Last fall in Los Angeles I chaired a session at the meeting of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars which featured Marvin O’Connell, Leonard Kennedy, Mary Rousseau, and Thomas Langan on the general topic of the mission of the Catholic university. Since there is something of a gap between the ideal and the reality, the subsequent discussion inevitably dwelt on various academic and other outrages.
Now, as we all know, it is possible to attend to tales of the outrageous with what used to be called morose delectation, and I succumbed to it for a while, until, looking out over the assembly from my vantage point, it occurred to me that the room was full of people who are doing tremendous things for the Church. The Fellowship itself, the brainchild of Monsignor William Kelly, has done much over the past decade to counter the nonsense emanating from dissident theologians. I took the occasion to draw attention to this brighter side of the Church in the United States.
Moreover, had I gone on, I could have mentioned the growing number of converts and reverts to Catholicism who are eager to do things for the Church. Over the past several years, I have met many young men and women whose work is in the government or in the media or in the Academy, who are filled with zeal and doing great things for the Church. Among them, however, are many who realize that they have become somewhat overextended, that they are not as imbued with the mind of the Church as they would like to be. They would very much like to do something to remedy this, to immerse themselves in the Catholic tradition, but there is no easy way of doing so. They are not in a position to go back to school. What they would like is an intensive and orthodox crash course in a number of key areas.
This June a dozen of them will have an opportunity to take part in a Summer Institute specifically designed to meet their needs. ‘Thanks to the generosity of the Our Sunday Vistor Foundation and under the auspices of the Jacques Maritain Center at the University of Notre Dame, they will spend two weeks with such mentors as Joseph Fessio, S.J., Marvin O’Connell, William Smith, Monsignor Eugene Clark, Jude Dougherty, Janet Smith, and your humble servant. The Magisterium, Modernism, Church and State, Humanae Vitae, themes in moral theology, the Thomistic Revival and other fundamental topics will be discussed.
The format of the institute is modeled on an NEH summer program I ran a few years ago, but with significant differences. It is shorter so that the participants can find the time, but it will pay their expenses and lodge them on the Notre Dame campus. There will be daily Mass and the recitation of the morning and evening prayers of the Church. We will meet in the Maritain Center and the morning session will begin with a lecture, followed by discussion of it. Afternoons will be devoted to seminar discussions based on assigned readings. The idea is to either refresh or initiate people into areas of Catholic thought and enable them to go on after the institute is done.
Some time ago I wrote of the Cercle d’etudes thomistes founded by Jacques and Raïssa Maritain. These two young converts wanted to deepen their own and others knowledge of Catholicism and they insisted on the complementarity of the intellectual and spiritual lives. Our summer institute takes its inspiration from that model. It was Father Fessio who suggested saying the prayer of the Church at the beginning and end of each day.
Converts and reverts — cradle Catholics who drifted away from the faith and are now returned — have often been the leaven the Church needs for renewal. Think of the many good things going on in the Church in this country which are the work of converts.
If this summer institute can help more people bring about the renewal that the Fathers of Vatican II had in mind, thus off-setting the false spirit of the Council which has done so much harm, it will have achieved its purpose.
My only regret is that we have room for only a few good people. Perhaps, deo volente, if the institute is successful it will continue and expand.