A Catholic renaissance at Princeton

Having taught James Madison at the College of New Jersey (as Princeton was then known), the Rev. John Witherspoon has a claim to the honorable title, “Grandfather of the U.S. Constitution.” What, I wonder, would a good Presbyterian Scotsman like Witherspoon make of the fact that Princeton University Chapel now has a Blessed Sacrament chapel, complete with tabernacle and icon of Our Lady of Guadalupe?

Some might imagine the good reverend spinning in his grave at an impressive rate of r.p.m.’s. I think he’d be pleased, once he got over the initial shock. For Princeton’s vibrant Catholic community is, today, at the center of the enterprise to which John Witherspoon dedicated his life: the dialogue of faith and reason in the service of democracy and human freedom. If you’re a student looking for an intellectually challenging education and a Catholic community whole-heartedly committed to the new evangelization, or if you’re a parent looking for such a school for your son or daughter, you could do far worse than look at Princeton. Indeed, you’d be far better off with Princeton than with several high-priced institutions whose Catholicism is vestigial at best.

The Princeton Catholic renaissance is nothing short of amazing — and heartening. It’s currently led by a marvelous chaplain, Father Tom Mullelly, who believes in leading by forming leaders. Three Sunday Masses, a well-attended daily Mass, and adoration of the Blessed sacrament keep Princeton’s Catholics eucharistically centered. The RCIA program brings new Princetonian Catholics into the Church every Holy Week — during which outdoor Stations of the Cross give a powerful witness to the central story of western civilization. Numerous Bible studies, “Catholic principles” studies, and similar discussion groups maintain a lively conversation about Catholic truth and its application in the world. The campus ministry organizes an annual spring pilgrimage (Rome and Spain were recent destinations). Distinguished Catholic speakers are regularly invited to campus; a Gregorian chant choir offers an introduction to classic Catholic music; and Princeton’s Catholics pray Vespers every Tuesday evening with Princeton’s Episcopalians and Lutherans.

Thanks to the efforts of Princeton’s unembarrassed Catholics, the Department of Religion will offer a for-credit course next spring, “Recent Catholic Thought from Vatican II to John Paul II,” which will be taught by the distinguished Lutheran theologian, Robert Jensen. Those same students and alumni have created a new campus club, the Anscombe Society (named for the late English Catholic philosopher), to defend marriage, promote pre-marital chastity, advance a pro-woman feminism, and, as one of the organizers put it, “defend male and female as distinct and complementary.” The Princeton pro-life group recently sponsored the first interfaith Respect Life service in Princeton Chapel, featuring luminaries like Father Richard Neuhaus and Rabbi David Novak, as well as an evangelical pastor and an imam.

You won’t find any of these things, alas, on too many putatively Catholic campuses; but you’ll find them at Princeton.

Its high spirits are what most impresses me about Princeton’s Catholic renaissance. A faculty member put it in these compelling terms: “There has been a true flowering of John Paul II Catholicism on this campus. It is robust and hopeful. It engages opponents (on issues such as abortion, sexual morality, etc.) on the plane of rational debate and unreservedly links arms with allies in the evangelical Christian, Orthodox Jewish, and Muslim communities. We are not hiding in the catacombs but engaging the culture — even in areas where the prevailing culture on this campus (as with most others) is hostile.

“ … We do not fear inquiry, we relish it. We recognize that truth is never the enemy of faith. We proclaim the Gospel of Life as the … affirmation of the unique, profound, inherent, and equal dignity of every member of the human family.

“We have our faults and failings … . But this is a community of Catholics who are really determined to follow the way of the Lord Jesus. And we’re having the time of our lives.”

If that interests you, or someone you know who’s pondering college, you can start investigating the Princeton Catholic renaissance by e-mailing Aquinas@Princeton.edu and requesting a link to the chaplaincy’s Web site.

COMING UP: Team Samaritan cyclist goes ‘Everesting’ for the homeless and hungry

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When it comes to the daily sufferings of those who are homeless, there’s nothing like a 29,029-foot bike ride to keep things in perspective.

