A photo of the statue of St. Augustine outside the Tsotsis Family Academic Center at Assumption University.

“Friendship had other attractions which were very important to me – we could talk and laugh – help each other in small ways – reading some books together and plucking out phrases – going places together – sometimes we would be quite serious with one another – other times we could act the fool together. When we argued with each other it was not a bitter argument but like the kind you have with yourself…which made our teaching and learning and our usual harmony with each other more meaningful. Each of us had something to learn, some correction to undergo, from the other – and we understood that.” 
– Saint Augustine, Confessions 

A Commitment to Civic Friendship 

Polarization—whether over politics, religion, or other divides—is paralyzing our society.

Many universities aren’t helping. From either direction of the spectrum, students feel pressure to believe what they’re told and to avoid saying what they really think. Assumption University’s vision—embodied in an exciting and innovative new initiative—is different.  

Housed in the Office of Academic Affairs, Assumption’s new Center for Civic Friendship embodies our belief that ideas should be exchanged openly and disagreements should be voiced respectfully. It’s also about something different. Friends disagree with each other. They learn from each other. They challenge each other—and they embrace the opportunity and responsibility to do so precisely because they respect one another. Civic friendship is the friendship of citizens — members of a community whose disagreements occur within the context of common purpose. 

Reflecting Assumption’s educational commitment to civic friendship as a human good, the Center aspires to be a national resource and voice—a home for students, scholars, and citizens who disagree because of their friendship, not in spite of it. The Center for Civic Friendship’s public events will model civic friendship. Among other efforts, this initiative will convene scholars who explore the concept of civic friendship, its possibilities and boundaries, and what makes it harder or easier to achieve. It will cultivate the virtue of civic friendship in students and teachers at Assumption and across the nation. 

Friendly dispute is the tradition of Catholic universities dating to their formation in the Middle Ages. In our tradition of learning, deeply informed by our Augustinian roots, we pursue truth by giving reasons and listen with open minds and hearts to the reasons others give us.   

That entails a profound commitment to the essential virtues associated with learning: the courage to challenge conventional wisdom and to submit our ideas to rigorous examination; the humility to believe none of us possesses the whole truth and we therefore all can learn from one another; and the generosity to assume those espousing ideas different from our own share our commitment to seeking truth and therefore deserve a respectful hearing. Assumption University’s new Center for Civic Friendship stands as our commitment to those values. 

-President Greg Weiner 

Leadership: Center for Civic Friendship

Mary Jane Rein, Director of the Center for Civic Friendship at Assumption University

Mary Jane Rein, Ph.D.

Director, Center for Civic Friendship

Before joining the Center for Civic Friendship at Assumption University as Director, Mary Jane Rein was the Executive Director of the Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Clark University from 2008 until April 2024. Prior to joining the Strassler Center in 2004, she served as director of grants at Assumption College. She is co-editor of the volumes Documenting the Armenian Genocide: Essays in Honor of Taner Akçam (2023) and Agency and the Holocaust: Essays in Honor of Debórah Dwork (2019). 

Mary Jane has been active in the community on behalf of the Israel Bonds committee of Central Massachusetts, as a board member and past president of the Worcester JCC, a corporator at the Greater Worcester Community Foundation and the Worcester Art Museum. Over more than two decades, she volunteered on behalf of the Worcester Jewish community as president of the Solomon Schechter Day School, board member of the Jewish Federation of Central Massachusetts and Congregation Beth Israel, and founding co-chair of the Pardes community religious school. The Jewish Federation of Central Massachusetts awarded her the Seder Young Leadership award in 2002 and she was honored by Israel Bonds in 2019. She earned a Ph.D. in Classical Art and Archaeology from Harvard University in 1993 and has worked as an archaeologist in Greece, Israel, and Turkey. Her husband Dr. Seth Kates is a dermatologist with practices in Worcester and Chelmsford, MA. They are parents to Gabriel, Elana, and Julian.