Diocesan News

Cafe Pours A Cup Full of Faith For Young People at St. Thomas Aquinas

Father Dwayne Davis (right) gets in on a game of Uno with the students. (Photo: Paula Katinas)

FLATLANDS — It’s a cafe where they serve a lot more than just cappuccinos and lattes. They serve up faith. One cup at a time.

Welcome to the Dumb Ox Cafe & Loft at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Flatlands, a brand new space the parish created specifically for young people to play games, watch videos, drink soda, and just hang out with each other as they seek to become closer to Jesus Christ.

  • Youth minister Tatiana Jones makes sure the refrigerator is always stocked with soft drinks and juices to hand out to the kids. (Photos: Paula Katinas)
  • The cafe’s relaxing atmosphere provides a great place to sit and watch videos, as these students are doing.
  • Jayden Moise (left) and Kenisha Sultan take Jenga seriously. One wrong move and the entire tower of blocks will come tumbling down!
  • The mural, painted by parishioner Christopher Spinelli, provides a bit of whimsy along with the religious theme.

The cafe — named the Dumb Ox because that was the famous nickname St. Thomas Aquinas’ peers gave him because he was a large man with a reticent demeanor — is a gift the parish has given to its young people, said pastor Father Dwayne Davis.

It opened on Dec. 11 and has already drawn groups of enthusiastic middle and high school parishioners. It’s located in the former choir loft and gym in the original St. Thomas Aquinas Church (which now serves as the parish hall), across the street from the current church on Hendrickson Street.

“We wanted to open a safe space for our young people, a place where they can have faith but also have fun. We wanted to let them know that the parish loves them,” Father Davis said. “The older parishioners love to see our young people thrive.”

One day last week, a group of eighth graders from nearby St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Academy spent time playing dominoes, Jenga, and Uno and sitting back and relaxing in bean bag chairs watching videos.

“It’s like a second home to me,” said one student, Garven Gerves. “It feels good to hang out with my friends and get a break from homework.”

The idea of creating a place within St. Thomas Aquinas that would be dedicated to young people had been kicking around for about five years, Father Davis said. 

The parish hall had largely been used as a storage space in recent years, and after he organized a cleanup of the building in 2022, Father Davis thought it was time to move the cafe idea forward. He formed a committee, and people enthusiastically jumped aboard to help bring it to life. It cost approximately $5,000 to re-purpose the space.

One parishioner, Christopher Spinelli, who is an artist, painted the cafe’s logo — depicting St. Thomas Aquinas and a cheeky-looking ox — on the wall that greets visitors as they climb the staircase to the loft. Another parishioner donated a coffee machine. 

High school seniors Grace Verna, Joseph Allen, and Adriana Dorner volunteered to help decorate the cafe. The finished product “is much better than I envisioned it,” Adriana said as she looked around the loft. “I think it’s beautiful.”

Soon after, Adriana, Grace, and Joseph were busy making a cappuccino for one of the St. Thomas Aquinas teachers. But it wasn’t all work and no play for the three teens. They also took time out to play dominoes. Grace won.

Currently, the cafe is open twice a month but the hours might be expanded. The idea is for it to be a gathering place after Sunday Mass. The cafe also has merchandise, including hoodies and mugs, for sale.

Father Davis sees the cafe as “a good space for evangelization” because it brings young people together in a relaxing atmosphere that is still within the parish community. “We are very intentional about our young people building their faith,” he explained.

His message of combining faith and fun appears to be getting across to young people. “I feel grateful to have this place. I like to play and hang out, but it’s about Jesus,” said eighth grader Chase O’Brien. “Jesus is everywhere here.”

The cafe might entice some of her peers to go to church more often, said Kaylin Lopez-Correa.

“Some kids think church is boring. But they won’t think that if they come here,” she predicted.