Date Published: Thursday, October 10, 2020
John Henry Newman, who will be declared a saint by the Catholic Church on Oct. 13, is a model of personal sanctity and of the ways in which the life of the mind and the life of faith can be beautifully and happily integrated. Newman is mostly known for his great work The Idea of a University, which is an extended defense of the thesis that the aim of the university is truth in its complexity and unity. The Idea of a University offers a salutary corrective to the tendency on many U.S. campuses to politicize academic life. Newman even goes so far as to reject the notion that the classroom is the arena for moral formation. He rejected progressive views of his day that equated moral character with the holding of certain opinions — a view that anticipates the common practice of virtue signaling on university campuses today.
This does not mean that Newman neglected the formation of character or the fostering of habits of religious devotion in his students. In fact, as the first rector of University College Dublin, Newman devoted a great deal of attention to what we have come to call student life. Especially important to him was the fostering of the right kinds of friendships among students and between students and teachers.
As a rookie president of a university that has never wavered from Newman’s vision, I look to Newman the administrator for instruction and inspiration. Particularly on Alumni and Family Weekend (AFW) this past weekend, I was struck by what Newman has to say about the influence of time, persons and place on the formation of souls and on their memories of university life. All these “rest upon” the student’s “mind and his heart, and the shade of the past becomes a sort of shrine to which he makes continual silent offerings of attachment and devotion. It is a second home, not so tender, but more noble and majestic and authoritative.”
In a description that brings to mind Donald Cowan’s claim that “there’s a spirit that walks these hills,” Newman calls this the genius loci of the university setting. Alumni, faculty, students, parents and staff reclaimed the genius loci of our Irving campus during AFW. I was pleased to offer my Presidential Address — called Catholic Liberal Education: Redeeming All Things in Christ — during AFW covering these topics. Please subscribe to UD’s YouTube channel to see more of this content in the future.
The canonization of Cardinal Newman coincides with the University of Dallas Ministry Conference this upcoming weekend. I look forward to the conference and hope to see many of you there.
Next week, I will be meeting with our Board of Trustees. All of our trustees volunteer their time with UD, and all have active lives of service outside of UD as well. I was inspired by the recent story of Trustee Tom Zellers’ work as a medical missionary.
Finally, I’d like to thank the anonymous donors who endowed the Dr. Charles Coppin Scholarship in Mathematics. You are helping us to fulfill Newman’s vision!
Thomas S. Hibbs, Ph.D., BA ’82 MA ’83