Aurora Griffin on Being Catholic at Harvard
Date: January 21st, 2018

What is it like to be a devout Catholic attending a secular university?  What steps can young believers take to ensure the integrity of the faith?  Aurora Griffin, a graduate of Harvard University and a junior research scholar at the Center for the Study of Statesmanship at the Catholic University of America, answers these questions and provides valuable insights from her book How I Stayed Catholic at Harvard.  After a brief discussion of her current duties at Catholic University, Ms. Griffin provides us with some biographical background on her faith and education growing up, and how she ended up at Harvard.  Starting out with the intent to major in biomedical and cardiac research, and a side-interest in philosophy, she details how she ended up on an academic track focusing on the classics.  Aurora also discusses the stresses of applying for college and what the first few months on campus are like – intellectually, socially, and religiously.  Along the way, we are treated to great bits of advice regarding how to navigate the difficult waters of one’s college career, including the realization that things change.

Aurora then recounts an important story that set her down the course of writing her book about life at Harvard.  It was during her graduation dinner with family, friends, and select faculty members that her father offered a toast regarding how significant it was that Aurora kept her Catholic faith so strong throughout college.  This came as a bit of surprise as Aurora was expecting a recounting of her various academic achievements, but this point did prompt her to reflect upon the beliefs and practices that kept her strong, write them down, and publish them as bits of advice for other students who would find themselves in her position.  When asked what the most important disciplines keeping her faith strong were, she replied that is was: 1) attending Mass regularly; 2) observing all required fasts; and 3) going to confession at least once a year.  We discuss how the act of confession helps to promote reflection and humility, and how regular practices (or rituals) such as attending Mass create strong habits in other parts of one’s spiritual and secular life.

The discussion then turns to more specific advice in several areas including choosing one’s community, one’s approach to academics, and how to “live out” faith on a daily basis.  Aurora points out that it would be hard to maintain one’s religious faith without a community of like-minded supporters, thus it is important to seek out other students and faculty that share your beliefs.  This is a task that is important right from the start.  Aurora also discusses her success in forming a Catholic sorority to bring together a community of 35 or so female students who connected with the Daughters of Isabella organization.  The Harvard chapter of the Daughters of Isabella initiated their organization with a black tie ball, organized other social events, and became engaged in various charitable activities such as pancake breakfasts to support a local parish and baby showers for low-income mothers.  We also discussed what it means to “just be Catholic” on a secular campus and Aurora’s thoughts on how to embrace the teachings of the Church without picking and choosing selectively.  Tony asks if building a strong community of like-minded adherents runs the risk of creating a bubble around a student, which then moves us into a discussion of how important it is to also interact with people who are different than you, a lesson she learned at Oxford.

Academically, Aurora champions the importance of finding religious faculty members to interact with, attending conferences, and conversing with guest speakers to campus.  She recounts her first meeting with philosopher Peter Kreeft of Boston College while picking him up at an airport in California.  This seemingly mundane encounter became the springboard from which further intellectual interactions occurred in Boston.  We then talk about “living it out” — i.e., how to be openly religious in our modern world.  Aurora raises an interesting question that she heard from one of her friends:  “If we lived in a country where Christianity was illegal, would there be sufficient evidence to charge you with?”  This provocative question became a measuring stick for Aurora’s own faith and she talks about how rejecting various temptations at social gatherings and keeping the Sabbath are important markers for one’s spiritual developments.  She recalls how she would attend Mass regularly on Sunday and spend leisurely afternoons with her friends afterwards as a way of keeping the Sabbath, a difficult task in the high-pressured world of the Ivy League.  We also talk about how regular habits of faith may seem robotic and sterile, but really allow a person to avoid things that they could become “hurt by” and how this leads to a more fulfilling and happier life.

The conversation concludes with some of Aurora’s personal reflections on what she has experienced since finishing her book and what her future plans are.  Recorded: Janary 12, 2018


Aurora Griffin’s bio at the Center for Studies of Statesmanship at the Catholic University of America.

How I Stayed Catholic at Harvard: Forty Tips for Faithful College Students, by Aurora Griffin.

Leisure, the Basis of Culture, by Joseph Pieper (mentioned in podcast).

Daughters of Isabella (and the Harvard chapter).


Kimberly Conger on Being Christian in Secular Academia.

Bill Clark on an Academic’s Spiritual Journey.

Tim Clydesdale on Vocation and Education.

Joseph Castleberry on Religiously-Based Higher Education.

Chris Gehrz on the Crisis of Christian Colleges.

Marion Larson on Bubbles, Bridges, and Multi-Faith Education.

Hunter Baker on the Future of Higher Education.

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