We will tell the history of the Center in a question-and-answer format.
How did Saint Benedict Center begin?
In 1940, a prominent Catholic laywoman, Catherine Goddard Clarke, sought permission of the then Archbishop of Boston, William Cardinal O’Connell, to establish an educational oasis of Catholic truth close to the renowned secular universities that dominated the area. The cardinal agreed to the project, admonishing Mrs. Clarke to “teach the Faith without compromise.” So it was that Saint Benedict Center quietly came into existence that year at the intersection of Bow and Arrow Streets in Harvard Square, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The Center’s initial purpose was to provide religious instruction for the Catholic students of the universities. In keeping with the instructions of Cardinal O’Connell, its policy was to teach the authentic doctrines of the Church through the study of Holy Scripture and the writings of the Fathers, Doctors, and Saints of the Church. This program of studies achieved immediate success, filling the spiritual vacuum created by an obvious deficiency in the neighboring academic institutions. The Center was attended in large and growing numbers.
In 1942 the well-known and loved Jesuit priest, Father Leonard Feeney, became associated with the work of the Center, counseling students, lecturing, and eventually becoming — by general demand, and by appointment from his superiors in the Society of Jesus and the Archdiocese of Boston — the spiritual director of Saint Benedict Center. An author and poet in his own right, Father Feeney was hailed by his Jesuit Provincial as “the greatest theologian we have in the United States by far,” and was also acclaimed publicly as “America’s Chesterton.” Before long, Father was lecturing on Holy Scripture to a packed Center every Thursday evening, while Mrs. Clarke enjoyed equal success with her Monday evening lectures on Church History.
Later in 1942, while on a research fellowship at Harvard University, Doctor Fakhri Maluf of Lebanon visited the Center. Within a short time, Father Feeney asked Doctor Maluf to begin Tuesday evening lectures on philosophy.
These three teachers formed a beautiful union which had a balance and blend that captured and inspired the hearts and minds of those who were studying their Catholic Faith at the Center. They are the founders of what ultimately became the Crusade of Saint Benedict Center.
What is the Crusade of Saint Benedict Center?
During the years that saw the conclusion of World War II and immediately thereafter, the influence of the Center continued to spread under the guiding hand of Father Feeney. His powerful messages were attracting not only students from the local academic institutions, but men and women from all walks of life. The hall was packed for all three lectures each week. Conversions among both young and old increased by the hundreds. Vocations were plentiful. The Center soon became distinguished for the large number of men and women it directed into the priesthood and religious life.
The enthusiasm of those attending lectures at the Center clearly proved that the Faith is indeed a “sleeping giant” in the United States. We knew, therefore, that if we could present it to the American people in a simple but holy manner — as did Saint Patrick in Ireland, Saint Augustine of Canterbury in England, and Saint Boniface in Germany — it would be widely embraced. What a dramatic improvement would then follow at all levels and in all activities of society! We also knew that we had already established a pattern and a method which, given enough time, would make America a Catholic nation. We resolved to make this dream come true. Out of that initial resolve — after a new and more urgent consideration was later added to it — was formed the Crusade of Saint Benedict Center. That more urgent consideration is the vital part of the answer to the next question.
Who are The Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary? How are they related to the Crusade of Saint Benedict Center?
During the balance of the 1940s, the growth of the Center’s influence continued unabated. As was inevitable, however, the simple Catholic affirmations being taught there began to clash with the atheistic trends of thought spawned by the universities in the vicinity — notably Harvard. Students — a number of them from influential families — began to defend the Faith in their classrooms and protest against teachings contrary to it. Some, particularly those who had converted to Catholicism through the Center, even went so far as to withdraw from their respective academic institutions. Predictably, such actions caused no small upset to both the universities and the families of many of those students.
Despite the growing opposition and the odds it raised against them, the Center, now conscious of a mission, gradually became an institute of studies of intense interest to an ever-increasing number of men and women who sought to be educated by it entirely. As the students studied the Catholic Faith more deeply, they began to realize, as Father Feeney already had, that it was the displacement of one key dogma that had made possible the rise of Catholic liberalism. That dogma was extra ecclesiam nulla salus — “outside the Church there is no salvation.”
So, in September, 1947, the Fall issue of From the Housetops, the publication of the Center, featured an article by Doctor Maluf entitled “Sentimental Theology,” which stated in part:
…I know I am not wasting punches at a straw man. Sentimental thinking about religious matters is very much with us today. A great deal of what is being said by Catholics today sounds in very sharp contrast with the accent of the authentic voice of the Church, teaching, warning and defining. The sharp weapons of Christ are being blunted, and the strong, virile doctrines of the Church are being put aside in a conspiracy of silence…. The Catholic Church does not proclaim the exclusive salvation of one race of people, but invites every man to the great joy of being united with Christ in the communion of Saints. The Catholic truth is not a sad story for which we need to apologize; it is the proclamation of the greatest good news that could ever be told. No matter how sternly its message is phrased, it is still the one and only hope in the world. Only hope and security can afford to be severe. When we say that outside of the Church there is no salvation, we are also and at the same time announcing that inside the Church there is salvation…. This is not a story which can be taught with the subdued and hesitant voice of sentimental theology.
