Published April 6, 2011
Hundreds of Harvard University graduates, professors and community members gathered at the school’s Memorial Church Wednesday to remember their longtime spiritual leader, Rev. Peter Gomes, who died last month.
Harvard luminaries stood in line for more than an hour to make sure they would have a seat in the church Gomes served since 1970.
Former Harvard President Derek Bok was among the speakers at the memorial service. Bok recalled the many qualities that made Gomes truly individual.
“His sheer uniqueness — a Republican in a sea of Democrats, a gay man in a straight society, a Puritan from Plymouth descended from slaves,” Bok said.
Current Harvard President Drew Faust also cited Gomes’ originality.
“An African-American from Plymouth, a Baptist in Memorial Church, a Republican in Cambridge, out-of-the-closet and out-of-the-box,” Faust said. “I always sensed that he prized these… Peter would simply say he was who he was and it always made sense to him.”
Faust recalled listening to an interview with Gomes the night he died, simply because she wanted to hear her friend’s voice. She described Wednesday how Gomes discussed what, for him, is the Bible’s most difficult command.
“‘To love others.’ Peter said with a smile, ‘It’s so hard to love other people, they are so unlovely, so unlovable.’ But of course Peter loved so freely and he was so loved in return.”
Gov. Deval Patrick met Gomes as an undergrad at Harvard and developed a lasting friendship with him. He told mourners that Gomes’ ability to follow his own unique compass drew others to him and gave him strength.
“By refusing to be put in anybody else’s box, Peter Gomes may have been the freest man I have ever known,” Patrick said.
Patrick remembered Gomes saying that he was not an optimist, but that he held onto hope.
“‘Faith,’ he said, ‘is the conviction that hope works.’ For Peter’s sake, and the sake of our dear preacher and teacher and friend, may we all continue to listen.”
Patrick joked that Harvard alums don’t die, they just turn into buildings. Then, becoming serious, Patrick said Gomes will be remembered for all the graduates whose contact with him has made them better people.
With additional reporting from WBUR’s Sacha Pfeiffer.