I have a challenge for you: spend one day on campus without being told that Boston College is a Catholic, Jesuit school. I am positive you will not succeed. You will probably overhear a tour guide talking about our Jesuit professors or see a volunteer organization’s flyer advertising its mission of “men and women for others”. There is nothing wrong with this—most students, regardless of personal religious affiliation, have come to know and love BC’s Catholic foundation and all that it entails. But what exactly does our non-secular education mean besides a few mandatory theology core classes and a couple of priests living on campus? Is a religious presence detrimental or beneficial to learning, especially when it is as prominent as it is here at Boston College?
Before high school, I attended my town’s public elementary and middle schools, both of which I loved. However, I was raised Catholic, and with high school on the horizon, I decided to go to one of the Catholic schools in my area. It was tough to leave the friends and classmates I had grown up with, but it was the atmosphere of my new school that caught me off guard the most. In public schools, the teachers and the students are expected to be politically correct at all times, which I noticed the most during the holidays at my public middle school. When we had our annual door decorating contest, for example, homerooms were disqualified if their decorations said “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays” or if they had pictures that weren’t strictly winter themed. While it is important not to offend people of other faiths and alienate those who don’t hold the same religious beliefs, the constant monitoring that is prevalent in public schools in order to maintain a strictly secular dialogue makes religion seem taboo rather than accepted.
Religious education allows for a more open discussion and freedom of expression. Additionally, it sets the stage for students to learn about other religions as well. Although I went to a Catholic high school, all students were required to take a World Religions course. BC encourages the same with its theology core requirement supported by a wide array of course offerings about different religious histories, texts, and ideas. At Boston College and other universities, a religious presence provides the basis for exposure to other faiths. This exposure to both official doctrine and the personal beliefs of others, coupled with plenty of classes and other settings for discussion, allows students of any and every faith to learn more about other ideas that they may not have been aware of before coming to college. Through conversation, contemplation, and reflection, which are also Jesuit values, we can all decide for ourselves what to believe, which is undoubtedly one of the most important learning experiences that college has to offer.
While BC’s Catholic, Jesuit identity is something that is hard to avoid, this may not be such a bad thing. Regardless of your faith, whether you like that BC is Catholic or not, this affiliation allows and provides so much for the students here—free expression when it comes to religion, a well-rounded education, retreats and resources for spiritual growth, and a focus on improving ourselves and the world around us. These benefits are not found everywhere, and they can greatly enhance our college experience, making us into more knowledgeable and tolerant people.