The Experience of a Non-Catholic at Holy Cross

Stacey Kaliabakos ’23

Chief Opinions Editor

During my college search, I intentionally sought out a school that would provide me with an environment in which I could grow not only intellectually, but spiritually as well. I applied to a few small liberal arts colleges, but when I was accepted into Holy Cross and was able to visit campus, I knew that I had found the right place to spend the next four years of my life. Now, with my graduation just a little over a month away, I have begun reflecting upon my time on the hill, particularly in regards to my spiritual journey that I have cultivated along the way.

I have always considered myself a religious and spiritual person. I am baptized in the Greek Orthodox church and value my religious culture and background immensely. Growing up, I was fortunate enough to take part in many events through my church at home, St. Catherine’s Cathedral in Astoria, New York, such as marching in the Greek Independence Day Parade several times and holding the position of a Myrofora, or myrrh bearer, in the Good Friday procession each year. I was well-aware of Holy Cross’ Jesuit Catholic identity when I applied, but I had high hopes that despite the difference in denomination, I would find my place as an Orthodox Christian in the wider community of religious students at the college.

Upon my arrival, there seemed to be a plethora of options for me to get involved spiritually at the college. Before attending Holy Cross, I had never been to a full Novus Ordo Catholic mass before, and I was deeply moved by my first experience at one at the beginning of my freshman year. Since then, I have attended Mass quite frequently and have truly enjoyed going. I have even gone with some of my Catholic friends to a traditional Latin mass at St. Mary’s in Providence, Rhode Island, which was an incredible experience from a non-Catholic perspective. 

In my first year, I also decided to join the Schola Cantorum, the church choir at the college, in an attempt to become more involved with the religious community at Holy Cross. I was fortunate enough to make a few friends through this activity, and even though I ceased attending the Schola Cantorum my sophomore year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I still cherish the memories of singing hymns and worshiping with fellow students. I also joined the Society of Saints Peter and Paul that year, and attended the club’s “Theology by the Slice” event nearly every Wednesday. I found that time of fellowship and reflection alongside other students to be very valuable to my spiritual growth. Again, I have not gone as frequently since the pandemic, but I am still a part of the club and have made many friends whom I care for deeply through it.

During my junior year, I was also fortunate enough to attend the Ignatian Spirituality retreat at the Joyce Contemplative Center (JCC). During that retreat, I learned a lot about myself and my spirituality through the guided religious meditations and reflections we were prompted through. To this day, I remember my experience at the JCC vividly and fondly and encourage all students of any background or denomination to participate in a retreat during their time here as well.

Despite all of these great experiences, I have felt increasingly alienated from my Orthodox faith over the past few years here at Holy Cross. Going to mass here is moving, lovely, and is a needed opportunity to worship God, but it is ultimately not the same as going to Greek Orthodox Divine Liturgy for me, especially since I am unable to receive the Holy Eucharist in a Catholic church. I have found a Greek Orthodox Church close by called St. Spyridon that I attend on occasion, but it is difficult to justify paying a pricey Uber fee twice every Sunday to go to church when there is an easily accessible chapel on campus. There are also other Greek churches in Worcester and in nearby areas in Massachusetts, but again, since I do not have my own car on campus, it is unfortunately impossible to attend my Divine Liturgy on a weekly basis while I am here at Holy Cross. 

Last year, two trailblazing students started the Holy Cross Orthodox Christian Fellowship (HC OCF), which was amazing to go to and allowed me to meet other students of the Orthodox tradition here at Holy Cross. Each week, we would engage in spiritual exercises and learn information about significant and relevant Orthodox saints. However, the club has not been officially recognized by the school and it is hard to coordinate all of our schedules. So meetings have not been consistent for a long time, which has been incredibly unfortunate for me.

It has also been hard to reconcile my difference in faith with other students in our community at times. Some people simply do not understand Orthodoxy– either because of pure inexposure or willful ignorance– so I have been directly questioned in an inconsiderate manner about my faith on many occasions, and have even been (ironically and unironically) labeled a “schismatic” and a “heretic” by numerous people. Ultimately, it has oftentimes been difficult to exist as a non-Catholic on this campus, which is sad, especially when I consider how hard I have tried to immerse myself in Catholic religion, clubs, and culture here. I wholeheartedly enjoy attending a religious school, but at the same time I must acknowledge the hardships of being a non-Catholic student at Holy Cross. Therefore, I must ask: what solutions are there? 

The Jesuit Catholic mission of “Men and women, for and with others” can, without a doubt, apply to those of different Christian denominations and faiths in general here at the college. I personally think that it would be helpful if in the future the college chaplains or other religious figures at the college attempt to help those who are not of the Catholic faith be able to practice their own tradition and worship in places they see fit. Some ways of doing this would be providing various links to parishes, churches, temples, or other places of worship that students could go to on the Interdenominational or Interfaith portions of the Faith and Service section of the Holy Cross website. Additionally, the school may consider sending out some sort of survey that may help bring students of similar faiths into contact so that they may go to church together in a group. We should also be actively recognizing important holidays for students of other faiths and organizing transportation to take them to worship on significant days (like Orthodox Easter or Passover) so that they do not have to pay for an Uber or another type of transportation. I also believe that there should be many more opportunities for interfaith worship at the school, in addition to the singular day of “Multi-Faith prayer” or the poorly attended and advertised interdenominational worship service on Sunday afternoons in the lower chapel.

All things considered, I by no means regret choosing to attend Holy Cross. I have made many incredible friends and memories here and have gone on a spiritual journey that has, albeit imperfect, ultimately brought me closer to my faith and to God. My sincere hope is that, in the future, Holy Cross may do better in providing better opportunities for interdenominational and interfaith worship and belonging in this special community we have here in Worcester.

Categories: Opinions

Tagged as:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s