In the Chorus of the Lord

REMEMBERING PETER GOMES

Peter Gomes (left), with the author (right)There is a quiet battle going on in U.S. Christianity about whether being a Christian is more about what one professes or how one acts. In the eternal argument over faith versus works, Harvard’s Rev. Peter Gomes often expressed a deeply Catholic affection for both. Through his preaching and writing as minister to the university for nearly forty years, and in his Inauguration Day benedictions for two Republican presidents, he explored the interrelationship between suffering, creativity, and faith in a way that was not often heard in Protestant circles. He died last February at age sixty-eight.

Having long taught a course on the history of Harvard, Peter liked to say that faith was “a part of the university’s very DNA, an essential part of both its historic and its contemporary identity.” Continuing the work of the seventeenth-century president-preachers, Peter felt the weight of history as minister in the nondenominational Memorial Church—a white-spired rival to the neighboring imperial-columned Widener Library in Harvard Yard, the two buildings serving as a perpetual reminder of the tension between faith and reason.

Ordained a Baptist minister in the tumultuous year 1968, Peter was nonetheless a quiet champion of Catholic...

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About the Author

Patrick Whelan, a former director of Pax Christi Massachusetts, is a member of the Pediatrics Faculty at Harvard Medical School and national president of Catholic Democrats.