|Celebrating and Reflecting on Twenty Years
By Thomas M. Landy
Perhaps it's just the reticent New Englander in me, or it's just because Collegium has long been so deeply interwoven with my own identity, but I must confess that I have always been a bit conflicted about leading an anniversary celebration for Collegium. So I was grateful to Michael Galligan-Stierle and the Collegium Board, who not only insisted that we had much to celebrate, but also took steps to do so. Karen Eifler, Sr. Eva Hooker, Dennis McAuliffe, John Neary and Maura Tyrell planned the event, and with Joyce's help did an outstanding job bringing it to life. Fr. Dennis Holtschneider and DePaul University stepped up to be such amazing hosts.
All I had to do, besides the board meeting, was to speak in the afternoon to the gathered friends of Collegium in Chicago, and to enjoy what was being so generously offered by these friends on both occasions.
Some friends had suggested that in Chicago I should speak on what I had originally hoped for from Collegium, and what had changed along the way. I chose a somewhat different topic. Having explored the nature of the intellectual life at Collegium a number of times, I took the invitation to speak as a challenge to think about something new, and decided to explore what we mean by "faith" in a colloquy "on faith and the intellectual life." A video of that talk, and the panel that followed it, is accessible online here.
My talk was mixed with some discussion of the challenges I have seen for Collegium's work over the years, but always in the context of this exploration of what it means to have faith. I also wanted to express my deep sense of gratitude to the many wonderful people of Collegium who help ground my own sense of faith and keep me focused. It was an important thing for me to think through, and I hope it was as helpful for the audience.
In my Chicago hotel room shortly before my talk and the panel discussion, as I looked in the mirror to tie my tie, I suddenly conjured up the image, from Babette's Feast, of General Lorens Loewenhielm facing his younger self in the mirror. My life circumstances and the dilemmas I faced were different than the general's, but it added an extra layer of complexity to my thought about the twenty years Collegium has been in existence. Lorens Lowenhielm thought that he was headed off to a simple supper, not to Babette's Feast. I at least knew that I was headed to a big celebration with many old friends who I was grateful to see. Though I went in to the event with a tremendous feeling of gratitude, like him I was not quite prepared for how wonderful the celebration would be. Like the people at the feast, it was too much for me to absorb, given how many wonderful people had come, how gorgeous Sr. Eva Hooker's talk was (I am eager to see it in print) and how many warm memories were shared.
• The new atheists notwithstanding, I actually see a lot more room for religion in the academy compared to twenty years ago. Many of those who were grad students in the early years spoke of how advisors discouraged interdisciplinary work that dealt with religion. Today such work has a much stronger place in the academy. Compared to twenty years ago (again with a few vocal exceptions), "Catholic identity" on campuses is seldom a restorationist ideal. Many ecclesial and non-academic lay Catholic voices may push in that direction, but overwhelmingly, the people who advocate for the Catholic mission of their institutions are hopeful and forward thinking. Faculty I see around the country are aware of the value of a Catholic mission focus, and see it enhancing their work.
Twenty years ago a lot more people expected that by now many Catholic colleges and universities would be officially secular. On the contrary, I see many more Catholic institutions thinking very carefully and acting very purposefully to enhance their Catholic mission in dialogue with other ways of knowing. I am heartened by anything that Collegium has done to help make that possible.
• Another difference, which I also touched upon in the talk, is that I found it easier (probably naively so) to hope that some of the culture wars in the church would not play themselves out as much as they have. I found it easier to be optimistic. I know, as the theologians are quick to say, that there is a difference between hope and optimism, and I certainly continue to have hope. In my talk, one of my key points was that the community of saints and scholars that is Collegium has been one of the key sources of hope for me. When I started Collegium, one of my hopes was that Collegium would be a means for taking us beyond the culture wars, that it would be a place that could help the church do its thinking, in dialogue with many other ways of knowing. That remains my hope, and it is why we talk early on about the church's need for the intellectual life and its need to continue to learn from other ways of knowing, just as much as it can contribute from what it knows. Today the center feels harder to hold in the church, and the church often feels too defensive. I resonated with the words of Cardinal Martini, just before his death this year: "What are we afraid of?" At our best, we are not, but too often there is evidence of fear that is counterproductive.
• Lastly, Collegium began with the hope that it would be a conduit for a new generation of talented graduate students to teach at Catholic colleges and universities. Early on, we had many more graduate applicants than we could accommodate – 65 graduate applications a year for 25 graduate fellowships, and we were blessed with generous Lilly Endowment support to enable these 25 to attend.
Looking to the future, I continue to take inspiration from the openness and engagement of the Second Vatican Council, and am glad to see it discussed anew in around the world as the Council turns 50. I know that the people who have been part of Collegium these twenty years have also breathed life into that endeavor in ways that leave me at a loss for words. Both anniversaries give me renewed reason for hope, and I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to have made Collegium a part of my life.
Spring 2012 : : Volume 2/Issue 13