by Ashley Brown
Escaping the summer heat and entering through the oversized wooden doors of St. Ignatius Church, incoming freshmen and their loved ones experience the afternoon sunlight passing through stained glass windows, scattering a myriad of colors upon their faces as they gather for Mass. This scene is repeated seven times over the course of the summer and marks the beginning of each orientation session and thus the beginning of a student’s Boston College experience. By opening each student orientation with a liturgy, the importance of BC’s identity as a Jesuit, Catholic university is established for the new members of this community.
Fr. Tony Penna, the director of Campus Ministry at BC, summarizes the message of beginning freshman orientation with the celebration of Mass: “We’re not only a community that wants to transform the world through our intellect, we’re not only a community that wants to transform the world through service, we’re a community that thinks coming together to pray and to listen to the Word of God is absolutely, fundamentally important to how we are going to transform the world intellectually and through our service and compassion.” Therefore, the celebration of Mass at the beginning of orientation is not meant to serve as merely a welcome into the Jesuit, Catholic identity of the university, but to welcome students into the further development of their faith.
Boston College Campus Ministry organizes several Masses both on weekdays and weekends in order to provide for the development of one’s faith. The number of Masses available for students and the number of different celebrants provides a unique opportunity for BC students to have access to many different interpretations of the Word of God. As Fr. Penna states, “The more Mass we provide is a good thing, and I think its good for this reason: lots of people come to Mass for different reasons. Some people come because they’re broken and they want to hear something comforting or they want to be with a God who they believe can kind of stitch them together or glue them together because they feel like they are being shattered or broken by life. Other people come because they really want to hear the Word of God for inspiration.”
He further stresses the benefit of this variety: “Over twenty different priests preside throughout the month on our campus, and each of these priests hears the gospel differently. They kind of preach differently and come out of the word differently. So I think, as the director of Campus Ministry, I just marvel at the opportunity our students have to avail themselves of so much richness of interpretation of the Word of God.” The diversity of faith communities within the BC community thus provides the perfect opportunity for students to grow in their faith through finding a community in which they can feel at home.
However, despite the number of Masses offered, attendance at Mass within the BC community parallels the low Mass attendance within the greater Boston community and within the United States. Fr. Penna hopes that this pattern can be broken within the university by encouraging individuals to attend different Masses in order to find a community that inspires them to return. He also believes that the most integral component of increasing or maintaining strong attendance at Mass is through friends inviting their friends to attend. “One of the rewarding things [is] when a friend says to another friend ‘I think this would be good for you come with me.’ It’s a beautiful thing when it happens.” The power of praying with friends and sharing the experience of faith is an important component of one’s experience at Boston College − a Jesuit, Catholic University.