The Connection of Church and State: Harrisburg Legatus Chapter Meets at the Capitol
On Tuesday, February 20th, Harrisburg Legates held a chapter meeting unlike any other. The entire evening took place within the hollowed halls of the Pennsylvania Capitol Building in downtown Harrisburg, including Confession, Rosary, and Mass. Harrisburg, Legatus’ fastest growing chartered chapter from 2017 and most decorated chapter by awards received at the 2018 Legatus Summit in Orlando, celebrated its recent good fortune in a very special way.
The unique evening was made possible by Senator John DiSanto and his wife Maria, founding members of the Harrisburg Legatus Chapter. In 2016, DiSanto was elected as a Senator in the Commonwealth after a long and accomplished career in construction and real estate development. A full-access, in-depth guided tour of the Capitol preceded the Legatus meeting.
The influence of Christian themes and imagery is omnipresent at Pennsylvania’s Capitol. The centerpiece, as with most capitol buildings, is its dome – colored a distinctive green on the exterior with a design inspired by Michelangelo’s plans for St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. A massive mural on the interior of the dome calls forth “religion” as a pillar of Pennsylvanian society – within a 272-foot-tall rotunda interior inspired by the foyer of the Paris Opera House. Wrapped around the rotunda is a timeless quote from William Penn, the Founder of the Commonwealth: “There may be room there for such a holy experiment, for the nations want a precedent. And my God will make it the seed of a nation. That an example may be set up to the nations. That we may do the thing that is truly wise and just.” The quote reminds all visitors that faith in God and hope the American people would honor him were considered essential by both the founding generations of our nation and the builders of this twentieth-century public building.
Highlights of the tour, aside from rare access to both the House and Senate floors, included a detailed presentation in the Governor’s Reception Room, whose walls are lined with murals expressing Christian messages and celebrating the “spirit of religious liberty”. Moving to the Supreme Court Chamber, a majestic room with a massive image of the Ten Commandments sprawling across the wall behind the justice’s bench. Artwork in this chamber includes tributes to “Divine Law”, the full text of the Beatitudes teaching laid out underneath an image of Christ, and the crediting of “The Creator” as the originator of the law alongside numerous references to Natural Law and “Divine Law”. Many Legates commented that the Chamber was richer in Christian references than many churches they had visited.
After Mass, the question was posed how often a Catholic Bishop has celebrated a full daily Mass alongside both Confession and praying of the Rosary before at the Pennsylvania Capitol. No one knows for sure, but it is infrequent, and it happened this time because of Legatus. As rare and exceptional as the Legatus visit to the Pennsylvania Capitol was; when one considers the overall theme that the building conveys to all that enter: clearly reveling in the Catholic origins of Western Civilization and the deep Christian faith of the founders of the American Republic, it also seemed perfectly appropriate. If our nation’s finest state capitol could easily pass for a majestic Christian shrine, and Legatus members feel perfectly at home professing their faith and participating in the sacraments under its dome, perhaps Legates and other Catholics everywhere should feel completely confident anywhere expressing their authentic beliefs in both their business and personal lives, too.
John M. Knowles is Legatus’ Northeast Region Director.