Thomas Wong (‘17) knew he wanted to come to Catholic University the moment he witnessed the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception’s impressive presence on the University grounds and in student life. What he didn’t know was that during his University career he would have the opportunity to participate in the historic completion of nearly a century of labor with the installation of the Trinity Dome.
While following up on several leads for a summer internship as he was finishing up his junior year, Wong decided to get creative. A part-time volunteer at the National Shrine, he had been watching the progress of the Trinity Dome project and knew the building phase was about to begin. He reached out to Rugo Stone, the contractor in charge of completing the mosaic project, to see if they could use an intern with a background in civil engineering.
“They had no formal position open, but as soon as they heard a CUA student was interested in shadowing the project, they generously worked with me to craft a paid internship experience,” Wong said.
As an intern, Wong shadowed dozens of journeymen and contractors including fellow structural engineers, artists, and surveyors who brought the Trinity Dome to life. His primary job was helping with the preparation of the massive platform that would be raised 159 feet above the Basilica floor to hold the artists who would install the mosaics.
“I never dreamed an opportunity to be a part of its final completion would fall into my lap.”
“The greatest moment for me was watching that platform slowly rise into the air,” said Wong. “It took several hours of prayers and bated breath to raise it all the way to the top, fractions of an inch by fractions of an inch. It was an awesome experience to be able to witness such a feat of engineering!”
Three months later, Thomas would be standing eight floors above the platform deck while altar serving at the blessing of the Trinity Dome site and workers with Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, and Monsignor Walter R. Rossi, rector of the Basilica. From that vantage point, Thomas could see and touch the beginning of the work associated with the Shrine’s “Crowning Jewel.” Later on, he and several of his colleagues had the opportunity to sign the dome surface before the mosaic was applied.
The Trinity Dome is the largest and most central dome at the National Shrine. It depicts images of the Holy Trinity and the patroness of our nation, the Blessed Virgin Mary, under her title, the Immaculate Conception. In addition, there is also a procession of saints including St. Juan Diego, St. Kateri Tekakwitha, St. Teresa of Calcutta, St. Francis Cabrini, St. John Paul II, St. Junipero Serra, and others who are among the canonized of the United States as well as those saints venerated throughout the Universal Church.
The religious significance of the Trinity Dome was a large part of what motivated Wong to want to be a part of its historic completion:
“I am a Catholic and my faith is very important to me,” he said. “Volunteering at the Basilica showed me how important this and similar structures are for our faith. As a tour guide and receptionist, I’m in a great position to greet pilgrims from all over the world who came to Washington, D.C., just to experience the place of pilgrimage and prayer that is the Basilica. I never dreamed an opportunity to be a part of its final completion would fall into my lap.”
Wong worked on the project throughout the summer of 2016 and then ended his internship to resume a regular class schedule. He continued to stop by the Basilica to say hi to his colleagues and watch the impressive progress until he graduated in May 2017.
Today, Wong works for the General Services Administration as a civil engineer and is part of the federal project team tasked with designing and building the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial in downtown Washington, D.C. He says his experience working on the Trinity Dome struck a chord with his interviewers and may have earned him the position he has now.
Wong is excited to continue to learn as much as he possibly can about the building and construction of historic monuments but he will always feel drawn back to campus, to marvel at the architectural mastery, the ecclesiastical beauty, and the historic wonder the National Shrine inspires. He continues to volunteer as a docent throughout the year and give back to the special place that has given him so much.