That’s exactly what Corbin Clement will be doing this Saturday, June 19, with a couple of his riding buddies as they attempt an “Everesting” ride to raise money for the Samaritan House homeless shelter in Denver. Starting at Witter Gulch Road in Evergreen, the three riders will climb Squaw Pass Road to a point in Clear Creek County and ride back down the hill for over eight laps, which amounts to roughly 190 miles in distance and the equivalent of the elevation of Mt. Everest in terms of vertical climbing – hence the name “Everesting.” Their goal is to complete the feat in 20 hours or less.

Oh, and they can’t sleep. It is, indeed, just as crazy as it sounds. Those who aren’t avid cyclists might be wondering, “How in the world do you train for something like this?” 
“For training, it’s been just more or less ride as much as possible,” Clement told the Denver Catholic. “The training is structured around endurance, and that’s of course what Everesting is. It’s just a lot of peddling. So, a lot of my training so far has just been trying to ride as much as possible and ride longer high elevation rides.” 

In March, an Irish cyclist set the world record for Everesting when he completed the feat in six hours and 40 minutes. Clement isn’t trying to set a record, but regardless, it’s quite a feat to undertake, even for a seasoned athlete like him, whose pedigree includes snowboarding and rock climbing. 

“Our ride will be the same thing, but it’ll be pretty different,” Clement said. “We don’t have any sort of special bikes or super focused diet or a really regimented plan or a crew that’s very well-instructed on how we’re going to tackle this. I’ve read a couple of things to just kind of make it into a party — have friends come out to support you, get people to join you on certain laps…that’s kind of the approach we’re taking.” 

Clement has already raised $5,200 for Samaritan House, with a current goal of $8,000. This is Clement’s first year riding for Team Samaritan, but his dad, Kevin, has ridden for the team for several years. When his dad offered to give him an extra kit and uniform, Clement accepted, but didn’t want to take it without doing something help the cause. He could’ve simply opted for a nice ride in the countryside, but he chose to do something a bit more challenging.  

Corbin Clement used to experience the challenges that homeless people face on a daily basis when commuting through downtown Denver to work on his bike. This Saturday, he will raise money for Samaritan House homeless shelter by “Everesting,” a 190-mile bike ride that is the equivalent of the elevation of Mt. Everest in terms of vertical climbing. (Photo provided)

“For some reason, the Everesting idea popped into my head,” he explained. “I think it’s one of those things that has a little bit of shock value for people who hear about it. It’s certainly something that’s gained more popularity and visibility in the last couple of years with endurance athletes. I wanted to choose something that would actually be a challenge for myself and something that I’d have to work towards.” 

Clement currently resides in Utah, but he used to live in Denver and commute by bike to work every day. During those rides to his office, which was located near Samaritan House, he would pass many homeless people and have conversations with them. This experience was also a motivating factor for his Everesting attempt for Team Samaritan. 

“It’s very different when you’re on a bike versus in a car because you’re right there,” Clement said. “If you stop at a stoplight and a homeless person is on the corner, whether or not they’re panhandling or something like that, you hear the conversations, or you’ll have a conversation with them. There are things you smell or you hear or you see that you just never would if you were in a car. So, it kind of made sense, too, with the biking aspect. It’s part of my community that I’ve lived and worked in for a very long time.” 

Clement’s Everesting attempt is one event in a series of endurance event’s he’s doing over the summer that culminates with the Leadville 100, a single-day mountain bike race across the Colorado Rockies. In that race, he will be riding to support young adults diagnosed with cancer by raising funds for First Descents.  

Both causes are near to Clement’s heart, and he said that while his Everesting attempt will be a form of “suffering,” it pales in comparison to what the homeless face day in and day out. This is ultimately why he’s riding and raising funds for Team Samaritan. 

“Any time we see a homeless person or people who have to live on the streets,” Clement said, “That is true suffering — true endurance — with no end in sight.” 

To learn more about Corbin’s fundraising efforts or to donate, click here.