Handcrafted with heart: Father Peter Tremblay builds Torah ark for campus Jewish community

The ark received a special blessing on Thursday, Oct. 27, during a special Numen Lumen event.

Elon University’s Truitt Center for Religious and Spiritual Life is a hub for multifaith engagement on campus, with spaces designed to bring together people who hold a diversity of beliefs to engage in learning, understanding and conversation.

And on Thursday, the center’s Sacred Space was home to a celebration of that multifaith understanding and compassion made tangible, as an ark painstakingly handcrafted by Father Peter Tremblay, associate chaplain for Catholic life, was dedicated and blessed for use by the campus Jewish community. The tall wooden cabinet adorned with iconic Elon symbols will now contain and protect the Torah used in Jewish ceremonies.

Jewish Educator Boaz Avraham-Katz places the Torah into the ark built by Father Peter Tremblay.

On Thursday, Tremblay explained that he was overwhelmed when he saw the ark first used by Jewish students for Rosh Hashanah services after spending 225 hours building the ark by hand throughout the summer.

“It’s a very meditative and a very spiritual thing for me whenever I build things,” Tremblay told those gathered in the Sacred Space. “And when I saw the ark used that Monday morning for Rosh Hashanah, tears were streaming down my face because I knew that some lasting, beautiful goodness had been added to our world and to our community. I was amazed at how wonderful it felt to know that I was able to collaborate to enrich our traditions, to celebrate the relationships we’ve had for so long.”

The idea for the ark stretches back five years to a discussion between Tremblay and Rabbi Meir Goldstein, who previously served as associate chaplain for Jewish Life at Elon. The two campus religious leaders were discussing personal interests, and when Goldstein learned of Tremblay’s passion for woodworking, he immediately offered up the thought of crafting an ark.

Jewish Educator Boaz Avraham-Katz, left, presents Father Peter Tremblay, associate chaplain for Catholic life, with a gift following the dedication of the ark.

“Now here’s the thing – my immediate reference was a really big boat that Noah made,” Tremblay said to laughter. “And honest to goodness, I looked at him and said, ‘no.'”

Goldstein, realizing the source of the confusion, clarified the kind of ark he was talking about, an experience that Tremblay said allowed him to deepen his understanding of the Jewish faith and Jewish religious ceremonies. The project was put on hold until about a year ago, when University Chaplain and Dean of Multifaith Engagement Rev. Kirstin Boswell heard about the idea, and it began to come together. Tremblay said he worked closely with Jewish Educator Boaz Avraham-Katz on the design, with many of the flourishes and details, such as knobs carved as acorns, stemming from Avraham-Katz’s ideas.

“To have this all come together in such a joyful and meaningful way fills me with great emotion,” Tremblay said. “Rarely have I ever known such a sense of peace and pride.”

On Thursday, Avraham-Katz processed with the Torah through the Sacred Space before placing it behind the curtain inside the ark and closing the beautifully crafted doors. Avraham-Katz recounted visiting a Jewish community in Moldova that had used a locked metal box to hold and protect its own Torah.

Jewish and Catholic students offer a blessing of the Torah ark during a dedication ceremony in the Sacred Space on Thursday, Oct. 27.

“Here we are, at Elon University in Elon, North Carolina, celebrating the dedication of a new ark for our Torah in a multifaith space of worship, witnessed by our community and built with much thought, love and impeccable craftsmanship,” Avraham-Katz said.

Elon students Adam Arno ’26 and Ian Prohofsky ’26 offered words about how a Torah ark had played into their own religious and personal development before Jewish and Catholic students offered a blessing to the ark. Rabbi Maor Greene, interim associate chaplain for Jewish life, offered music and the Shechechiyanu Blessing to close the ceremony.