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Summer 2013

In the last few months, while the world has witnessed the first resignation of the bishop of Rome in six centuries, the election of one with the hopes of the world on his shoulders, renewed violence in Egypt and ongoing horror in Syria, the change in my own life is both far more modest, and more pleasant to share. Of the others, no doubt more will be said.

In May I was informed that my hours at the John Paul II Center for Interreligious Dialogue will be reduced. The Russell Berrie Foundation and the Angelicum– co-operators in the direction of the Center – have been very generous in keeping me on as the Graduate Assistant (and de facto only regular staff person) for the last two years since my fellowship was concluded.  I will continue for the coming academic year in the same capacity, and await anxiously news of the next stage of the Center and the Russell Berrie Fellowship in Interreligious Studies at the Angelicum, and whether I may continue to be a part of it.

The reduction in hours, including two summer months without any work, meant three things:

  • I would have to find additional work to pay for my studies and living expenses (no doctoral stipends in Rome!);
  • I would have to leave the Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas, my home in Rome the last four years;
  • I would have an entirely free summer – and even fewer resources with which to enjoy it.

As with my original move to Rome, however, providence provides.

Within a week, three work opportunities presented themselves, which all eventually came to fruition. One even had the advantage of ‘killing two birds with one stone’ and taking care of the accommodation question as well.

  1. In mid-August, I take on the role of Resident Manager (Domers, read ‘rector’) for The Catholic University of America’s flagship study abroad program, happily joining the staff of my first graduate school, in the city of my latest.
    It comes with a spacious corner apartment at the Prati campus – furnished in the colors of Halloween. (I kid you not: Pumpkin-colored couch, dining room chairs, tableware, salad bowl, etc… St. Mary Magdalen folks, Fr. Marquart would have absolutely loved it…).

    The 70's would be proud

    The 70’s would be proud

  2. In mid-September, I begin teaching my first university level course as an Adjunct Assistant Professor for Assumption College (Worcester, MA) for their new Rome program. My course is part of the core curriculum, titled “Contemporary Catholicism”. And I get to teach it, in Rome, in the semester that Popes John XXXIII and John Paul II are being canonized. How about them apples, fellow theologians? Preparing the syllabus took the first part of my summer vacation, but has been a great deal of fun.
  1. In February, I start teaching my first specialized course in Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue at the university level, this time at one of the Roman colleges (seminaries), the Pontifical Beda College, where second-career Anglophone seminarians usually find themselves. The course is offered during the fourth year, so all of my students will be transitional deacons – which should make for some fun conversations given my research area!

As for the free summer? Staying in Rome is an expensive proposition… but so is returning home to Seattle.

Suddenly, a little casual research into the interplay of Eastern Orthodoxy and Islam in central and southeastern Europe seemed appealing. It is amazing how far you can get there on a limited budget, a ecumenical network, and whatever else providence can provide…

Dr. Ralph McInerny

Professor Ralph McInerny, 1929-2010

Notre Dame Professor Ralph McInerny was called home to the Lord yesterday morning. He was 80, and had spent more than 50 years as a Philosophy professor there,  and became one of our nation’s leading Thomists. He was given an endowed chair the same year i was born. He directed the Jacques Maritain Center and the Medieval Institute, and served as a visiting professor for universities around the world, including here in Rome. In addition to his two dozen scholarly books, he has authored something like eighty novels. He co-founded Crisis magazine, the standard bearer of conservative Catholicism in the U.S. for years, and was still writing articles when President Obama gave the commencement address at Our Lady’s University last year.

Though he was teaching throughout my time under the Golden Dome, I never had him for a class. In part, this was because I paid more attention to my theology major than my philosophy major (by a ratio of 2:1), and he did not teach the required philosophy courses. Partially, it was because he was so popular with some of my Knights of Columbus colleagues and other philo majors, that I felt like I was taking a seminar with him anyway, just from our conversations! I did hear him speak on several occasions, and had a few conversations with him outside the lecture hall.

The most memorable was actually after I graduated from Notre Dame, and was a graduate student at The Catholic University of America. The Theology Students Association hosted a series of guest lecturers throughout the year, and Prof. McInerny was invited during my second year. As one of four or five officers – the only one not a priest or seminarian at that time – I was invited to dinner before the lecture with the Professor and the other officers. I do not recall the topic of his lecture, for what impressed me most was the conversation over dinner. He is a tribute to a different kind of Catholic, a different generation, “old school” in a positive way – a living reminder that a great man’s followers usually lack his balance.

Notre Dame's Basilica of the Sacred Heart and Main Building

One of the first questions asked by one of the seminarians was about Father Ted Hesburgh, CSC, who had served as president of Notre Dame for 35 years, starting just three years before Ralph McInerny was hired as an instructor in philosophy in 1955. They were practically salivating to get the “inside scoop” from this icon of neo-conservative Catholicism on the ‘archliberal’ priest-president who lead Notre Dame and much of American Catholicism through the civil rights movement and the Second Vatican Council. I had never before felt such palpable ill-will by Catholics to a priest, especially one of such prominence and accomplishment (yes, I was still a young and naïve 24!).

“We are good friends. We do not always agree, but he is a good priest, and I have nothing but respect for the man.”

Silence. Slack  jaws. And some little monster inside of me shouting “yes!” in a fit of indignant righteousness.

He offered such a contrast to my own generation, wherein the different schools of thought, philosophies, ecclesiologies, interpretations of tradition or scripture have hardened in such a way that the other is not only ‘other’ but has become the enemy – vile and to be despised. It is the oldest trick in the book, divide and conquer!  If we are really striving for continuity in tradition, why not embrace the idea that we can disagree without being disagreeable, like Ralph McInerny and Ted Hesburgh? Is that too passé?

Professor McInerny was a prolific researcher and teacher, and I have not agreed with everything I have heard from him or from those he has taught, but I have a profound respect for him, and was honored to have made his acquaintance. He was an important part of the spirit of Notre Dame.

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