The 2001-02 academic year began twice at MIT - once on Sept. 5, the first day of classes, and again on Sept. 11, a day no one thought could ever happen here.
Last winter, the Rev. Amy McCreath, MIT's Episcopal chaplain, looked back over the twice-started year, noting how the events of September had affected the emotional and spiritual lives of the community.
"As a chaplain at this Institute, I believe that the most important spiritual impact of the events of September 11th and following on MIT students is only just beginning to emerge," she wrote.
In a reflection written on behalf of the MIT Board of Chaplains, she recalled her own and her colleagues' initial reactions. "Like everyone else, we were in shock; we were in grief; we were speechless," she wrote.
McCreath characterized the spiritual needs of students in the days immediately following the attacks as focused on the beliefs and practices brought from home. "In our individual denominational gatherings in the days following Sept. 11, students asked to mourn using the traditions and rites with which they were most familiar and comfortable.
"In the Lutheran/Episcopal ministry, we turned to the Litany, an exhaustive penitential prayer used in liturgical churches in times of great sorrow or national crisis. At Sabbath services, Jewish students sang songs of peace in Hebrew and English and lit traditional yahrzeit candles for those who had died.
"Students united across usually observed divisions to pray together, with Conservative, Orthodox and Reform Jewish students praying together in the immediate aftermath of the tragedies, and the Roman Catholic, Protestant, Lutheran and Episcopal student groups gathering together to pray for peace throughout the Advent season," McCreath wrote.
She and her colleagues also witnessed "profound spiritual healing happening in places traditionally labeled 'secular' at the Institute: in the Reflecting Wall designed by members of the architecture department, in the massive community gathering at Killian Court, and in the running conversation on the walls of Lobby 10, which became like a cathedral to the human spirit in all its passionate and messy dimensions."
Classrooms were transformed as faculty allowed time for students to "talk through their pain and fear, which, as student after student reported to us when it happened, was the greatest gift the faculty could give them," McCreath wrote.
As the school year went on, many students resumed their academic lives. For those who continued to participate in the chaplaincy programs, however, new questions came to the surface, McCreath wrote. "Should we pray for our enemies? Can we forgive those who perpetrated or supported these attacks? Shall we pray for peace, even as the U.S. government calls for war? What kind of peace does our scripture or our tradition point to - the absence of violence? Or a lasting and just settlement between people?"
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 11, 2002.