From its founding in 1947, Merrimack College always enjoyed good relations with the Jewish community of the Merrimack Valley.
The first president of the college, Father Vincent McQuade, OSA, included members of the Jewish community in his efforts to found the institution. In 1995, Merrimack established the Center for the Study of Jewish-Christian Relations as a further step in strengthening Jewish-Christian relations and dialogue, as called for by the Second Vatican Council.
This important initiative, conceived and advanced by Padraic O’Hare, professor of religious and theological studies, has grown over the past 20 years to become an important part of the college’s academic and social landscape.
In 2008, with the encouragement of Rabbi Robert Goldstein of Temple Emanuel in Andover, Massachusetts, then chair of the center’s board of directors, we expanded our mission to include Muslims and became the Center for the Study of Jewish-Christian-Muslim Relations. The college has concentrated its interreligious dialogue to the “people of the book” as an extension of its Catholic mission and Augustinian heritage.
This mission is carried out through such programs as:
- Frequent public lectures by leading scholars and activists in the field.
- Interfaith conferences and prayer services.
- Curricular and co-curricular offerings, including academic travel courses for students.
- The nation’s first undergraduate academic program in Jewish-Christian-Muslim studies.
- The biennial Goldziher Prize, awarded to a scholar or activist in Jewish-Muslim relations (begun in 2010).
This array of lectures and conferences has nurtured a significant, appreciative community of Jewish, Christian and, more recently, Muslim friends of the college who have supported the operations of the center through their participation and generosity. In addition, more than 30 Merrimack undergraduates are pursuing a minor in Jewish-Christian-Muslim studies. Many faculty and administrators of the college, from each of the three Abrahamic religions, have participated in the programs of the center.
The center has encouraged Merrimack to realize its distinctive educational mission in ways that affirm the college’s Catholic identity and its Augustinian heritage, while at the same time welcoming other Christians and adherents of other faiths into the academic life of the campus and the embrace of our academic community. Our partners in presenting these programs and services have included:
- Algerian-American Association of New England
- Honorable Abdallah Baali, Algerian ambassador to the United States
- Brandeis University
- Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies
- Crossing Borders
- Facing History and Ourselves
- William and Mary Greve Foundation
- Catherine McCarthy Foundation
- Interfaith Youth Initiative of Boston’s Cooperative Metropolitan Ministries
- Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center
- Merrimack Valley Jewish Federation
- Temple Emanuel, Andover, Massachusetts
- Unity Productions Foundation
- University of Massachusetts, Lowell
The center’s programs and services have covered topics in religious, political, cultural and social arenas. We will build on the success of this approach. Today, new challenges face the world and those who work for peace. They prompt us to re-envision the center’s mission and to seize emerging opportunities that strengthen the center and what it offers.
Our primary emphasis on the three Abrahamic faiths encourages mutual understanding and respect among their adherents. But it also prepares students to live and thrive in a world of many different faith traditions by helping them learn respect and openness to persons from diverse backgrounds and cultures.
As we move forward, we also invite all persons of good will into the mission of the center. Not everyone’s life journey has led to an explicit profession of faith within a specific religious tradition or community. The center welcomes all, whatever their background or conviction, who seek to increase knowledge and respect amid religious and cultural diversity.