Editor’s note: This is the first of four in a series of articles covering the topic of students of differing religions at Northwestern.
In the middle of the Old Factory, Molly Townsend seemed right at home. Nursing a hazelnut latte and a pair of knitting needles, her sassy tongue confirmed the fact that no, not all Catholics like fish.
“I enjoy tuna because it’s the chicken of the sea and since there’s poultry involved I can handle that,” Townsend said.
Born and raised in Tea, South Dakota, Townsend grew up in the St. Nicholas parish with her parents and younger brother. She first heard about Northwestern when she was a sophomore in high school through a letter in the mail. Her interest was piqued by pictures of the infamous West battle.
“I did an overnight stay and after about 30 seconds of being in Fern, I had this school picked,” Townsend said. “I could hardly form sentences I was so excited.”
Since enrolling, Townsend has declared a psychology major and is very involved on campus.
However, while the campus directory lists Townsend’s full name as Molly Ann Townsend, there is another name missing. Cecelia. After going through Catholic confirmation, Townsend took St. Cecelia, the patron saint of music, as her second middle name. This is common for many confirmed Catholics; they choose a patron saint that reflects something important to them.
Living as a Catholic attending a reformed school hasn’t been easy for Townsend.
“It’s difficult in a sense that there are a lot of things that feel like they are missing,” Townsend said. “Going to chapel can be hard. There is always a good message and it’s a great way to bond with students, but it’s hard not having the complete mass every day.”
She appreciates the integration of faith and learning in the classroom as well because, though it’s been difficult to filter some things through her beliefs, it helps her take ownership of her faith.
There are several differences between Catholic and Reformed Church of America. The largest is The Eucharist.
“That’s why it’s such a big deal for Catholics to go to mass every day,” Townsend said. “Other than loving others, that’s the most important thing we do. We believe it’s the actual body and blood of Christ. It doesn’t change appearances, but when we have communion and it’s consecrated, it becomes the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. When Jesus says, ‘This is my body,’ that’s a literal translation.”
Townsend does her best to stay connected to her Catholic roots. She has recently started attending Adoration at St. Joseph’s church in Le Mars where the consecrated host, the body and the blood, is displayed in a small chapel where people can come and be in the presence of God.
“I wear a scapular of Mary, and so in the morning when I put it on I pray the Hail Holy Queen as well as the Pax Christi using the rosary and a commitment prayer to be a vessel of Christ’s love to everyone every day,” Townsend said.
Over Christmas break, Townsend also attended the Seek conference in Nashville, Tenn., with Catholic friend Madigan Maere. Thousands of practicing Catholic students come together to learn and grow in their faith. This year comedian Jim Gaffigan, a Catholic himself, attended as one of the speakers.
While telling her story, Townsend expressed how much her Catholic faith meant to her.
“The Catholic faith is the fullness of the church,” Townsend said. “There’s a richness that comes with the Catholic faith. Our devotion to Mary is really beautiful.”
Townsend finds fascination in singing hymns people have been singing for hundreds of years and that a person could go to mass anywhere in the world and know the message they are getting is the same as a person who is going to mass somewhere else in the world.
“You could spend your entire life learning about the Catholic faith and never know it all,” Townsend said. “Plus, I love nuns. Especially sassy nuns.”
Even though Townsend is a wonderfully sunny person who enjoys playing Catholic hymns on her recorder, she is concerned about the misconceptions people have about Catholicism.
“Some people don’t understand Catholics are Christians,” Townsend said. “We don’t worship Mary or the Saints. We ask them for their intercessions. It’s like asking someone else to pray for us.”
There are also aspects of Catholicism that trouble her.
“One in four Catholics are practicing Catholics” Townsend said. “That many people are straying from the faith breaks my heart.”
Townsend encourages people to ask her questions about her faith and what it’s like to be Catholic. Whether it be over a mug of coffee or a cup of tea, Townsend loves chatting about why she loves Jesus. However, it may take some schedule arranging because, “We’re known for being late!” Townsend said.