From Catechism to Community

Catholics at Harvard, Part II

The members of the United Ministry at Harvard include campus ministers of every established Western Church. They are a diverse group of people, but, with one exception, they are all male. This is hardly surprising; but what is extraordinary is that the only female member, Ann Kelley, represents the Catholic community at Harvard.

The Roman Catholic Church has maintained itself with pride as a completely male dominated and male controlled institution for 20 centuries. Because of the serious questioning that has assaulted the Catholic Church during the last five or six years, its survival in the future is strongly tied with how it will respond to the needs of the female half of the Catholic constituency.

Ann Kelley began her religious life in the only official role traditionally open to females within the Church, that of a nun. Clad in anonymous veil and vestment, she taught at a Catholic high school and lived in a convent. While teaching, she considered herself a professional and never thought about performing any pastoral role within the Church. She remembers, "After all, there wasn't much to expect from a non-teaching nun." She received an invitation to do campus ministry work at Ball State University in Indiana in 1966, becoming a member of an elite group of maybe 150 Catholic women nationwide doing campus ministry work.

In her travels and through the National Campus Ministry organization she met Richard Griffin, who, sensing a vital opportunity to add much needed feminine input into an over masculinized Church, invited her to Harvard. With perhaps prophetic meaning for what females might do within the Catholic Church, she arrived at Harvard amidst the turmoil of Kent and Jackson and Cambodia and the Spring Strike of 1970.

Mary Daly, Boston College theologian and the first woman to speak from the pulpit of Memorial Church, notes in her book The Church and the Second Sex that women within the women's liberation movement tend to be ex-Catholics and are vehement in their opposition to what they see as strangling and repressive social roles in large part perpetrated by a celibate male Church leadership. In partial disagreement with women liberationists both Mary Daly and Ann Kelley see the Catholic tradition as being strong and deep enough to embrace new definitions of being a woman. Ann Kelley notes with some pride that nuns like herself may have been the first liberated females in their rejection of the traditional role of woman as sex object, house keeper, and mother. But having rejected those roles and having given up her status as a professional teacher, while still being denied all traditional pastoral roles of power and decision-making within the Church, the question that Ann Kelley finds others and herself asking is, "What exactly do you do here?" Unlike Richard Griffin, who projects a certain direction and purpose in his future, she finds herself sometimes frustrated and confused in not knowing where to go, having no models to follow, and being given no public roles to play. Richard Griffin, if the prophetic business is turning sour, can always go back to saying mass, baptizing babies, and marrying people--all things no women can do.

Ann fears that if the Catholic Church does not start responding more directly to women, an increasing number of the very aware and highly talented newly autonomous women, including a large contingent of Radcliffe students, will permanently shut out the Church as a viable life influence, to both their and the Church's detriment. It is precisely because women within the Church have not been tainted with the positions and intoxications of male power that they offer the best hope of saving the Church from the increasing fragmentation and irrelevance that Catholics are experiencing.

It is because of the real need for a powerful women's voice in the Church and the lack of a defined public platform to fall back upon that Ann would like to see the ordination of women into the priesthood. Almost all discussion concerning the future of women in the Church eventually turns to this question of ordination. Ann feels that a decision to ordain women to the priesthood would both be the most direct way to open up the various positions of power within the Church to women, and the single most dramatic gesture to women everywhere that the Church is willing to go beyond tokenism in its response to a new female consciousness. It is crucial to note that the vision of women's future in the Church is not to perform the same stale clerical roles that a growing body of priests themselves are rejecting. The hope is that a woman priest's lack of prior indoctrination in male ways of relating to a Christian community would allow her to explore new definitions of the ministry.

An idea of those new directions and definitions for herself and other women in the Church is revealed in her response to the question of what the Catholic Church should be doing at Harvard-Radcliffe. First, she would like to put as many students as possible in touch with the tradition of Christian community, spreading the Gospel's message, sharing the meaning of prayer, and offering alternative values and hope for one's own life. Secondly, she finds that on an often non-religious level, she and others who have found at least a tentative way of synthesizing intellectual life with a life of faith can offer something in response to human needs: loneliness, despair, alienation, and aimlessness.

The presence of Ann in an official role at Harvard represents the Church at a threshold. Her lack of assertiveness about her role today is in part due to her past, a past of being female and being a nun, a past that offered little choice as a woman and a Catholic. The possibility of realizing women's contribution to the Catholic Church from Phillips Brooks House to St. Peter's is upon us now. If the Church could only realize that God has no sex, it might well resurrect God from his proclaimed death and give life not only to God and a dying institutional Church but to a new definition of man--and woman.


While Richard Griffin was practicing his prophetic ministry, the Phillips Brooks group was exploring the mass, and Ann Kelley was searching for an answer to the recurring question. "What exactly do you do?", St. Pauls Church remained squatting monolithically on Arrow St. Each Sunday a few hundred students and faculty from Harvard would go to mass there, some clinging to the pre-Vatican II brand of Catholicism, trying to remain oblivious to the new directions being explored by Catholics, some attracted by the superb boys' choir, and others still attending mass as simply a reflex act one does on Sunday morning. The Phillips Brooks group and the regular St. Paul's Catholics had drifted further and further apart, becoming two separate communities, heralding the approaching fragmentation of the Catholic Church and the subsequent loss of its solidarity as one people.

