Henry Bartholomew: Can you tell us something of the history of the Harvard Catholic students association?
Todd Jones: The Harvard Catholic Student Association — formerly the St. Paul’s Catholic Club — has been Harvard’s primary campus resource for Catholic students since at least the 1890s. Even in its early years, it was a large and active group. Due to still-existent prejudices at Harvard, Catholics often found it difficult to enter the College’s social scene, and the Catholic Club therefore served as an alternative to some of Harvard’s fraternal societies. The Club held multiple “smokers” with professors each semester, published a quarterly magazine called The Current, staged theater productions, and held an Easter Monday Ball annually for half a century.
HB: How and why did you become president? What is the purpose of the association?
TJ: In the CSA, I saw a great opportunity to build up a Catholic presence on campus that was simultaneously orthodox and vibrantly communal. We consider the main purpose of the Association to be the spiritual and intellectual edification of Catholics on campus. We seek to build a community at the Catholic Center — of which our students, our professional FOCUS missionaries, and our chaplains are all key parts — that provides necessary support to those who aim to live out their faith on campus.
HB: What group activities do you do for evangelization and/or spiritual enrichment of your members?
TJ: Well, we don't do as many group activities together, because there are many smaller groups within us, who do a lot of their own things. As a group, however, we do run the Student Mass, the Tuesday Adoration and Confession services, The "Theology by the Slice" event, a Theological reading group with Fr. Murphy, our undergraduate Chaplin, community Spaghetti Suppers after Mass, and Holiday celebrations. Within our group, we have:
• Knights of Columbus and Daughters of Isabella: which are fraternal/sororal groups dedicated to charitable works and spiritual growth of members; particularly tied to assisting the community of our Parish of St. Paul and to providing services for the disabled.
• Earthen Vessels: A personal tutoring ministry for inner-city Boston youth. To teach is the first of the works of Spiritual Mercy, after all, and one we are particularly well suited for at this time in life.
• FOCUS: This group does Bible studies, individual mentorship known as “discipleship”, mission trips and other service opportunities.
HB: Some regard Harvard as a campus tough on Catholics. Is that your impression?
TJ: On the one hand, this is a true assessment. Implicitly, students are expected to have one opinion on many social issues. There’s not much diversity of opinion. In that sense, the culture of the College can feel a bit suffocating to a Catholic — particularly to a Catholic who believes that the Faith has consequences that extend beyond our private lives.
On the other hand, there is an excellent core group of Catholics on Harvard’s campus. This group is made up of some of the most orthodox, joyous, well-informed, prayerful people I’ve met in my life. These are the people who are most involved in Harvard’s CSA, and a serious Catholic on campus is sure to make lifelong friends among them.
HB: What steps did the Catholic students association take in opposing the Black Mass re-enactment at Harvard?
TJ: When we all heard that it was happening, our first reaction was one of almost amused bafflement. This quickly changed when investigations into the event uncovered the very real possibility of their using a consecrated Host in the demonstration. The Archdiocese wisely stepped in and directed all Catholics not to attend the reenactment, an intended precaution against those who might have otherwise attempted to stop it by force.
As the week went on, some students worked to make petitions against the event and to draw up public support for Harvard Catholics. Others went on the air to discuss the significance of the event; still others made and operated a website to keep everyone updated. The most important response we had, though, was the Eucharistic procession. As an Archdiocese, we processed with the Eucharist from MIT to Harvard on the evening of the demonstration, singing hymns, praying Rosaries, and making ourselves a public witness to the faith. Upon arriving at St. Paul Church, we had a prayer service against the black mass that thousands of people attended. Among those in attendance was our President, Drew Faust, who had condemned the reenactment a few days earlier in a letter to the community.
Overall, God brought about much good from the evil of the black mass, and at the center of it all was the reaffirmation of the Eucharist as the source and summit of our Christian lives.
HB: Does the HCSA have a patron saint?
TJ: We do not have a patron saint. We do have a motto, Ut Cognoscant Te (“That They May Know Thee”), from John 17:3. It is part of the intercessory prayer Christ made for his Apostles shortly before His arrest and Passion.
HB: Do you think that the HCSA is a good model for similar groups elsewhere?
TJ: I believe so. In fact, I'd generally say that our group is one of the most dedicated to the Catholic Faith in it's area. I think we serve as an excellent model especially for Ivy league schools, but most Catholic student groups would do well following our model.
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