This and ensuing articles pinpointing the basic error underlying the religious liberalism of the day caused a considerable stir. In the distance, the storm clouds were beginning to gather.
The following month, October, 1947, Archbishop (later Cardinal) Richard J. Cushing of Boston, who himself had contributed two articles to the Housetops, made an official visit to the Center, on which occasion he addressed a packed house, lavishing praise on the work of Father Feeney and his associates. Citing the many conversions and, even more, the many religious vocations credited to Saint Benedict Center, the archbishop declared no less than five times that the Center had the official sanction and gratitude of the archdiocese. But plans were being made to change his mind for him.
Throughout the following year, 1948, opposition to the Center continued to grow and become more vocal. As Father Denis Fahey had put it: “Satan wants men to forget that there is one true religion.” Pressure was put on the Jesuits, therefore, to transfer Father Feeney out of the Archdiocese of Boston; pressure was put on the archdiocese to stop the provocation of Harvard; and pressure was put on three professors at Boston College who were members of the Center to give up both the Church’s doctrine on salvation and their support of Father Feeney in upholding it. Then suddenly, to our great dismay, we found in league with the opposition those whose office and duty it was to protect us — Archbishop Cushing and his then-auxiliary Bishop John Wright (later Cardinal Wright, Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy).
It was in this climate of increasing persecution that Saint Benedict Center became a new religious congregation in the Church. Sister Catherine described our feelings in these words:
“We were beginning to realize the character of the battle before us, not only for the preservation of the sacred dogmas of the Church, but actually for their restoration. It was to prepare ourselves by prayer and discipline, and to secure graces enough to enable us to face such a battle, that we became a religious order.” (Gate of Heaven)
The date of this important development was January 17, 1949. We took as our name “The Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary” (Mancipia Immaculati Cordis Mariae). All of us — and at that time, with the exception of Father Feeney, we were all lay members of the Center — bound ourselves by a vow to a crusade to preserve and defend — and where necessary, restore — all of the truths of our Holy Faith, especially those which were most unpopular.
It should be clear, then, that The Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Crusade of Saint Benedict Center are one and the same thing. To be a crusade is the principal reason for the existence of the congregation.
That “more urgent consideration” which prompted our formation was the by-now-firm conviction that the key dogma of the Church — extra ecclesiam nulla salus — was being deliberately suppressed by liberal modernist heretics within the Church.
What is the present status of Saint Benedict Center?
After the Modernist fifth column in the Church had thoroughly humiliated Father Feeney by their disgraceful abuse of authority, Saint Benedict Center in Cambridge was isolated. The world and the Church treated us like a colony of lepers. There was not a bishop or priest anywhere who had courage enough to come to our defense publicly, lest he, too, be tarred with the same brush.
So, we prayed, and we worked, and we studied. We preached to thousands on Boston Common every Sunday. We published instructional books, pamphlets and periodicals about the Faith which we carried on foot to every corner of this nation and sold in order to support ourselves.
In 1958, we left Cambridge and moved to Still River in the town of Harvard, Massachusetts, about forty miles west of Boston. Sister Catherine died in 1968, and God called the aged and saintly Father Leonard Feeney to Himself in 1978.
One important point should be made before finishing this brief historical résumé. It is no secret that what was once a united organization is now fragmented into several religious houses. In an organization dedicated to fighting, as ours is, there are bound to be casualties of one kind or another. Our enemies discovered that the only way they could do anything effective against Saint Benedict Center was to use the divide-and-conquer method. Simple persecution only made the movement stronger.
Dangling various carrots of ecclesiastical approbation, ordination, and a better reputation, the liberals in the hierarchy were able to break up a once united organization. Divisions came with the years and involved, not doctrine, but administrative or leadership issues. Aside from what is now the Benedictine Abbey in Still River (the original brothers’ house), there are five houses of Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary which operate independently of one another, but all of which are loyal to the original purpose of our congregation. These houses include two in Massachusetts, one in Ohio, and one in California, as well as the Center in New Hampshire.
Some of our most bitter and small-minded enemies have attempted to smear Father Feeney’s memory and work by dismissing us as a “house divided.” This is simply a dodge (and it often, ironically enough, comes from members of religious institutes notorious for their infighting). Those with a deeper knowledge of history well know that similar blows of division struck many Catholic movements. Nonetheless, nobody uses this to deride the memory of Saint Francis, Saint Alphonsus, or the myriad of other founders whose institutes were visited by problems of unity. Even Saint Paul and Saint Barnabas had a parting of the ways over Saint Mark, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. Indeed, to push the reasoning of our enemies to its logical conclusion, one would have to dismiss France as a nation because the French have been known to fight one another!
At present, the five distinct houses of the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary cooperate cordially and charitably with one another in varying degrees. There is a general movement towards unity. The Slaves in Richmond daily pray that there will be total unity among all the loyal disciples of our holy founder.
In the mid 1980s, Brother Francis and some of the other brothers and sisters loyal to Father Feeney’s Crusade started our present foundation in Richmond, New Hampshire. In this location, there is a monastery of the First Order, a convent of the Second Order, and, down the road from our main property, a subdivision, where members of our Third Order have their homes. Many of the residents of the subdivision send their children to our Immaculate Heart of Mary School. It is from this present foundation in Richmond that Brother André Marie leads our Crusade as Prior.