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Catholicism at YLS


D.L., 2L

“Agnus Dei, qui tolis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem.”  It’s not every day you hear Latin flowing so melodiously from the mouths of thirty Yale Law students.  Normally, we might sputter off something about res ipsa loquitur or a criminal defendant’s mens rea.  But this time we were invoking Latin at the Catholic Law Student Association’s advent mass.

To my right stood Fr. Peter Walsh, the chaplain of St. Thomas More Chapel and Center and the head of Yale’s vibrant Catholic community, whose congregants number in the hundreds.  To my left stood Guido Calabresi, a former YLS dean and current federal appeals court judge, who is famous for gathering law students in his judicial chambers for traditional Catholic services.

Celebrating this mass with the man affectionately known to all as “Guido” was a real treat.  What made the event even more memorable, however, was the fact that Guido’s chambers were too small to hold us: we had to move the mass to St. Thomas More Chapel to accommodate the large group.

As we finished up that traditional Latin prayer, I was happy to see my law school peers—of both liberal and conservative political stripe—united in celebrating the Eucharist.  Our very presence together defied the image of the “godless Ivy League,” an unfortunate caricature that ignores the strong presence of many religious groups at schools like Yale, albeit among a largely secular student body.

Despite the ideological and political differences that may inform normal discourse in the classroom, devotional events are a place where students of a diversity of political perspectives can find a home.  Yes, CLSA members may differ in opinion when discussing abortion or the role of the Church in the public square, but at moments like this advent mass, we find common ground in our common faith.

Gathering with my friends for a shared meal after the services, I realized that the next time we would next be united in prayer at 8:55am on January 6, 2011.  Though we would be physically apart, we’d all likely be grasping for last-minute grace in the minutes leading up to our Torts final exam, a test that Guido has administered to probably one-fourth of all YLS grads.

That first examination is intimidating, but my classmates should take heart: at least three former YLS Catholics—by the names of Alito, Sotomayor, and Thomas—seemed to do well enough in that first-semester class, perhaps in part because of all of those Ave Marias they were praying just before they tackled their first law-school final.