The Center of Catholic Life at BU
Spirit nights and spaghetti suppers help foster one of the campus’s largest faith communities.
By Daniel McCarthy (COM’13)
Photos by Kalman Zabarsky
Just a short walk from Marsh Plaza, squeezed between the Hillel House and the German House on historic Bay State Road, is Boston University’s Catholic Center. The four-story brownstone, owned by the Archdiocese of Boston, welcomes BU’s Roman Catholic students to meet their peers outside the classroom and grow in their faith.
“Looking back on my four years at Boston University, I don’t think I would be the person I am today without the Catholic Center,” says Amy Ashur (ENG’12), a member of the center’s undergraduate student executive board.
Ashur got involved with the Catholic Center her freshman year after being greeted by the center’s student leaders at Splash, the University’s annual fall showcase of student clubs and organizations. She was immediately welcomed into the community and has been a regular member ever since.
“It’s just amazing to know that even if you’re in this huge university, there are people who want to help you out and want to get to know you,” she says.
While the three Sunday Catholic Masses in Marsh Chapel may be the most obvious expression of Catholicism at BU, the Catholic Center—one of several religious centers at the University—provides a constant presence on campus for the roughly 40 percent of BU’s undergraduates who consider themselves Catholic.
Whether through Tuesday-night spaghetti suppers, which bring 100 to 200 students into the Catholic Center’s basement each week to enjoy student-cooked spaghetti, or daily Mass in its third-floor chapel, the center looks to provide students with a place to work, study, and grow in faith.
“Its role is first and foremost sacramental ministry,” says Father John McLaughlin, head of the center’s pastoral board, “to help educate and direct students to understand Catholic faith in and outside of the University.”
A major component of the center’s mission is student-organized annual retreats to Maine, Cape Cod, and other New England destinations. At different points during the year, the Catholic Center invites students to leave campus and draw closer to God, outside of the city with their peers.
The center also holds weekly “Spirit Nite Live” meetings, which take place each Tuesday after the spaghetti supper. Students gather to sing, pray, and talk about being Catholic at BU, discussing such issues as the sacraments, what exactly a saint is, the rules for living as a Catholic in college, and what it means to be pro-life on campus.
While the center is mostly student-run, McLaughlin is always on campus, giving students an opportunity to interact with and talk to a member of the Archdiocese of Boston.
“He’s incredible,” Ashur says. “He definitely puts in a lot more than eight hours a day.”
“I love that age group,” says McLaughlin. “It’s an age when everyone is full of hope and lots of dreams. I love the interactions with young adults.”
Brother Sam Gunn, another member of the pastoral staff, runs a program called “What Catholics Believe,” which provides students seeking to become Catholic the opportunity to experience the sacraments and officially join the church during the Easter Vigil at Marsh Chapel.
Among the other attractions in the Catholic Center that enable students to mingle and bond together are study rooms, a kitchen, and a large-screen TV in the basement—a recent addition that has drawn students there to watch Celtics and Bruins games. Thanks to such amenities, says McLaughlin, the brownstone is full of as many as 200 students at any point during the day.
“It all makes a difference,” Ashur says. “How great it is to have other people who care about you and a community that is welcoming through faith.” ■