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In the last months of 2003, a century-long tradition for Catholic alumni throughout the archdiocese quietly slipped away.
In September, the Catholic Alumni Sodality of Boston — an organization of Catholic college graduates bound together by their faith — voted to dissolve due to a lack of participation of young college graduates.
"The membership was aging and dropping in numbers, and there just wasn't the attraction for younger Catholics to join," explained Father James Hosie, SJ, spiritual director of the sodality.
"It was a very tough decision," he said, "but we all knew it couldn't continue."
In its heyday, the Catholic Alumni Sodality of Boston boasted close to 1,600 members, which met monthly to celebrate Mass and listen to speakers who challenged them to live their faith.
"These were all college graduates -- professionals -- who continued to nurture their faith and to take their faith into the workplaces," said Father Hosie, describing the sodalists.
The sodality was begun in 1900, when former Boston College president Father W.G. Read Mullen, SJ, wrote an open letter to all Boston College graduates. The letter, dated May 13, 1899, read, “I should be much pleased to meet the lay alumni of Boston College ... for the purpose of proposing to them the formation of a Sodality to be composed exclusively of Catholic graduates of Boston College and other colleges.”
"I am fully convinced that such a gathering of educated Catholic men could be a power in the community to attract respect for our holy religion and for Catholic Education," it continued.
According to Robert Foley, former president and treasurer of the sodality, Father Mullen’s suggestion was the impetus for the creation of this sodality.
"History testifies to the deep and abiding faith of the hundreds of graduates of scores of colleges who have banded together in the Catholic Alumni Sodality of Boston to give public profession of their love and following of Christ through the Blessed Virgin Mary," stated Foley.
Foley, a 1944 graduate of Boston College, first joined the sodality in 1946, when it boasted over 1,500 men in its fold. He recalled fondly the monthly gatherings at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Boston as well as the annual three-day Lenten retreats attended by all members.
In 1996, the monthly meetings changed venue. Rather than continue their gatherings at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, the sodality attended their meetings at Boston College High School — where they continued to meet until their dissolution.
According to Foley, one of his particularly fond memories is that of Father Francis Gilday, SJ, who in 1956 was appointed spiritual director of the sodality.
Describing him as a “bolt out of heaven,” Foley recalled how for 40 years Father Gilday led the sodality, and that “1,400 to 1,500 men enjoyed his sermons each month.”
However, “in the waning years,” as Foley describes the late 1980s and early 1990s, “membership decreased from 1,400 members to less than 200.”
Foley believes changes in society and in religious conviction were instrumental to the lack of interest in younger college graduates.
"There was just no way to recruit them," he said. "They were just not interested in becoming a part of this."
Father Hosie believes the fall of the sodality is also due in part to the many options young Catholic college graduates have been given since the Second Vatican Council.
"For young Catholics nowadays, there are many opportunities to get involved in Church life, whereas before there weren't quite as many," he said.
However, Father Hosie is not entirely sure the sodality will be gone forever.
"This may be a cyclical reality in the Church," he mused, "much like the Holy Name Society, which has seen a rebirth in recent years."
"I don't know. Perhaps the sodality may return someday," he said.