Few students are afforded the opportunity to study in Oxford, England. Fewer still are able to study in the private archive of the late Catholic apologist, poet, and novelist G.K. Chesterton. But that is exactly what six upperclassmen from the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts did in the Summer of 2010.
The College’s Center for Faith and Culture, based in Oxford, hosted the three week “Catholic Culture of the British Isles Programme.” The program enabled students to conduct graduate level work examining the history, literature, and spirituality of Catholic Britain from its flowering in the late middle ages through the period of destruction and persecution, and into its refulgence in the modern age.
The mission of the College’s Center for Faith and Culture is to recover and build upon the rich legacy of Catholic humanism associated with figures such as Cardinal John Henry Newman, G.K. Chesterton, Christopher Dawson, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien. Through publications and short courses, the Center aims to foster a “new springtime” of Christian faith in the 21st century and a “culture of life” spoken of by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
The Center currently produces the College’s journal, Second Spring: International Journal of Faith and Culture, and houses a research library dedicated to G.K. Chesterton which includes Chesterton’s books, writings, and other personal belongings. Thomas More College is the current caretaker of the collection for the Chesterton Library Trust.
Students participating in this year’s “Catholic Culture of the British Isles Programme” included Joseph Rudolph, Marielle Gage, Jonathan Gottlieb, Katie Lloyd, Meryl Trapp, and Tyler Tracy—all of whom are planning to attend graduate school upon graduating from Thomas More College.
Prior to their trip to Oxford, students spent one week on Thomas More College’s New Hampshire campus receiving an introduction to the British Catholic Revival. Students heard lectures of “The Formation of Catholic Culture in Britain,” “Britain in the High Middle Ages,” “The Tudor Revolution,” and “The Years of Persecution and Secrecy.”
“Having led many of the seminars, I must say that the students participating in this year’s Oxford Program were of the highest calibre,” said Thomas More College President William Fahey. “They were eager to learn, and were committed to developing a greater understanding and appreciation of the history, literature, and spirituality of Catholic Britain.”
After one week in New Hampshire, students boarded an airplane for London and Oxford. There, the director of the Center for Faith and Culture, Stratford Caldecott, collected the students and they set out for two weeks of study in the City of Dreaming Spires.
“The coursework in Oxford focused on giving students a sense of the position of Catholics in England since the late Middle Ages,” said Caldecott. “We also gave them a deeper understanding of the importance of the imagination. Apart from our main topics, we also looked at other Christian writers from Chaucer and Shakespeare (taught by Lady Clare Asquith) to Hopkins, and there were excursions and guided tours to places like Stonor Park, where St. Edmund Campion ran his illicit printing press, and the Tower of London, where St. Thomas More was incarcerated and buried.”
Students were required to read 18 books as part of the program, and are currently completing a research paper that is due at the end of this month.
“The Caldecotts were wonderful, as were all the guest lecturers we had,” said sophomore Marielle Gage. “All of the teachers were so knowledgeable and passionate about what they were teaching and conveyed so much to us in the time we spent with them.”
In addition to their regular coursework and the other excursions, students visited many key sites in Oxford, including Tolkien’s grave, C.S. Lewis’s home, the Oxford Oratory, and Newman’s retreat center in Littlemore where he was received into the Catholic Church.
Students found that these visits brought immediacy and relevance to their readings and coursework.
“To study Newman in his own office at Littlemore was unbelievable,” said Thomas More College junior Meryl Trapp. “The desk he wrote on is there, along with other possessions of his. It made our coursework that day all the more immediate and tangible.”
Marielle Gage agreed. “It would take a book to give justice to our trip, but I can say that it was definitely a highlight of my life so far. Just being there, where St. Edmund Campion was educated and where Cardinal Newman converted, where Lewis taught and Tolkien thought, was amazing.”