The first time I wore my clerical collar (the black shirt with the small white tab at the neckline) to an HBS function was the semi-formal gathering at orientation. I was conscious that my semi-formal dress was different than most of my male classmates. The second inquiry about my distinctive dress that evening came from a classmate who, with all the raw enthusiasm of a section social chair blurted, “Dude, that is soooo cool! Where did you get one of those things?” After a few awkward seconds of silence I realized he really wanted an answer to his question and that he had innocently taken me for class clown rather than class priest.
Prior to coming to HBS, I was one of fifty Catholic priests living and working at the University of Notre Dame. Students, faculty and visitors were used to seeing us in traditional dress in the classroom, on retreats and on the fifty-yard-line at football games.
What a different culture I had landed in at HBS. I have never doubted, from the time of my admissions interview to this very minute, that HBS was the single best place for me to grow as a person and professional. My gratitude for being a part of this community of extraordinary people has not once wavered. But, for a moment during orientation the devil of doubt suggested that I might be spiritually alienated in my new environment. Was my “religious kind” going to find a welcome place at the Harvard Business School?
My questions about the place of spirituality at HBS, similar to ones posed by Mayer Bick in last weeks Harbus, have in part been answered by him. . . and in fact been answered by many of you. Mayer invited me into his home to celebrate Rosh Hashanah with he and fellow classmates. As he offered the traditional prayers in Hebrew during the meal he had prepared, my heart quickened as I recognized the familiarity between that Jewish meal and Catholic Mass.
And at meals in Spangler I have sat with a Muslim friend whose recitation of parts of the Koran has been the inspiration for my next Sunday’s sermon. The large hands of an African-American man have reached across the table in the Grille to grasp my own as he prayed for the Lord to bless our food. The benches outside Spangler played host to a cherished friend and I as we talked about the similarities between me going to confession and his journey of sobriety.
I have reveled in the trust of another friend who has shared with me his inspired story of being both gay and Catholic. I have been privileged to enter into discussions with couples that are preparing for marriage. A group of twenty gathered at the Parish where I live as we baptized a classmate’s son. Over coffee afterwards, I commented to a Jewish classmate that I was grateful to be a priest celebrating baptism and not a Rabbi performing circumcisions.
A section-mate who comes from the Latter-Day Saints tradition has shared scripture with me that pertained to ideas from a class discussion. In FIN 1, I think we agreed that we should upset neither angel investors nor angels.
On September 11th, I had the privilege of praying and working with student religious leaders from across campus as the administration let us plan a campus prayer service. A group from our section meets weekly for a bible study and each Sunday night one hundred students and spouses gather in the Chapel to celebrate Mass. And perhaps most poignantly I have wept, sung and prayed in four languages with Section D and our professors in the Class of 1959 Chapel as we enveloped our section-mate diagnosed with cancer.
During orientation I had a good laugh with the guy who thought I had come to the semi-formal gathering in costume. Since that laugh the devil of doubt has found no home in me. Indeed, for the spiritually inclined, the Harvard Business School is an extraordinary place to be.