The story of our society began in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1940. A well-known Catholic woman, Catherine Goddard Clarke, founded a student center named “Saint Benedict Center” at the intersection of Bow and Arrow Streets in Harvard Square. Its initial purpose was to provide religious instruction for the Catholic students attending non-Catholic universities, such as Harvard, and others in the vicinity.
From its inception, the policy of the Center was to spread the Faith by teaching through the magisterial doctrines passed down through the ages, the writings of the Fathers and Doctors, and study of the Scriptures as well as the writings of the Saints. In so doing, it would spread and develop a rich spiritual life for the students who did not compromise with modernism.
The Center achieved immediate success, filling as it did, a spiritual vacuum created by an obvious deficiency in the neighboring academic institutions. It was attended in large and ever-growing numbers.
In 1942, the well-known and loved Jesuit, Father Leonard Feeney, became associated with the work of the Center. There he influenced the spiritual life of the students, counseling, lecturing, and eventually becoming, by popular demand and appointment from his superiors and the Archdiocesan authorities, the spiritual director of the entire Saint Benedict Center.
Father Leonard Feeney was born in Lynn, Massachusetts, of Irish parents. He was the eldest of three brothers and one sister. Through the beautiful and devout influences of his parents, two of the boys became Jesuits, Leonard and Thomas, and one became a secular priest.
A great poet and writer, Father Feeney, at forty-five, was already famous. This fame preceeded him to the Center, for almost every English textbook used in the thriving parochial schools of the time contained his poems and stories. His name was familiar to children as well as adults. He was also known by his oratorical achievements on radio and speaking tours.
Socially his literary equals were among the highest strata. His colleagues acknowledged him as a pre-eminent theologian. In fact, his Provincial in the Jesuit Order, Father McEleney, later to become Archbishop of Jamaica, once referred to him as, “ the greatest theologian we have in the United States, by far.” His appointment to direct the Center apostolate, therefore, was received great enthusiasm and gratitude.