Recently, a Salt + Light crew went to the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas. That crew included Pedro & me as producers, Wally Tello & Richard Valenti as cameramen, and Chris Valka, C.S.B., as our production coordinator. All headed, of course, by our CEO, Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B.
One of the shows coming out of that trip is our two-part Catholic Focus entitled: From the Heart of the Church: The Catholic University. Co-hosted by Pedro and me, the first part aired yesterday, and the second part airs tonight.
It’s interesting that Pedro graduated from a secular university, as he shared in yesterday’s blog. I come from the opposite end of the spectrum, graduating from a Catholic liberal arts college, and one of the best, I might add – Thomas Aquinas College in California.
I went to the University of Toronto right after high school, not knowing exactly what to study --- I loved English (literature and creative writing), and thought I could take that and psychology, French, philosophy… I didn’t want to cross out any options in the sciences either, and so I enrolled in the Arts and Sciences program.
Instinctively, I knew that I needed to know the TRUTH about life, nature, the world, the arts, in order to be a “fulfilled human being.” But I was lacking a trust in my program – am I learning the right things, the truth? Am I learning these things in the right order? Who is the authority behind these texts?
Eventually, I left U of T after a year, took some time off to rediscover my Catholic faith, underwent a conversion in my spiritual life, and was finally ready to pursue post-secondary studies again. And there was no debate about it – I HAD to go to a Catholic college or university, and the best one for me.
Thomas Aquinas College in the mountains of California is like a stronghold of Catholic orthodoxy and an oasis of spiritual and physical beauty. It is so authentic from the inside out, and so rigorous in its demands, forming the student’s heart and soul. It is distinct from the University of St. Thomas in that it provides an “immersion experience” in the Catholic culture. I studied the greatest minds, the best books, all using the Socratic method of discussion in a school of less than 300 students at the time. Not one of us studied for a profession directly, but we were all prepared for life.
And so I got a truly liberal education, an education that made me “free”. Visiting the University of St. Thomas in Texas offered me a different perspective in Catholic liberal arts education. As a “persuasion university”, UST has over 3,000 students, offers professional programs, and is set in the middle of a busy city, where students find themselves immediately engaged in the culture around them.
It was really refreshing to see the diversity of Catholic universities that could suit a variety of tastes and personalities. It was great to be reminded that faith and reason do not contradict and, in fact, need each other. And what a wonderful patron St. Thomas Aquinas is for both universities – he is the Doctor of the Church whose lasting legacy is to have established the true relations between faith and reason.
It’s also great to know that wherever faith is present, one always feels at home. And I really did, at UST. Experiencing the liturgy, seeing how the students treat each other, how they live their everyday life – that was a real testimony. And isn’t that where the real proof of a Catholicity of a university lies – in its effect on the lives of the people who are part of it? As Fr. Robert Barringer, C.S.B., a Member of the Board of Directors for UST, says about what it means to be a Catholic university: “I think the sectarian temptation today is to say that if you don’t have this and this, you’re not Catholic. I think the more important understanding is, do you think with the Church? Do you have that habitus
of understanding, of looking for the truth in all of its deeper dimensions?” The one who seeks truth will definitely find it if their heart is with the Church.
Part two of From the Heart of the Church: The Catholic University
airs Friday, March 28th, at 7pm and 11pm ET.