By Dave Jolivet, Editor
FALL RIVER, Mass. — Entering freshman year at Harvard University provides a plethora of challenges and changes for any young woman or man. Sometimes, at any university or college, activities and priorities are shifted or even discarded. Oftentimes, it’s the student’s faith life that can fall through the cracks.
There is, however, a group of men at and around the Cambridge institution whose mission is to not only prevent that from happening, but to strengthen an already existent faith life. The Harvard University Pope John Paul II Council was born on All Saints Day in 2006, and since then has invited young Catholic men to join them in their journey to defend their country, families and faith, heeding the call of the Knights of Columbus founder Father Michael J. McGivney in 1882.
Fall River resident Curtis St. Pierre, a lifelong member of Immaculate Conception Parish, now St. Bernadette’s Parish, began his freshman year at Harvard last fall. While at an orientation program prior to his initial semester, St. Pierre, already very active in parish life in his hometown, was introduced to some of the university’s Knights of Columbus through the school’s Catholic Student Association.
“On our applications, we included what our interests are,” St. Pierre told The Anchor. “Based on some of my responses, the Knights felt I may be interested in learning more about them. I met some of the members and they seemed like great guys.” St. Pierre expressed an interest and following a Facebook message, he became a member at a first-degree ceremony in September.
“Right from the start, I felt very welcome,” he said. “I already knew some of the guys from other events and I immediately got involved. I was part of a Pro-Life and Family Committee that was very involved in preventing Question 2 (the legalization of physician-assisted suicide) from becoming law in last November’s election.”
St. Pierre also became involved in the council’s Holy Family Society, a study group that concentrates on prayer, catechesis, Faith Formation and studying the saints and Church leaders.
Despite Holy Family Society meetings once a week; council meetings every two weeks; and other faith-based activities, including a 33-day consecration to Mary, St. Pierre didn’t find it too difficult to concentrate on his studies and maintain outstanding grades. “I learned quickly to get my homework done early,” he said. “I’m not saying it wasn’t a struggle at first. There was some lost sleep.”
St. Pierre can’t imagine life at Harvard without being involved in the Knights. “I’ve been going to Mass with my dad Bill, for as long as I can remember. Sunday always meant church, and after I made First Communion, I became an altar server. Church was always comfortable; it felt natural.”
And it’s the Knights of Columbus who are helping St. Pierre maintain that comfort level with his faith. Since last September, St. Pierre has become a third-degree Knight, and has embraced the organization’s mission of helping others. “There is a lot more service to be done,” St. Pierre said. “Service is being Christ to others.”
Some of that service includes helping to sponsor a White Ribbon Against Pornography rally on campus scheduled for the upcoming school year. “The purpose was to show the evils and effects pornography has on relationships,” explained St. Pierre. “We’ll hold it to try to offset the ‘Sex-Week’ seminars that take place on campus.”
Additionally, the council is busy recruiting members for the Squires, a Knights of Columbus-affiliated group for boys 10-18 years old. “St. Paul’s has a Choir School, a four-year school where boys from fourth to eighth grade combine academics with learning Liturgical music in great depth,” said St. Pierre. “It’s the only one in the country.”
Despite being a secular institution, there is a strong Catholic influence on campus. “We have the Knights, the Catholic Student Association, and the Daughters of Isabella on campus,” he said. “We have a small adoration chapel at St. Paul’s rectory, Mass at St. Paul’s Parish and there is always the opportunity for Catholic fellowship. To maintain a strong faith life, you need to be self-motivated, but the resources are out there.”
Early on in his membership, St. Pierre became a lecturer for the council, one who gives a presentation after each meeting, and he has since become the council’s Grand Knight. At 19, St. Pierre is the council’s youngest-ever Grand Knight.
The Harvard Council has roughly 140 members, that include grad students, faculty, St. Paul’s parishioners, undergrads, and students from MIT and Tufts. “The students from Boston University created their own council this past spring,” St. Pierre said. “They’ve had good membership numbers.”
As Grand Knight for the upcoming year, St. Pierre’s goals are lofty, despite his tender age. “I’d like to see our council be the Outstanding College Council,” in the country,” he said. “And to win the Star Council Award.” It’s an award that recognizes outstanding achievement in membership, insurance and service program activities.
When St. Pierre entered Harvard University a year ago, he knew he would fit right in and embrace the Ivy League academic lifestyle. What he couldn’t see coming was embracing, with just as much gusto, the Knights of Columbus lifestyle, one that allowed him to maintain the strong faith handed to him by his dad, and build on that faith to reach out to “be Christ to others.” It’s been the best of both worlds for him.