Each group on its own was having its troubles. Within the hushed walls of the rectory on Mt. Auburn St. a personality and power struggle was being waged, sending tremors as far as the archbishop's offices. Due to the influx of University affiliated people into the surrounding community, St. Paul's parish dwindled to about 200 families, a constituency vastly outnumbered by the Catholics within Harvard, estimated at 3000. Yet Father Collins' concept of the Church as parish understandably strengthened during his years as pastor. His doubts over the wisdom of an independent campus group, a group he had helped give birth to, increased, as manifested in increasingly dead-locked board meetings of the Harvard-Radcliffe Catholic Student Center. Center events and masses were scrupulously missing from announcements of the parish bulletin. Additional reinforcement for the view that the Phillips Brooks Catholics were straying too far to the left was received at the rectory and the Bishop's office. The reports stated that the PBH group was indulging in liturgical abuses; one example was that crumbs from the sacred bread were ending up on the floor. The thought of Jesus Christ being swept up and dumped into the waste basket horrifies many Catholics. The problem arose simply because real bread, unlike the flat host most Catholics are accustomed to, makes real crumbs.

With Father Collins standing firm in his parish views. Father Richard Shmaruk, a young and ambitious priest working beneath Father Collins, felt increasingly stifled in his hope of St. Pauls' becoming a truly Catholic community Church, opening up to serve all people within the Harvard Square area, including street people, the Cambridge high schools, drug users and the elderly. Because of his strong link of obedience to Father Collins he could not openly admit his displeasure at the more parochial aims St. Pauls was limiting itself to, but the inevitable frictions and polite hostility were obvious to rectory visitors and news of the conflict spread rapidly within clerical circles until Archbishop Medeiros was aware of the situation.

The primary problem of the Student Center was money. Never during its existence had it been self-supporting, and by last Spring the situation had reached a crisis point. Salary money was nonexistent and basic operating expenses were going unpaid. Negotiations between the archdiocese, the parish, and the Student Center were undertaken, the results of which pleasantly surprised Richard Griffin and the Student Center--partial financial support from the archdiocese without any overt strings attached.

The summer passed without any additional official action until the week before school started. At that time Richard Griffin found a letter on his desk informing him of his new status as assistant Catholic chaplain at Harvard-Radcliffe. The new chaplain, as well as the new pastor of St. Paul's parish was Msgr. Edward Murray. Father Collins had been transferred to St. Pius parish in Lynn as its new pastor. The major realignment had been initiated from above through the archbishop's office and it represented a compromise to all the Catholic factions around Harvard.

Msgr. Edward Murray arrived at St. Paul's on September 21 with a long and distinguished career in the best liberal Catholic tradition. His almost 50 years of involvement in Catholic affairs has included administrative, liturgical, teaching, scholarly, and community oriented activities. He has or is involved with all the old-time, man-of-the-community institutions: the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the YMCA, the Boston Public Library, the Museum of Fine Arts, and Harvard. It's a long way from the fields of California or the prison at Danbury, but it is also a symbolic step out of the sanctuary, confessional, and rectory.

Talking to Father Murray about what is happening in the Church at Harvard and worldwide is a frustrating experience. He deftly dodges every controversial area by stating its triviality, denying the existence of the problem, or replying that the solution is already at hand. On celibacy he commented about its lack of importance, stressed its usefulness in the past, and when pressed for a personal opinion, stated that he would accept any decision the Church would make. He declined to comment on the dealings and procedures that got rid of Father Collins and brought himself to St. Paul's. On the subject of women, he smiled and pointed out the strides the Catholic Church is making, such as allowing women observers and nonvoting participants at Vatican Council sessions, and then added that he wouldn't do anything to prevent the increased participation of women in the Church. It was not unlike talking to an experienced politician who takes care not to offend any of his carefully nurtured constituencies.

Father Murray's non-controversiality, his mainstream ideas, lack of enemies, and at least minimal contact with all the camps within the Church in large part reflect the reasoning behind his coming to St. Paul's. An attempt is being made this fall to rediscover the meaning of Catholic community, a universal community bonded together in its beliefs, traditions, and common humanity, and drawing strength from its diversity and conflicts--a community that can comfortably include Richard Griffin's, Ann Kelley's, Dick Shmaruk's, and Edward Murray's distinctive Catholic styles. If Catholics are to maintain a sense of oneness with their brothers and sisters and a sense of continuity with a rich past only now being rediscovered, they must try and come together, not in the hope of becoming identical sheep, but in the hope of finding new symbols and images to replace those superficial but comforting ones that all Catholics have lost.

The early signs of the reintegration of Harvard's Catholics are subtle and encouraging. Father Murray has attended Phillips Brooks masses while the 5:15 daily liturgy at St. Paul's is led by various priests within the university. The large, unused, chapel space beneath the main church at St. Paul's is being planned for conversion into a free form community work, play, and worship space. Catholics at Harvard are being invited to join in traditional parish activities such as leading boy or girl scouts or helping with religious instruction. A mutual effort on the part of Richard Griffin and the Student Center, St. Paul's and interested priests and seminarians studying in the area is being made to contact personally all the people at Harvard who call themselves Catholic, a group estimated at 3000 within the University, 1000 within the College. Richard has not felt his style of ministry cramped by the political changes. Ann remains an official if undefined chaplain, and the Student Center no longer has to worry about where the money comes from.

For a Catholic at Harvard, the importance of Richard Griffin's Jesuit and prophetic past and present, Ann Kelley's search for her role as a woman in the Church, Father Murray's ecumenical sense, or Father Collins' parish security is not whether one tradition wins or loses in the future, is not wrapped up in the lengthy papers of the bishop's Synod in Rome; and is not in the future of St. Paul's Church. Their significance must be found in Christ's dual promise of inner meaning for the individual and the promise of a new world for the suffering, hungry, and persecuted. If each different Catholic past and present is to find a common bond, it will be through finding and keeping this common core of spiritual and human meaning