February 2, 2017

Calvert House Holds Meeting on Future of Catholic Life on Campus

The University’s Catholic community is taking stock as Calvert House replaces its director for the last half-dozen years. 

Calvert House, the University’s Catholic center, held a town hall meeting on Monday night to discuss the center’s incoming new director and ideas for the future of Catholic life on campus. 

Father Patrick Lagges has been director and chaplain of Calvert House for the past six years, but his term ends on June 30, 2017.  

He told The Maroon in an e-mail that as director and chaplain, his role has been to serve the spiritual needs of Catholic students on campus through performing Catholic religious rites and to serve the administrative needs of the center.  

Because Lagges is leaving in June, the Priests Placement Board of the Archdiocese of Chicago is in the process of searching for a new pastor to serve as chaplain and director.  

“I wanted to acquaint the leaders of the Archdiocese with the students at UChicago, and see the high quality of students we have here, and their leadership abilities,” Lagges said in the e-mail. 

Prior to the meeting on Monday, CSA (Catholic Students Association) and U of C Progressive Catholic Outreach (ProCath) worked with Calvert House to release a survey for Catholics of the University. The survey asked questions about the participants’ Catholic practices or lack thereof, Catholic activities of interest, traits they are looking for in the new director, possible discussion topics of interest, and things about Calvert House and Catholicism that they find uncomfortable.  

The survey had 147 complete responses, 49 percent from undergraduates, 36.7 percent from graduate students, and others who were alums, faculty, or families in the area. 11.6 percent of those who took the survey said that they don’t participate in any activities at Catholic churches at all, and 24.5 percent said that they don’t participate in any activities at Calvert House specifically. Some people said they are not involved in Calvert House because of the Church’s social teachings and because of gender, race, or national identity.  

Respondents are looking for a priest who is intellectual, charismatic, and international or well-travelled, according to a question asking about the qualities most important to students. Many respondents also expressed interest in getting a Jesuit Chaplain or a layperson director. 

Many people also expressed interest in future discussion topics such as social justice, gay marriage, marriage in general, the history of the church, and Catholicism in the 21st century. 

Respondents also expressed discomfort in their experiences with Calvert House because of their LGBTQ identity or their progressive views. On the other hand, according to the survey report, there was Lots of testimony about Calvert being a safe space for conservatives, and wanting it to stay that way, or become more conservative.”  

The results of the survey were read aloud to the audience and the Priest Placement Board members during the meeting on Monday. The priests were also given their own copy of the results of the survey. 

There were three Priest Placement board members at the meeting: Rev. Michael Knotek, executive secretary of the board, and Rev. Peter Wojcik and Rev. Ronald Lewinski, co-directors of the Parish Vitality and Mission of the Archdiocese of Chicago. 

Around 40 people were present at the meeting, including undergraduates, graduate students, and some community members. 

At the start of the meeting, the priests asked the attendants what they were most proud about Calvert House. 

Many students said that they found Calvert house to be a nice break from the secular world of the campus, which they felt was oftentimes unwelcoming of their views. 

“Calvert house is a refuge on this campus,” one attendant said.   Another said the University’s intellectual environment has become more anti-Catholic over the past five years. 

The audience also discussed the problems or changes they hope that Calvert House would address going forward. 

Some students said that they would like a new director who is more charismatic and extroverted. Others expressed how they would like a director who is tolerant.  

Various audience members said how they would like to talk about more controversial issues at Calvert House, while some expressed how they would like to avoid discussions involving “culture wars.”  

Before the meeting, Dominic Surya, co-founder of ProCath, related his hope that multiple opinions would come out at the meeting.  

“The problem with Calvert House is that there are problems that no one talks about, there are problems that no one acknowledges and people think that they must be alone and they must be crazy [for recognizing these problems]. ” Surya said. “[Hopefully] Then the Archdiocese realizes that it needs to bring in someone who is really engaged in that diversity.” 

Surya also had his own opinions about what he would like for the future of Calvert House. 

“I want a Calvert House that reaches out to the range of Catholic students on campus and that reaches out cognizant of the baggage that it has with all sorts of Catholics,” Surya said. “This includes conservative Catholics […] and [also] LGBT, students of color, poorer students.”  

Correction on Feb. 5, 2017, 12:45 p.m. CST:

Dominic Surya was incorrectly identified in an earlier version of this article as the president of ProCath.