Brother Ronald Addresses the Catholic Intellectual and Spiritual Tradition at SMC

This address was presented at the Mass of the Holy Spirit on Sept. 7, 2011

The readings and prayers we have heard today offer us some rich topics for reflection about the College, its mission, ourselves in our diverse backgrounds, and our common enterprise.

We can extend the idea of tongues of fire in today's readings to the sense of a college. We are intellectuals, faculty, staff and students coming together to speak about and discover truth. We might reflect on our own disciplines as those gifts of tongues as the means to speak and wonder about the knowledge we pursue and that which we discover as students or faculty.

As a college today, we have perhaps a greater diversity and richness of offerings, majors and minors, than at any time in our history. We are also developing a Core Curriculum which attempts to integrate the many disciplines through a specific series of learning outcomes.

Our common challenge is to integrate the knowledge and experience into an understanding of the Christian person and the whole of creation. The Church's guiding document on Higher Education, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, speaks to this integration of knowledge as a primary task of the university or college today:

In a Catholic University, research (and study) necessarily includes (a) the search for an integration of knowledge, (b) a dialogue between faith and reason, (c) an ethical concern, and (d) a theological perspective. …

Integration of knowledge is a process, one which will always remain incomplete; moreover, the explosion of knowledge in recent decades, together with the rigid compartmentalization of knowledge within individual academic disciplines, makes the task increasingly difficult. But a University, and especially a Catholic University, "has to be a 'living union' of individual organisms dedicated to the search for truth ... It is necessary to work towards a higher synthesis of knowledge, in which alone lies the possibility of satisfying that thirst for truth which is profoundly inscribed on the heart of the human person"(Ex Corde Ecclesiae, par. 15-16 ).

This ideal set out in Ex Corde is certainly one which must lead us in our life here at the College. It represents both a challenge and an opportunity.

Less than a year ago, the Church beatified Cardinal John Henry Newman, the author of The Idea of a University and a leading scholar of his time. He reflected on this same question of the integration of knowledge in a university enterprise more than a hundred years before the publication of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, and I quote:

Here, then, I conceive, is the object of the Holy See and the Catholic Church in setting up Universities; it is to reunite things which were in the beginning joined together by God, and have been put asunder by man. Some persons will say that I am thinking of confining, distorting, and stunting the growth of the intellect by ecclesiastical supervision. I have no such thought. Nor have I any thought of a compromise, as if religion must give up something, and science something. I wish the intellect to range with the utmost freedom, and religion to enjoy an equal freedom; but what I am stipulating for is, that they should be found in one and the same place, and exemplified in the same persons…I want the same roof to contain both the intellectual and moral discipline. Devotion is not a sort of finish given to the sciences; nor is science a sort of feather in the cap, if I may so express myself, an ornament and set-off to devotion. I want the intellectual lay person to be religious, and the devout ecclesiastic to be intellectual. (Sermons preached on various occasions, 13-14)

Certainly, Newman's words are a challenge to us all to create a very distinct community, living out our Catholic and Lasallian heritage. His words are a call for us to be people of great intellectual quality and high moral character.

I have specifically included Cardinal Newman's words because we will have the opportunity to reflect together on these questions in a symposium on Cardinal Newman in late October. I invite all of you to participate and share your insights about these essential questions in a dialogue about faith and reason.

In closing, I express my best wishes to each of you for a successful and enriching academic year, full of an abundance of discovery and wonder.

Brother Ronald Gallagher, FSC