It isn’t hard to draw parallels between the wizardly and witchy universe of Hogwarts and the enchanting life of the University of King’s College. That is particularly so with Father Gary Thorne acting as King’s very-own Dumbledore double.
That being said, the beloved chaplain is passing on his wand. He playfully said that “the community probably needs a young chaplain, with fresh ideas.” Regardless, Thorne has graced the King’s community with so much over the years and will leave behind a campus forever indebted to him.
Throughout his eleven-year run at King’s he has fostered life-long relationships, pioneered significant initiatives and undergone invaluably formative experiences.
Sitting down with Thorne (in his very Dumbledore-like office I might add), he reflected with me on his time at King’s and outlined three poignant memories
He began by taking me back to Easter 2007, when he was also serving as a Reservist Military Chaplain. The King’s Chapel was hosting the annual Resurrection Party, which continues into the early hours of the morning. Thorne left the party early and crawled into bed. Moments later, he was awakened by a phone call. This phone call brought disturbing news from just west of Kandahar City in Afghanistan. Six young soldiers had been killed, including one he knew well from Halifax.
He described the frenzy that unfolded after the call.
“I had to work at getting local Chaplains involved in giving next-of-kin notifications. There’s a media freeze, the media wouldn’t report on any of this until after next-of-kin had been notified, so nobody knew about it.”
When he returned to the campus for Easter Day service, he had to push through the intense rush of emotions and remain silent in front of two military members of the congregation. They were friends with the Sergeant who had been killed.
“I remember walking up the aisle saying the sentences of scripture for Easter, which have to do with resurrection, knowing that these people had died.”
The next significant moment for him was after he retired from the military in 2013. He decided to hold a Requiem Mass in the chapel, which he said was “for the 24 young people from Atlantic Canada who had died in Afghanistan on my watch.” And for each of whom he conducted or supervised funerals.
The final standout moment from his time at King’s was when the Capella Regalis Men and Boys Choir sang the Missa Gaia/Earth Mass. Thorne was enthusiastically taken aback by the reaction, as people were “totally and thoroughly engaged with an earth mass.”
He points out that an environmentally-conscious community at the Chapel is a top priority for him. That is why he established an easy way to “remove your shoes before nature,” through the Chapel’s popular outdoor retreats.
Thorne began the retreats in 2007 and by 2010 there was a Thanksgiving Retreat, Fall Retreat and Winter Retreat, with additional trips throughout the year. He said these retreats allow students to “be in dialogue with and submit themselves to the forest, to the lakes and to the rivers” found in Nova Scotia’s backcountry.
Throughout his time at King’s he has helped many young wizards and witches “develop wings.” And he said he has gleefully seen them eclipse his expectations; teaching him along the way.
He has now grown his own wings and is preparing to take on one more chance to live his vocation elsewhere. He said it is his “last chance at being faithful.”
Thorne hopes the Chapel’s influence has brought the entire College a sense of humility, peer support and an understanding of the importance of a healthy community.