Catholicism on Campus

How the Faith Is Presented at Secular Schools

On leafy Stockton Street, a short walk from the Princeton campus, sits the Aquinas Institute, home to the university’s Catholic ministry program. Housed in the elegant residence once owned by the German novelist Thomas Mann, the institute has been the official representative of the church on the New Jersey campus since the 1920s. Princeton’s Catholic Club, as it was first known, was started by a group of faculty members and originally staffed by Dominicans. Since the 1950s, the Aquinas Institute has been under the control of the local ordinary in Trenton. Fr. Tom Mullelly, a jovial diocesan priest affectionately known as “FT” by students, has served as chaplain since 1995.

Founded as a Presbyterian school, Princeton was long the most religiously conservative school in the Ivy League. The great evangelical theologian and preacher Jonathan Edwards (1703-58) served briefly as university president, before dying unexpectedly. In the nineteenth century, Princeton held tightly to its religious heritage as Harvard and many other colleges shed theirs. Because of its Presbyterian roots, Princeton did not really welcome “papists” until the early years of the twentieth century. Today, Catholics make up 20 to 25 percent of the student body, or roughly 1,200 students, and are the largest single religious group on campus.

To many, the significant Catholic presence at elite universities is a cause for celebration-a...

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About the Author

Maurice Timothy Reidy is a former associate editor of Commonweal.