"In our Collegiate Seminar, we like to say we are not simply having a conversation with the text but with the person who wrote the text," Brother Donald Mansir, FSC, director of the Saint Mary's College Community of De La Salle Christian Brothers, told those gathered on Nov. 17 for the first visit of the new bishop of Oakland to the Saint Mary's College campus.
Hosted by the College's John S. Cummins Catholic Institute for Thought, Culture, and Action, the conversation with Most Reverend Allen H. Vigneron focused on a specific text: the bishop's essay titled "The New Evangelization and the Teaching of Philosophy." In it, he presented his views regarding the role of Catholic philosophers and Catholic higher education in transforming the broader culture through Catholic values.
Both the topic and the man were of interest to faculty, students, and staff participating in the discussion.
"I was very impressed by his erudition and his thoughtfulness. He lived up to what I would have hoped in reading the article ... He seemed to carry his authority lightly but well," said Patrick Downey, a professor of philosophy.
Paul Giurlanda, chair of the College's Religious Studies department, added, "All of us were impressed with the bishop's obvious intellectual depth as well as his personal warmth and good humor, and his willingness to entertain different points of view. This speaks of someone of confidence and strength. I think that the bishop was probably also impressed by the level of intellectual seriousness of the group at Saint Mary's."
Although centered on the bishop's essay, the conversation proved wide-ranging. As Nathan Cho '04, a philosophy and religious studies double major, noted, "The questions that many of our faculty raised are significant in light of our role as a Catholic institution of higher education ... The question raised by Rabbi Harry Manhoff [a member of the College's Religious Studies department] is of paramount importance: What is a non-Catholic faculty member's role at the College in light of its articulated mission? How are these staff members to take an active role, a mutual participation in the goals of Catholic higher education? Certainly, the bishop's reply did not advocate a mere passive role, but rather at least a subtle participation in the dialogue regarding Catholic education."
Summing up the visit, Daniel Villarreal, a student in the College's Integral Program, said, "How could one not be impressed by him? How could one not be proud of Saint Mary's for hosting such an event? And how could one not be honored to participate in such activities?"
Bishop Vigneron assumed leadership of the Oakland diocese in October, succeeding Bishop John S. Cummins, who will join Saint Mary's Catholic Institute in January. Bishop Vigneron previously served for more than seven years as the auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Detroit. He received his A.B. degree in philosophy and classical languages from Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit, a Licentiate in Sacred Theology degree from Gregorian University, and both an M.A. and Ph.D. in philosophy from the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
-- by Amy DerBedrosian