THE FUGATE CHAIR OF CATHOLIC THOUGHT
“Push back against the age as hard as it pushes against you.” – Flannery O’Connor
BY FR. JOHN N. HAY, PASTOR
“All human beings stretch outwards toward knowing.” – Aristotle. The classical understanding of education associates knowledge and virtue very closely – so closely in fact that for the Greek, education and doing right were synonymous. Plato believed that if you knew the right thing to do, you would do it. While we know this is not the case, Plato did not entirely miss the target, just the bulls-eye. Plato’s logic was that if sin is ignorance and knowledge dispels ignorance, then knowledge is virtue. For the ancient world and up to recent history, the orientation of education has always been toward human formation. This is why classical liberal arts are not so much about mere factual knowledge as it is about the art of living.
Why is this important? The great short-story writer, Flannery O’Connor, illuminates the importance of education through her discovery of the power of ideas. O’Connor knew that the greatest threat to the human race was not ecological, but philosophical. Ideas are what fuel the greatest undertakings toward good or the most momentous movements toward evil. Within the last century, a radically reoriented approach to education has divorced knowledge from virtue, and formed an exclusive alliance between knowledge and career preparation. A costly consequence is incurred when education as the adventure to become a better person is jettisoned in favor of education for what is useful, because it lacks integrity or wholeness and treats only a part of the human person, resulting in overwhelming fragmentation. At this critical juncture in life, the college student is frequently presented with a crass materialism where there is no greater meaning to life. The relationship between education and virtue is more concretely seen when we look at the fact that we cannot love what we do not know. When education is reduced to only what is practical, we don’t just lose facts, we lose stewards.
What can be done? Flannery O’Connor said: “We must push back against the age as hard as it pushes against you.” A push is being made in many places that many would consider unlikely: on secular university campuses around the country where there are also Catholic Student Centers. These movements or revivals are projects that birth a re-understanding of the wonder of life, as embodied in the motto: Nascantur in Admiratione, “to be born in wonder.” Once life is re-understood through the lens of wonder, the possibility of reducing the human person to a tool is traded for the understanding of the human person as a transcendental being with an insatiable thirst for Goodness, Truth, and Beauty. Education becomes the adventure of becoming the best version of one’s self.
Stewardship is only possible when one sees the world through the lens of the reality that everything is a gift. Larry and Dana Fugate have made a generous, sacrificial, and substantial gift to establish the Chair of Catholic thought at St. Paul University Parish at Wichita State. The Fugate Chair of Catholic Thought will help provide formational opportunities to college students to help them rekindle the wonder of life.