Cat in the belfry

Modo the cat livens up Rockefeller Chapel.

By Rhonda L. Smith


One Tuesday evening last fall, a couple of students showed up at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel just as a restorative yoga class was about to begin. The instructor welcomed them and directed them to take blankets and sit down. After a couple of minutes one student said, “We really only came to see the cat.”

Reverend Elizabeth Davenport, dean of Rockefeller Chapel, laughs as she tells that story, which demonstrates the impression Modo has made since joining the staff. Modo, short for Quasimodo, holds the title Chapel Cat/General Health and Wellness of Rockefeller Chapel.


Davenport adopted Modo, an orphaned kitten left at a veterinary clinic, and brought him to the chapel on October 2, 2010, when he was just six weeks old. Appropriately enough, the bells were ringing on his arrival. Davenport informed him that “his namesake of old had swung on carillon bells and that he better get used to the carillon and organ.” He was introduced to the community the next day at the Third Annual Interfaith Blessing of the Animals.

Five months later, the sleek black-and-white cat is not only unfazed by the bells and the organ but is curious about all types of sounds, from printers to snow blowers. If he hears something interesting outside, he runs up his six-foot tower to look out the window. This winter the snowstorms gave him quite a show.

Modo“There’s a long history of cathedrals in Europe having a cat,” says Davenport, who's originally from England. “They take care of mice, not that we have mice at Rockefeller, of course—at least not that I’m aware of. If we did, Modo would get them.” From Hildegard of Bingen in the 12th century to Julian of Norwich in the 14th century, “there’s just sort of a tradition of people who were associated with great religious buildings having their cats.”

Modo spends his time in the dean’s office, helping Davenport and chapel administrator David Wyka with their work or snuggling with his favorite stuffed bear. He’s even listed in the Sunday bulletin, along with his e-mail address for those who want to send fan mail (he already corresponds with a small following). And now that he's settled, he hopes to start a blog.

His antics liven up staff meetings, entertain visitors, and provide comfort to students missing their pets from home. Several times a week, someone visits the chapel just to see him. Davenport says, “We hope he will be around for a long time and entertain a couple of generations of students.”

March 8, 2011