All who profess the Catholic faith and are incorporated in the Mystical Body of Christ by baptism share in the apostolic life of the Church. Throughout history the light of the Gospel has shone forth anew to a world in continual need of enlightenment. In each generation, devoted men and women as disciples of Christ, have faithfully responded to the call of evangelization. The Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, inspired by zeal for the salvation of souls and the spread of the Catholic faith, began their own unique response to the needs of evangelization in the 20th Century – and their work continues to the present.
The Beginning: A Student Center
Saint Benedict Center was established to provide religious instruction for the Catholic students attending non-Catholic universities in the greater Boston area. It was founded in 1940 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, by a devout Catholic woman, Catherine Goddard Clarke, with several lay collaborators.
At first, they were not sure what form their work would take but they knew there was dire need for a Catholic library and a meeting place for informal gatherings. They also saw the potential good that such a center could provide for non-Catholic students interested in learning more about Church teachings. They chose the intersection of Bow and Arrow Streets, directly across from Saint Paul’s Church and only a block from Harvard University, for their location.
With tentative approval from the pastor of Saint Paul’s, Saint Benedict Center first opened its doors to twelve Harvard boys for a weekly study and discussion session. Other students expressed interest and the program was expanded to include Church philosophy and Latin classes several times a week. Attendance grew during the academic year and in the fall of 1941 the Harvard Catholic Club was granted permission to have its meetings at the Center on Thursday evenings. Catholic girls from Radcliffe College, a woman’s annex to Harvard, also began attending sessions at this time. The Center’s work was blossoming beyond expectations. To reach its full potential, however, it lacked an essential element – a priest willing to devote his time to this important work.