Catholic intellectual culture can be found in art and literature created by artists of any faith, as the Center for Ethics and Culture’s fall lecture series shows.
“I wanted undergraduates seeking Catholic culture to know you could find it even in non-Catholics,” Kathryn Wales, Programs Director for the center, said. “It’s amazing, you could be watching ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’ and say, ‘This is something that helps me live my faith more fully.'”
The Catholic Culture Lecture series, held annually since 2002, consists of four weekly lectures on Tuesdays at 8 p.m. in 155 DeBartolo. This year’s series, titled “Close to Catholic: A Celebration of Kindred Spirits,” is halfway done. Professor Joseph Pearce of Ave Maria University will lecture on C.S. Lewis Tuesday and Professor Robert Bird of the University of Chicago will finish the series with a lecture on Fyodor Dostoevsky on Oct. 13.
The lecture series brings faculty from different universities to campus to discuss the works of Catholic authors who have contributed significantly to today’s intellectual tradition.
Junior Octavia Ratiu, Undergraduate Assistant at the center, said, “The series targets undergrads. As an undergraduate at the beginning of our studies, at the beginning of forming who we are and what our faith means to us, this series is very important. I hope a lot of people come to it.”
The emphasis on undergraduate involvement sets the series apart from some other center events.
“The series is very student-run,” Ratiu said. “As an undergraduate assistant, you’re in charge of everything from picking the themes of each year’s conference to contacting the speakers and having dinner with them before the lectures.”
This series is unique in that it focuses on non-Catholic writers. Past series have focused on authors like G.K. Chesterton, Evelyn Waugh, Flannery O’Connor and J.R.R. Tolkien.
Wales said, “Any artist who may not be nominally Catholic can still contribute to truth, beauty, and goodness, and that’s what the Church is all about. It’s the same truth.”
The focus on literature through the annual lecture series is especially important to Wales, who designed her own major in Roman Catholic Studies as an undergraduate at the University of Pittsburgh by focusing on Catholic authors.
“I’ve lived [in South Bend] for two and a half years, and when I first heard about this series I knew I would look forward to it every year,” Wales said. “I hope the students look forward to it every year and it continues to grow.”
Wales, Ratiu and undergraduate assistant Tom Everett all said you don’t need to be an expert on any of the authors to enjoy the series.
“There were a number of people in the audience who had read neither Dante nor Eliot at the first lecture, but it still helped them,” Wales said.
Everett said of the second lecture on Simone Weil, “As one who didn’t know too much about the topic, I thought the speaker did a wonderful job of bringing to life an author not too many undergraduates know. The lecture didn’t assume too much.”
The lecture series is only one example of the events that the center holds for undergraduates. The center hosts a film series in the spring, with the 2010 schedules including “Big Fish” and “The Crucible.”
The center is also known for its Breaking Bread dinners, which were designed as a chance for faculty and students to come together over a delicious meal, a 15-minute talk and a “big piece of chocolate cake” for dessert. The Bread of Life dinners follow a similar format but focus on life issues and are intended for seniors, although students of any class are welcome. With any luck, you may even meet your future spouse.
“I met my husband at an event in Pittsburgh that was very similar to the center’s Breaking Bread dinners,” Wales said.
Even if matchmaking is not in the cards for you, the center’s events will contribute to your understanding of the Catholic intellectual tradition.
“The backbone of the Catholic worldview is that truth exists and morality is an absolute,” Wales said. “In ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’ it’s because there’s a ‘should be’ and the story is redemptive. Any story of redemption participates in some way in the Paschal Mystery.”
Whether it’s through “The Royal Tenenbaums,” “Big Fish,” or a lecture on Dostoevsky, the Center for Ethics and Culture has something to interest any student and encourage each one to learn more about the Catholic faith.