Roman Catholicism and the American Way of Life

By Thomas T. McAvoy | Go to book overview

JEROME G. KERWIN*


VI. The Catholic Scholars in the Secular University

Several years ago while I was teaching at Dartmouth College, a non- Catholic colleague of mine asked if he might accompany me to Mass one Sunday. I told him that I should be happy to have him come along. After the Mass was over I awaited the usual questions regarding the meaning of all that went on. I was fully prepared to give him a compressed explanation of the history of the liturgy, the theology of the Mass, and all that my not too extensive knowledge could afford. Came the first question: "I am curious about the money that one offers at the door as one enters -- does one give according to his estimate of his sinfulness?" Allowing myself a few minutes to recover from this unique question, I replied that, were that the case, all who attended adjudged themselves equally and amazingly good, for each gave fifteen cents.

I cite this incident as indicative of the lack of knowledge existing among many of the educated on what Catholics do and why they do it. In all charity one must admit that the Mass to most strangers must appear quite incomprehensible. Nor do people working in disciplines far-removed from religion give much thought to the manner in which people worship -- even to the worship of their own co-religionists if they have any. This incident it must be remembered took place over thirty years ago when the Church in this country was far removed in every way from the secular colleges. The situation today is somewhat different. There are more Catholic students and faculty members in

____________________
*

Jerome G. Kerwin is Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago. He was Chairman of the University of Chicago Institute of Sociology and Religious Studies from 1944 to 1953, and is Chairman of the Walgreen Foundation. He is the author of Schools and City Government ( 1938) and The Great Tradition ( 1947).

-57-

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