As an Atheist, raised Presbyterian, I’ve always wondered: why in God’s name do I know the Hail Mary?
Let me begin with a clarification: I have no problem with religious people. Churches can be beautiful works of architecture, and they contain some of the world’s artistic masterpieces.
Religious-run charities account for a significant portion of aid in developing nations – albeit sometimes with strings attached – and they do a lot of good here at home too. However, the Church’s presence on campus is more of a throwback to the school’s roots than a reflection of the current spirituality – we are essentially a secular university stuck with a Catholic name.
Small-town Nova Scotia isn’t exactly the epicenter of the counter-culture. This is a traditional county, and the very presence of Antigonish is due in no small part to St. Ninian’s Cathedral.
However, the cross perched on top of the brand-new science building is taking it a little far, and is just one example of the outdated presence of religion on campus.
The chapel plunked in the middle of campus doesn’t help, either.
During my frosh week Welcoming ceremony it was described as being officially “nondenominational,” but at the end of the day (well, week) the chapel holds Mass, not Shabbat. A Catholic priest, Father Danny, runs these services.
Our school pays for the existence of his position as chaplain, complete with office space in the Bloomfield Centre. What a waste of money? Not exactly; Father Danny makes himself available to all students, and not just for religious council – he acts as a councilor to any students in need, regardless of beliefs or lack thereof.
However, we have paid secular councilors working at the Health Centre as well.
Looking through the list of bursaries the Financial Aid Office showcases, this special treatment of Catholics is also evident: 18 bursaries have preference for Catholics (some insist on the recipient being Catholic or planning on entering the priesthood, while others are specifically for members of a particular church), while just 21 bursaries are reserved for students from any particular program of study.
It isn’t that the religious presence on campus hinders discussion or debate about issues loaded with religious doctrine.
The Catholic community doesn’t protest during Pride Week, or circulate petitions urging the removal of birth control from the health centre.
As a school, however, it is up to us to decide if we are Catholic in name only; and if so, what does that mean for the image of St Francis Xavier University?
University of Antigonish doesn’t quite have that Ring to it (it doesn’t even have an X), but if StFX is truly secular, and the former convent is now a co-ed residence, why do we have a saint’s statue outside the chapel?
Personally, I didn’t hang on to my nondenominational prayer book.