Caster keeps the faith and keeps it real

Gary Caster is an approachable man who likes to relax and talk with students about life over a few beers in Paresky. But you won’t find him rocking tattered acid washed jeans and a Led Zeppelin shirt – when it comes to his wardrobe, Caster tends to stick to black and white. After all, he is a priest, and the time to see him at the ’82 Grille is during the Theology on Tap sessions sponsored by Newman Catholic.

But surprisingly, Caster is the first priest to take on the position at Williams College as the Catholic chaplain. “It’s new and unique for a small, liberal arts college to have a priest in this position,” said Caster. But Caster seems to be filling the position comfortably. Having formerly worked at large state universities, Caster is enjoying the opportunity to get to know students here. And in addition to trying to be as accessible to students as possible, Caster has a few hidden talents up his sleeves as well.

Unlike a non-ordained Catholic chaplain, Caster has the ability to perform Mass and hear confessions. “Being a priest means I can provide for the sacramental needs of students and staff in a way that a non-ordained chaplain could not,” said Caster.

“Not only is Father Caster a great friend to the students, but he also serves as our priest, meaning that he can perform Mass and hear confessions in addition to performing other sacramental rites that are integral to our faith,” said Melissa Kemp ’10. Students in the Catholic community seem to truly appreciate the increased accessibility. “It is great to have more access to the sacraments, because they are a very essential part of our faith,” said Courtney Atkinson ‘10.

There are numerous other benefits to having a priest as the chaplain for the Catholic community. For instance, Catholic services are now held at Thompson Chapel more frequently. “Many people, students, faculty and alums alike were interested in getting more use in Thompson Chapel, and it has worked out wonderfully,” said Caster.

The fact that the Catholic priest on campus is also the chaplain enables more one-on-one interactions. “We definitely get to know him more. It’s just easier when you have a priest on call for the students,” Atkinson said. Caster covers a wide range of topics when meeting and chatting with students, the Catholic faith included, of course.

“He has studied theology for so many years, meaning that he can teach us about church doctrine,” said Kemp. But Caster admits that he is always learning as life comes his way. “I hope they [the student body] understand that I’m just like everyone else, I don’t have it all wrapped up,” Caster said.

Although he may not have all the answers, Caster aims to be accessible to students of all faiths. “He is very approachable for non-Catholic students who might have questions about our religion,” Kemp said. Caster tries to encourage spiritual thought during students’ college years. “My hope is to be able to aid students who seek to figure out how to live and grow in their spiritual life,” Caster said. “You are students first, but you can also continue to grow with God.”

Caster joins the College community after working 19 years in the Midwest at Illinois State and Illinois Wesleyan Universities. “Here I get to know the faculty and staff in a way that I wasn’t able to before,” Caster said. “I previously worked at large state universities. With 90,000 students, the demands limited the access to campus life.” It seems that the College is turning out to be a good match for him. “Students, faculty and staff have really lived up to my impressions, which is a good thing,” Caster said. “Every interaction with students here has been polite and interested. They ask questions. The diversity in activities here is fantastic. Everyone is welcoming.”

And it seems the admiration is mutual. For the Catholic student community, having Caster as the chaplain has been a unique experience.

“He just loves to talk about anything, including California – he is from Orange County – buffaloes, traveling and food,” Kemp said. “He is a really good cook.” In addition to his cooking skills, Father Caster also has some acting and musical talent. “He has a theatrical personality and a great sense of humor,” Atkinson said. “He is a wonderful artist – he also plays the mandolin.”

Happily for the College community, Caster is not just multi-talented in the arts, but also in juggling his priorities as a priest. “He is both solid and approachable; most priests are usually one or the other,” said Atkinson.

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