To translate Benjamin Franklin’s nonsectarian civic vision for Penn, American democracy, and international affairs into an intellectually robust agenda of research and reflection regarding religion’s historical, philosophical, cultural, and practical significance, and to spotlight and support local, national, and global faith-based programs that serve people of all faiths and of no faith.
In anticipation of the September 2015 visit to Philadelphia by Pope Francis, University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann, wrote a moving letter to the Pontiff in which she proudly described Penn as a “non-sectarian university that for more than two-and-a-half centuries has dedicated itself to our founder’s vision that ‘Doing Good to Men is the Only Service of God in our Power; and to imitate his Benificence is to glorify him.’ ”
Franklin was a faithful agnostic who strongly believed that people of all faiths and of no faith are equally entitled to the full blessings and burdens of citizenship and community life. Franklin practiced the nonsectarian creed and religious pluralism that he preached. For instance, he made charitable donations to many different churches, synagogues, mosques, and other religious institutions and causes. As historian John Fea wrote in Pennsylvania Heritage Magazine (Fall 2011):
Franklin’s religious beliefs were quintessentially American…It did not matter what one believed about God, as long as one’s religion contributed to a more benevolent society and made the world, one neighborhood at a time, a more enlightened and civilized place.
Indeed, before founding Penn in 1740, Franklin co-founded the Library Company of Philadelphia and gave it this motto (translated from the Latin Communiter Bona produrere Deum est):
To pour forth benefits for the common good is divine