Lehigh News Article

Compassion in the wake of tragedy
Writer James Carroll spoke about human compassion in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings during his 2013 baccalaureate address in Packer Memorial Church.
The Boston Marathon bombings in April represented a dark moment for Americans. But in the wake of the tragedy, best-selling author James Carroll says people from around the world demonstrated the human capacity for kindness.

Before a packed audience in Packer Memorial Church, Carroll, a Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence at Suffolk University, author and weekly columnist for the Boston Globe, described the awe he felt as daily affairs in Boston came to a halt during the search for the bombings’ perpetrators. His address, “Report from Boston: The Marathon and Moral Meaning,” was delivered at the 2013 Baccalaureate Service on Sunday.

“All day on the Friday after the bombing, one million people stayed home. There was no traffic, no trollies, no schools open,” said Carroll. “A million people, in effect, participated in the search, and responded to their government … with complete trust.”

Carroll, who served as an ordained Catholic priest before becoming a writer, says that compassion inspired the gestures of kindness seen in the bombings’ aftermath.

“Compassion comes from the Latin for ‘to suffer with’,” he said. “We all suffered with the victims of that violence at the marathon, not just in Boston, but everywhere. This nation became one city, and in that instance, the horizon stretched to encompass the world.”
Taking a unique path to literary success

The author of ten novels and seven works of non-fiction, Carroll did not initially set out to become an author. He was an ordained Catholic priest from 1969 to 1974, after studying at the Paulist Fathers’ seminary at St. Paul’s College in Washington, D.C. 

“I went to Boston University as a Catholic chaplain, and BU was a radical place: free love, politics, demonstrations, protests. I was a young, somewhat naïve Catholic priest, and it just blew my mind. And I loved it,” said Carroll, who received an Honorary Doctor of Letters degree during the 2013 commencement exercises. “Those BU students were my teachers. The war of Vietnam ended, and my priesthood ended. My priesthood was defined by the anti-war movement. I was in the streets with the students, protesting the war."

Carroll says that his decision to leave the priesthood was influenced by personal views on the war, reproductive rights and issues related to sexuality that conflicted with Catholic bishops at the time. 

“In order to stay a Catholic, I had to stop being a priest,” said Carroll. “As a priest, I had to teach things that I didn’t believe in.”

An interfaith celebration

Also during the baccalaureate service, students from four religious traditions shared lessons of collective understanding and compassion from their faiths: 
  • Yash Marathe, a graduate student from Pune, India receiving a master’s degree in industrial and systems engineering, represented Hinduism
  • Josh Greenberg, a senior from Long Island, N.Y. who studied political science, represented Judaism
  • Anne Marie Kerchberger, a senior Biology and Religion Studies dual major from Barrington, Ill., represented Christianity
  • Semra Mese, a Fulbright scholar from Turkey receiving a master’s degree in American Studies, represented Islam
The service opened with a greeting from the Rev. Lloyd Steffen, university chaplain, professor of religion studies, and director of the Center for Dialogue, Ethics and Spirituality. Rev. Wayne E. Killian, director and Catholic Chaplain of the Lehigh University Catholic Campus Ministry, delivered the invocation, and Rabbi Seth Goren, associate chaplain and director of Jewish Student Life, introduced the student speakers.

Photos by Theo Anderson