When I sat down with Thomas Groome, a professor in the School of Theology and Ministry, we began by discussing the idea of vocation. Vocation is defined by three questions, he said: "What am I good at?; What do I like to do?; What does the world need?" Although he would have liked to have been a singer, he seems to have found the answer to all three questions in his new role as the director of the Church in the 21st Century Center.
Professor Groome, who has been at Boston College for 41 years next fall, taught undergraduates for 33 years before becoming chair of the Institute of Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry within the School of Theology and Ministry. He was named as the new head of the C21 Center earlier this month by University President Father Leahy, SJ.
The C21 Center was founded in 2002 at the height of the clergy sexual abuse scandal. “It was a time of real crisis for the Church,” Groome said. “I think we made a real contribution at that time, especially to keeping hope alive for Catholics who were simply bewildered, embarrassed, or terribly betrayed.”
As time went on, he said, they realized that there were other contemporary issues that needed to be addressed by the Church, like gender equality, inclusion of Hispanics and a dwindling number of priests.
“If we’re to practice what we preach,” said Groome, “then we have to be constantly reforming.”
Some of his goals for the center include a renewed emphasis on outreach and service to Hispanic Catholics, continuing the programming for the undergraduate population like Agape Latte and addressing new problems within the Church as they arise.
“We have the resources and academic freedom to address whatever controversies need to be addressed,” he said.
When asked how Catholicism can stay relevant in the modern world, Groome turned back to the scripture. “In St. John’s Gospel, chapter four, Jesus has a fascinating conversation with a woman. He promises her that his gospel will always be like fresh water, springing up like eternal life. We’ve got to constantly go back to those fresh water, those deep waters, of the gospel and of the Catholic tradition at its best.” By showing people how rich the Catholic faith tradition is, Groome said, we can show them how compelling and effective Catholicism can be today.
Although the C21 center was originally conceived as a two-year program, Father Groome hopes it will be around for much longer. “Hopefully it will be around forever, because it will always be needed. The Church, as a human institution, always falls short of its ideals, because it is made up of people, like myself, who are constantly in need of reform and renewal and repentance. For that reason, an office like this will always have work to do. We’ll never run out of need, for sure.”