Engaging Thought Outside the Classroom

Intellectual Endeavors

The task of educating undergraduate students at the University of St. Thomas is no small feat. Each department has its own set of requirements, and each classroom professor has his/her own particular syllabi and set of book lists. Yet in order to fully educate students, a Catholic university should be mindful of the current intellectual endeavors across various disciplines as well as in the broader society. Archbishop John Roach, for whom the John R. Roach Center for the Liberal Arts is named, believed that education should engage culture. In his book, Reflections, he writes, “Catholic scholarship must contribute its share in the formulation of answers to the great questions our society faces. Unless people who have integrated faith and life are participating in addressing great societal problems, then the moral dimensions of issues like world hunger, poverty, human rights, the right to life and the arms race will go unexamined, and that means the debate is going to be incomplete.” Roach rightly called for the education of students to include the examination of and a faithful response to culture in addition to the normal routine of academia. The need for engagement of thought outside of the classroom was a topic of the convocation to the faculty by Father Dennis Dease in September. Over the past summer, a lively public debate over global warming involving a university engineering professor prompted Father Dease to reflect on the importance of academia in the public life. According to Father Dease, the debate “deepened my own appreciation of the important role members of our academic community play in shedding light on issues that are vital to the common good.” He went on to articulate that the mission of the university includes an education which educates students to be morally responsible leaders who advance the common good, and that the university values intellectual inquiry as a lifelong habit.

In engaging society, the Center for Catholic Studies regularly offers lectures which examine the moral dimensions of society in light of the faith. Each institute within the center sponsors guest speakers who address problems within society and examine these issues through a Catholic lens. Last year, for example, the Terrence J. Murphy Institute for Catholic Thought, Law, and Public Policy hosted Dr. Christopher Wolfe, who asked the question “Can (and Should) We Legislate Morality?” The John A. Ryan Institute for Catholic Social Thought engaged José Ignatio Mariscal, who spoke on the necessity for entrepreneurs to follow a business model based on Catholic values. The current immigration crisis was addressed by Dr. Peter Casarella, in a lecture sponsored by The Joseph and Edith Habiger Institute for Catholic Leadership.

Dr. Robert Kennedy, co-director of the Murphy Institute, recruits speakers whose work reflects this integration of culture and faith. “A major portion of the Murphy Institute’s efforts is directed to examining issues important to law and politics from a Catholic perspective,” states Kennedy. He continues, “In October we hosted U.S. District Court Judge Ralph Erickson, who spoke to law students about the challenges of sentencing criminals and the repercussions of that sentencing on family life and community.” In November, the Murphy Institute hosted Dr. Gilbert Meilaender, an authority on the theme of human dignity and its relation to law and politics. In addition to his public lecture, Meilaender led a colloquium with faculty, specifically to address the very same topic. In the spring, the Murphy Institute will continue its engagement between education and society and will host a federal judge to talk with students about capital punishment.

The past fall saw no respite from the engagement of moral issues and the intellectual response of faith from the perspective of business and the Church. Bill Brinkmann, vice-president of formation at Ascension Health Care, discussed the challenge of maintaining and renewing Catholic identity in health care. George Weigel, senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., spoke on the life of Pope John Paul II and the impact his life’s work had on secular society. Lastly, the Ryan Institute hosted Cardinal Peter K. A. Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, who delivered a lecture, titled “Caritas in veritate: Good News for Society.” [See accompanying articles].

The intellectual endeavor of education outside the classroom does not apply only to undergraduate students. In addition to the public lecture opportunities, the Catholic Studies Master of Arts program hosts a Latin Club. The club is designed to encourage graduate students in an independent venture of Latin study. CSMA student and Latin Club participant Jacob Rhein offers a unique perspective on study in the classroom versus education outside the classroom. “In a graduate program, the classroom really isn't the place for intellectual pursuits. It's the place where we get directions, check our progress and share our findings. So for the most part, the pursuit of knowledge takes place in outside study.”

Students in the Latin Club gather in the Sitzmann Hall graduate student lounge with a Latin textbook in tow. They support and encourage each other in the pursuit of Latin mastery and are often visited by Jerry Reedy, a guest speaker who supports the students and answers questions they may have regarding the language, culture or even the historical background of a particular Latin text. Dr. John Boyle, director of graduate programs in Catholic Studies, believes that students are looking for this kind of community atmosphere. “Graduate students wanted to study and read Latin on their own, but recognized the value of working together and helping each other; hence a student-run Latin Club. This is just one more instance of the seriousness and enthusiasm with which our students pursue their intellectual formation in Catholic Studies.”

How did the Latin Club come into existence? Many of the students in the CSMA program have wanted to study the language of the Church, but haven't had the tenacity to do it alone. We all need friends to nudge us forward now and then. Someone said that religious vows are the support of weak virtue. I suppose you also could say that a Latin club is the support of weak resolve. With the encouragement of Dr. Boyle, some students began to meet together this summer, and they made steady progress. This semester we are picking up where they left off. – Jacob Rhein, graduate student, Catholic Studies

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