October 20, 2016

New Group Promotes Progressive Approach to Catholicism

UofC Progressive Catholic Outreach (ProCath) is a newly created organization for Catholic students that hopes to provide a center for discussion surrounding progressive religious and political issues on campus.  

Chinye Ijeli, a third-year, and Dominic Surya, a fourth-year, co-founded the group, which will potentially seek RSO status in the future.  

When Ijeli came to the University of Chicago three years ago, she was expecting a space like the congregation she had back home, which she describes as a big, ethnically diverse group with a lot of newcomers and an energetic community. 

However, she found that Calvert House, the most well-established Catholic community at the University, was not a place where she could have the sorts of discussions she was looking for. “You would expect a religious house on campus to be a place where discourse comes up and ideas are challenged simply because, you know, we’re college students, and these are things that we think about,” Ijeli said.  

“We’re trying to create a space where people can have discussions from a religious standpoint, specifically Catholic. And eventually we’re trying to introduce that sort of environment to Calvert House,” Ijeli said.  

 Surya and Ijeli both said that themes such as immigration reform, gay marriage, and police violence are rarely, if ever, mentioned during mass.  

According to both Ijeli and Surya, the Catholic community does want to talk about these issues. Surya mentioned a retreat hosted by Calvert House last year dealing with immigration reform as evidence that Calvert House is out of touch with the actual Catholic student community. 

“That retreat was informative for us about who Calvert was reaching, and who it could reach, because for that particular retreat, very few students from the Calvert House base—the regulars—went, but we had a majority of students who had never been to Calvert before, who were Catholic, and who were drawn to the Church in action,” Surya said.  

The co-founder’s concerns echo the contents of a letter signed by a dozen alumni that was sent to Calvert House at the beginning of this year. The letter contains personal testimonies from Catholic students detailing what is described as a conservative political atmosphere and a lack of open dialogue at Calvert House and the Catholic Student Association (CSA).   

The Maroon reached out to the CSA and Calvert House for comment. 

"Through the sacramental, social, and service events that the CSA and Calvert House provide, the Catholic community of UChicago grows in friendship as we learn from and engage with the faith. We are deeply pained by the thought of disunity among Catholics on campus, and in a spirit of humility, we trust in what unites all Christians to one another: the love of God," Ellie Porath, head of the CSA, said.   

Father Patrick Lagges, the chaplain at Calvert House, says Calvert House is willing to explore contentious topics but that there sometimes has not been enough demand from students for those sorts of discussions. “When I held a session several years ago to discuss clerical sexual abuse, it was poorly attended. I would welcome students wanting to discuss various issues, but unless there is something that comes from the students, I'm reluctant to have discussions that people aren't calling for,” he wrote to The Maroon. 

Father Lagges was open to changes in Calvert House, but stressed the importance of student-run groups and activities in this regard. “When students come to me and say they'd like to start a new program, I encourage them to explore the possibilities,” he said.  

ProCath will hold potlucks during the 1st, 5th, and 9th weeks of every quarter and go to mass at local parishes, including Old St. Patrick’s Church and Broadway United Methodist Church, during the 3rd and 7th weeks.  


Correction on Oct. 21, 2016, 3:37 p.m. CDT:

An earlier version of this article said that an alumni letter to Calvert House was sent last year. It was sent at the beginning of this year.