By Jessica Coblentz
A few months ago I found myself at dinner in Harvard Square with our very own Jen Owens, co-editor of From the Pews in the Back, and Dr. Susan Abraham, a remarkable Catholic feminist theologian and professor at Harvard. Over Thai noodles and spicy curries, Dr. Abraham told Jen and I the story of her journey from a traditional family in India, to a successful career in Catholic youth ministry, and eventually to her graduate studies and professorship at Harvard. “Everyone here has a story of how she got to Harvard,” she concluded.
How did I get here? I marvel at this question a lot as I begin my master’s degree at Harvard Divinity School. Growing up on the opposite side of the country, my family and friends simply don’t encounter many folks—if anyone at all—who went to Harvard. Even long-time friends who know about my dedication to theology are taken aback by the news of my new graduate program. The straight-laced smart girl in teeny-bopper movies goes to Harvard—not real, normal people, particularly people we know, particularly people like me, right?
“Everyone here has a story of how she got to Harvard.” Amid my new school jitters, Dr. Abraham’s words have reminded me that even as the mystique of the Ivy-League giant can project the intimidating impression that the people here were born wearing tweed and reciting poetry in Attic Greek, that’s (usually) not the case. We all have unique stories about where we came from and how we got here.
Since so many of the From the Pews in the Back authors are members of the HDS community, I have often encountered their memoirs about Catholicism as stories of how they got to Harvard, too. And in the midst of this overlap, it has struck me that Dr. Abraham’s words about getting to Harvard can be applied to each one of our journeys to Catholicism: Everyone here has a story of how she got to the church.
Despite the mystique of the powerful, wealthy tradition with its patriarchy and imperfections, we have stories that demonstrate how real, normal women arrive at this church. I can marvel at my belonging to this tradition, as I often do, but these stories ground my faith in reality. They remind me that real Catholicism is often quite different from its intimidating image. It really can be a place for a young woman like me.
Jessica Coblentz recently began her Master of Theological Studies degree at Harvard Divinity School. In an effort to feel more at home in Cambridge, she is in pursuit of a fabulous coffee shop in/near Harvard Square. Recommendations are welcome. 🙂