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Cornell Catholic Community

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Cornell Catholic Community

The Cornell Catholic Community is the Catholic organization and parish at Cornell University, providing worship services and community for Catholic students. Its current director is Father Carsten Martensen, SJ.

Origin and Early Years

In 1888, Catholic students at Cornell University organized the Cornell Catholic Union, one of the first organized Catholic groups at a secular or Protestant university. One of its earliest presidents was William Artingstall, Class of 1900.[1] Catholic students did not have an outlet for the expression of their community and beliefs. Most students were Protestant and gathered for Protestant worship services at Sage Chapel.[2] In the early 1900s it was renamed the Newman Club. Similar groups began at the University of Michigan (1889), Brown (1892), and Harvard (1893).[3]

Cornell's Newman Club, like most, were composed mainly of Irish students and was primarily a literary society, with a strong element of dancing and socializing. Over time, the goals of the group became more intellectual and political.[3]

Father James Cronin became the first priest to join the Cornell Newman Club on a full-time basis in 1929. 1929 also saw the founding of Cornell United Religious Work.[4] It was one of the first interfaith campus organizations in history. In 1936, Father Donald Cleary arrived on campus, overseeing the community as chaplain for twenty-five years. Under his leadership Cornell's Newman Club grew to be the largest in the United States.

Mid-Twentieth Century Development

The 1960s fundamentally changed the Catholic student body at Cornell and the Cornell Newman Club. Overall societal changes, such as the sexual and cultural revolutions in the U.S., combined with new currents of thought and spirituality springing out of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965) to create a period of intense discourse and activity over what the role and meaning of the Church was, across the nation and at Cornell. The size of the overall Cornell student body grew and, along with other Ivy League universities, Cornell became more open to people from more diverse backgrounds and less elite social classes. This resulted in a marked increase in the number of Catholic students at Cornell. In 1970 the Newman Club was renamed the Cornell Catholic Community, marking the Catholic group's development into a full-fledged parish. This reflected a widespread move away from the social-club structure of previous Catholic college organizations and towards a campus ministry structure. The move to self-identify as a 'campus ministry', a term already in widespread use by Protestant groups, reflected the ever more widespread cultural diffusion between Catholics and Protestants taking place as the 20th century unfolded.[5]

Many chaplains came and went over the course of a short period of time, reflecting and exacerbating the social difficulties of the 1960s and 70s.[6]

In 1966, during this period of change, Father Catonsville, Maryland housing drafts cards and napalmed 378 of them, in protest of the Vietnam War. On October 3, 1968, on the eve of his trial, Berrigan addressed a crowd of over 2,000 in Bailey Hall to explain why he was prepared to face 50 years of imprisonment for his action.[7] Berrigan was convicted and sentenced to prison to begin on April 9, 1970. According to Anke Wessels, director of Cornell's Center for Religion, Ethics, and Social Policy, said "On the very day he was scheduled to begin his prison term, he left his office keys on a secretary's desk in Anabel Taylor Hall and disappeared."[8] Cornell celebrated Berrigan's impending imprisonment by conducting a weekend-long "America Is Hard to Find" event on April 17–19, 1970,[9] which included a public appearance by the then-fugitive Berrigan before a crowd of 15,000 in Barton Hall.[10] On August 11, 1970, the FBI later found and arrested Berrigan, who was released from prison in 1972.[11]

Cornell hired Charles E. Curran as a visiting professor while he was the center of an academic freedom controversy. Curran was removed from the faculty of Catholic University of America in 1986 as a dissident who unapologetically maintained the right to dissent from official Church teachings which had not been issued as ex cathedra statements. He maintains in his 1986 "Faithful Dissent" that Catholics who may dissent nevertheless accept the teaching authority of the Pope, bishops and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In 1986, the Vatican declared that although a tenured professor, Curran could no longer teach theology at Catholic University of America schools, because "clashes with church authorities finally culminated in a decision by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, headed by then-Cardinal Josef Ratzinger [now Pope Benedict XVI], that Curran was neither suitable nor eligible to be a professor of Catholic theology."[12] The areas of dispute included publishing articles that debated theological and ethical views regarding divorce, "artificial contraception", "masturbation, pre-marital intercourse and homosexual acts."[13] Curran later became a full tenured professor at Southern Methodist University, and the American Association of University Professors censured CUA for his firing.

Contemporary Period

In 1983 the Father Michael Mahler became chaplain. Mahler consolidated the community, instituting new programs and reforms, and established a new foundation for growth in membership. Soon thereafter the Community started a new outreach to Catholic alumni to raise funds and awareness.

In 2002, Father Robert S. Smith became director, instituting a peer ministry program, Taize meditation groups, and the Emmaus Bible Study groups.

In 2006, Father Daniel McMullin became director at the Cornell Catholic Community. In 2012, Father McMullin was hired as the Associate Director of Cornell United Religious Work. Father Carsten Martensen, the director of the Ithaca College Catholic Community, was hired to serve the Catholic Communities on both campuses.

The Cornell Catholic Community is now under the direction of Father Carsten Martensen, SJ.


  • United States Catholic Conference. Dept. of Education (1996). The Gospel on Campus: A Handbook of Campus Ministry Programs and Resources. USCCB Publishing.  


  1. ^ Hewett, Waterman Thomas; Holmes, Frank R.; Williams, Lewis A. (1905). Cornell University, a history. The University Publishing Society. pp. 76–77. Retrieved 18 September 2010. 
  2. ^ "The Essentials of Campus III: Sage Chapel". Ithacating in Cornell Heights: Everyone loves a little Cornelliana.  
  3. ^ a b The Gospel on Campus p. 18
  4. ^ "Cornell United Religious Work". Cornell United Religious Work,  
  5. ^ The Gospel on Campus
  6. ^ "Homilies by Father Robert Smith". Cornell Catholic Community. Retrieved 18 September 2010. 
  7. ^ Davidow, Lance (October 4, 1968). "2000 Hear Berrigan at Pre-Trial Rally". Cornell Daily Sun 85 (18). p. 1. Retrieved 2010-10-11. 
  8. ^ Aloi, Daniel (4 April 2006). "Legacy of Activism at Cornell".  
  9. ^ Stuart Lipton and Joseph Masci (April 16, 1970). "Weekend Activity Schedule Set". Cornell Daily Sun 86 (120). Retrieved 2010-10-12. 
  10. ^ Solowey, Fred (April 20, 1970). "Thousands Hail Berrigan and Peace". Cornell Daily Sun 86 (122). p. 1. Retrieved 2010-10-12. 
  11. ^ Associated Press (December 18, 1970). "Grand Jury Indicts Two For Hiding Dan Berrigan". Cornell Daily Sun 87 (63). p. 3. Retrieved 2010-10-11. 
  12. ^ Loyal Dissent Memoir of a Catholic Theologian
  13. ^ quoting Cardinal Ratzinger. Retrieved 2009-07-30.

External links

  • Cornell Catholic Community website
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