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Catholics at Harvard


John Lee - First Harvard Catholic

In 1804, John Lee (son of Governor Thomas Lee of Maryland) became the first Catholic student to walk Harvard Yard, much to the dismay of Bishop John Carroll of Baltimore, who at the time was responsible for sheperding all American Catholics. Being Catholic at Harvard during this time was a great challenge. All students were required to attend daily Protestant prayer services (or risk being fined). Lee amassed a total of $1.11 in fines for each term he spent at Harvard, equal to about a day’s wages for the common person. Students were also required to attend the college Sunday service unless they walked to their own church, as riding on Sunday was a punishable offense. The only Catholic Church in the area was Holy Cross Cathedral, 4 miles and a boat trip across the Charles. Lee was able to receive a special dispensation from Bishop Carroll to attend services at the Episcopalian Christ Church instead. Lee withdrew from Harvard after a year and eventually went on to serve in the Maryland House of Delegates and Senate. He was known throughout his life for being a dedicated Catholic.


At the center is a curved bridge, reminiscent of the bridges over the nearby Charles River and emblematic of the English university from which our city of Cambridge gets its name.The heart above the bridge, emanating rays of divine love, is taken from the coat of arms of our patron, Saint John Henry Cardinal Newman, the great Anglican convert to Catholicism and author of “The Idea of a University.”  Below the bridge is the book from the seal of Harvard, inscribed with the phrase “Veritas,” or “Truth,” and laid upon the sword of the martyrdom of our parish patron, St. Paul. Written underneath, the motto “Christo et Ecclesiae” (“For Christ and the Church”), adopted from the original Harvard seal, proclaims the aim and goal of the Catholic Center. Both book and sword are depicted on a crimson background, the Harvard color of power, life and energy.

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