hundred people gathered for a symbolic ground-breaking at the site of the future Samuel J. Cadden Chapel at Clemson University.

Samuel Cadden

The Caddens, parents of Samuel Cadden, were special guests at the groundbreaking, complete with shovels bearing Clemson-orange handles and orange-colored sand. The event was led by James Clements, university president, along with a small group of school officials at the building site next to the Strom Thurmond Institute.

The $6 million chapel, plaza and garden is expected to be completed by the fall of 2020. It will primarily serve as a quiet, reflective space for students, faculty, staff and visitors, as well as a space for weddings, funerals and campus events.

As with chapels on other public college campuses, Clemson’s will be nondenominational, although it is named after a student who was a devoted member of St. Andrew Church and its Catholic Student Association.

Sam Cadden was a rising junior at Clemson in 2015 when he passed away that summer from injuries sustained in a car accident. The following year, his parents presented the university with a $1.5 million gift to launch the fundraising campaign.

While at Clemson, Sam served on St. Andrew’s finance council and was a member of the Knights of Columbus. His father spoke briefly at the groundbreaking, reflecting on the agony of losing a child, which ultimately turned toward grace.

“The chapel project can be a painful reminder at times of what we lost, but most of the time it’s been a blessing,” Mr. Cadden said. “We’ve made friends who rallied to support a young man they did not know for very long and a family they did not know at all. It’s provided us great comfort and a distraction from great heartache. The letters we’ve received and stories we’ve heard of Sam have touched our hearts.”

While at Clemson, the Cadden’s son put together a personal wish list, though it wasn’t discovered until after his death. The list included Sam’s hope of one day having a building named in his honor, along with his desire to serve God.

Miscellany/Terry Cregar: The Caddens join other participants in prayer during the groundbreaking ceremony.

“His first week at Clemson, Sam found St. Andrew and he joined the Knights of Columbus,” Mrs. Cadden said. “He contemplated going into the priesthood, but he also wanted to have children,” which led to Sam’s interest in becoming a deacon.

“He was a normal boy who struggled with the things we all struggle with in our faith, but he somehow was able to encourage others,” she said, noting that each week Sam invited at least one fellow student to join him for Sunday evening Mass at St. Andrew. 

“He had that gift from God,” Mrs. Cadden said, a gift others at St. Andrew saw and nurtured, including Father Bob Menard, chaplain and director of Catholic Campus Ministry.

Father Menard, who delivered the homily at Sam’s funeral in Virginia, said the young man “fully engaged his fellow students in the classroom, on the campus and in the faith community,” an effort that gradually spread to the larger community.

“As a member of St. Andrew, Sam shared his presence, prayer, time and talents with us,” Father Menard said. “My hope is that other students will be inspired to equip themselves for leadership, as he did.”

As for the new chapel, Father Menard said he prays that it will become “not only a memorial that honors students who have died, but also a center for interfaith prayer, dialogue and witness to the value of teaching and learning for wisdom’s sake.”