The Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard was founded three decades ago by former Catholic priest Tom Ferrick. Known for his gentle wisdom and warm listening skills, Ferrick built a little-publicized but, by those who knew of it, highly respected presence at America’s highest-profile University.
Among Ferrick’s key achievements was playing a leading role in the expansion of Harvard’s “United Ministry” (now called the Harvard Chaplains) from a small body including only mainline Protestants, Catholics and Jews to today’s nearly 40-member corps including Evangelical Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, and more. In Ferrick’s view, the inclusion of minority views where more established religions had come to dominate campus dialogue was not only an issue of fairness and justice. It was a step towards wider recognition that no religion has a monopoly on truth or goodness; and that when coming together on campus, each group would have to use secular reasoning, rather than faith alone, to advance understanding.
During the 1990’s Ferrick advised a group of Harvard College students in founding the Harvard Secular Society; he also met noted Harvard alumnus and philanthropist the late John L. Loeb Sr., whose gift to the chaplaincy has provided $20,000 per year since his death. This gift was intended to enable HCH to remain, while perhaps small, a permanent presence at Harvard in the years to come. (For more on Ferrick, see his profiles on our site and by Harvard Magazine. For more on the history of Humanism at Harvard, from the pre-Ferrick years through the exploits of the Harvard Secular Society and more, see our selected Harvard Crimson archives.)