A Fireside Chat With Students and Alumni

by Thomas More College on February 1, 2013

The scene is set.  After the hustle and bustle of finals week, the campus of Thomas More College is buzzing with the anticipation of a well-earned break. Students pack their suitcases for home and arrange various travel plans. Eventually they congregate with friends to say farewell and begin their holidays.  One might think that studies would be the last thing in mind, but sparked by challenging exam questions, many cannot resist further pondering the great themes encountered in their classical education. firepic

Instead of merely closing the door on another semester, these young men and women are eager to discern how to live the lessons of the classroom.  Finals are anything but final; they are open doors, inviting students to reflect on questions of faith, leadership and heroism—questions that bring them to where we are now, at the beginning of a new semester.

Participating in an education at the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts places the student in the line of battle, so to say.  One meets the world’s worst villains and its most resplendent saints.  Students at the College are not there simply to absorb a professor’s lectures; they become fellow inquirers into truth, sitting at the feet of the greatest philosophers and poets, painters and playwrights across the ages. By reading the original texts of Western Civilization’s brightest and best,  as opposed to textbooks, students enter into the greatest discourses of all time: not as mere bystanders, but as active participants.

One such group of alumni and students gather in front of a crackling hearth, drifting easily from small talk into conversation about literature, final exams, their Faith, and how to pursue truth and piety in today’s struggling culture.

“Liberal education accomplishes so much. For one thing, it cultivates the much needed virtues of leadership and heroism,” said Paul Guenzel, a junior, while reflecting on the hope his collegiate years have provided.  “As Catholics, we look to the saints. It seems to me that the contemplative saints have won the popularity contest among today’s Catholics. I love the contemplatives, don’t get me wrong, but I think it is time for young Catholics to look to the examples of those great warrior saints such as King Louis IX and Joan of Arc.”DSC_6488

All agreed that at Thomas More College they were introduced to a heroic faith; indeed, one calling on them to be—in a sense—warriors. After all, they are members of the Church Militant.  The present faces glowed from the warmth of the fire and the excitement of the discussion. What about Maximilian Kolbe, Martin of Tours, St. Theodore, Alfred the Great?

“We don’t only have canonized saints to look to.  There are the Templars, the Hospitallers, and what about the early Christian martyrs?” added alumnus Luke Chichester. “They were all fiercely courageous when called to be so by God. They were the kind of men and women the Church needed then and needs now—men and women of great  faith, undaunted hope, and humble charity.”

Others chime in, citing examples of heroism from literature: Roland, El Cid, Beowulf, Gawain, and countless others.

Thomas More College students past and present encounter and are inspired by heroic saints, warriors, and epic literary figures.  It is essential to an education to encounter heroic men and women, both historical and fictional, who embody the virtues of courage and self-sacrifice.

Alumni and current students sitting around the fire recall their first encounters with Joinville’s Life of King Louis IX, The Poem of El Cid, The Acts of the Martyrs, and other works.  Not all texts and characters are found to be completely lovable, heroic, inspirational, or easily understandable. After the students battle with these texts in their own way, they ultimately find, yet again, that “here is a text to live with,” in the words of Professor Christopher Blum.

Seasoned students know when they hear this phrase they are entering into an ongoing discussion that they will partake in for the rest of their lives: how to be a good leader, a humble servant, a bold speaker, a just father, a loving mother. Whether the text stays in their personal library, by their bedside, or even within their memories as the result of long meditation, it is “a text to live with.” Mary

“We admire Saint Louis because he understood kingship as a craft that needed to be mastered by patient, selfless labor and offered all of his work for the glory of God and the good of his subjects,” stated Professor Blum, the campus Francophile.

The conversation, like all good conversations, never really draws to a close. The fire, however, burns low and the evening grows late. Some have traveling to do, and there are the holidays to look forward to: a merry Christmas, a happy New Year, and beyond that, a new semester. As the guests leave the comfortable warmth of the fire, they know that they will be living examples of this continuing conversation: a conversation very much alive among the friends, alumni and students of Thomas More College.

This conversation, which began in the Athens of Socrates, still continues today. For Thomas More students, it may take place in unlikely spots: by a fireplace in rural New England, while touring the streets of Rome, around the lunch table of the College’s cafeteria with friends. As the sophomore class memorizes the Psalms in Latin with Dr. Fahey this semester and the freshmen examine the principles of Euclidean geometry, the formation of intellect they gain—stimulated by wonder—carries over not only into an excellence of thought, but an excellence of life.

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