The History of HCH

Our History

The Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard was founded almost forty years 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. Loeb made a gift to the chaplaincy has provided $20,000 per year since his death in 1996. This gift was intended to enable HCH to remain, while perhaps small, a permanent presence at Harvard in the years to come. But in his later years, Ferrick was to see his beloved organization rise to national prominence, under the direction of his successor, current Humanist Chaplain at Harvard and HCH executive director Greg Epstein. After retiring to become the Humanist Chaplain Emeritus in 2005, Ferrick served for several years as chairman of the HCH’s board of directors, where he was an enthusiastic supporter of plans to hire more staff, open a community center, and help establish Humanist communities elsewhere. Ferrick was succeeded as HCH board chair in 2010 by Mone “Jim” Anathan, a graduate of Harvard Divinity School and retired C.E.O. of national retail chain Filene’s Basement. In 2013, Anathan was succeeded by Greg Langer, a lawyer from Los Angeles. The HCH is a 501c(3) charitable organization, currently governed by a diverse and accomplished 8-member board of directors.

Tom Ferrick died at age 84 on December 30, 2013. A Memorial Service will be held on Sunday March 2 at 1:30pm, in the Humanist Hub– HCH’s new community home at 30 JFK St. in the heart of Harvard Square. To read more about Tom, see his profiles by Harvard Magazine and the Boston Globe, and see this article about HCH’s 2007 conference in his honor, “The New Humanism,” in the Harvard Gazette.