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Harvard Catholic Center engages intellectual tradition with new forum

Harvard Harvard Memorial Hall, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts./ Jon Bilous/Shutterstock

The Harvard Catholic Center is in its first year of launching an initiative to engage the university, academic professions, and the arts with the insights of Catholic culture.

“We are dealing with intellectual engagement in a whole variety of fields,” Deacon Tim O’Donnell, the program director at the Harvard Catholic Forum, told CNA.

The Harvard Catholic Forum is a project of the Harvard Catholic Center, the chaplaincy to the university’s Catholic students at nearby St. Paul’s parish in Cambridge, Massachusetts . 

Established in October 2020, the forum currently offers students a Catholic speaker series and non-credit courses in Latin and Greek. One course recently covered Greek in the Gospel of Matthew, and the other covered Latin texts from the late antiquity and medieval periods.

The courses typically attracted 12 to 14 people to sign up for the course, the center said, and the classes will once again be offered in the fall.

The center has also been inviting catechetical speakers to campus for years. The forum’s new speaker series will not replace those speakers, but will add additional speakers focusing on the Catholic intellectual tradition.

Due to the pandemic, the forum was forced to begin virtually last year. However, O’Donnell told CNA that the circumstances presented a unique opportunity to reach out to international speakers whom they otherwise might not have been able to host on campus. 

The forum is advertised to the public, but Harvard students reap the benefits of being on campus.

One of the goals of the forum is to provide a venue for Catholic graduate students in Boston to connect. 

“Promoting fellowship and intellectual exchange between Catholic students and scholars is an important part of our mission,” O’Donnell said. 

Father Patrick Fiorillo, an undergraduate chaplain at the Harvard Catholic Center and parochial vicar at St. Paul’s, told CNA that the Harvard Catholic Center has a global mission as well.

“That's very intentional because people come to Harvard from all over the world,” Fr. Fiorillo said.  “And so we really take seriously that the Catholic formation the students are getting here is going to have ripple effects throughout the world.” 

The forum plans to eventually offer conferences, host a visiting scholar-in-residence, and feature classes for credit.

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Of the eight speakers invited by the forum this year, the most recent event was a webinar presentation on the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Latin American art, by Dr. Gauvin Alexander Bailey of Queens University in Ontario. 

Programs in the past year have included a series on faith and science, an annual lecture on miracles in Scripture, and a series on faith and art.

The webinars typically brought in between 250 and 400 viewers live. “Across all programs the rating has been about 9.5, so people are really very excited about what they've been experiencing,” O’Donnell said. “Our expectation in the coming year is to do a similar number of lectures and panels but to live stream them as well.”

Each webinar has been co-presented with the Lumen Christi Institute, which is next to the University of Chicago. O’Donnell said the organizations have a similar mission and sponsor related programming. 

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