Christianity and Culture in Ireland: Two Guest Lectures on Irish History and Culture at the Abbey
This spring, the Abbey hosted two guest lectures on Irish Studies. On March 20th, Professor Jaroslav Folda of UNC, a world-renowned authority on medieval art, spoke about “The Book of Kells: a Masterpiece of Irish Art”. Prof. Folda provided the large audience in attendance with an insightful and engaging introduction to one of the great treasures, not only of Irish art but of the western artistic tradition of the medieval period. The Book of Kells was written in an Irish monastery about 1200 years ago by monastic scribes and illuminators whose artistic expression is a unique manifestation of their deep faith. It was a real treat to be given a tour of their work by a scholar of such standing.
On April 12th, students and friends of the Abbey were again treated to an engaging examination of Irish history and culture when Reverend James Murphy, C.M., gave his lecture, “An Irish Catholic Odyssey: From the Counter-Reformation to 1900”. Professor Murphy, director of Irish Studies at Boston College, discussed the development of Catholic culture and the Catholic community in Ireland over the course of several centuries, highlighting the unique character and contributions of Irish Catholicism and touching on the lives of such figures as St Oliver Plunkett, Mother McAuley and Cardinal Newman.
These lectures were sponsored by the St Gregory the Great Program on Christianity and Culture and generously supported by the Ancient Order of Hibernians. As part of its goal to help students attain deeper understanding of how Christian thought and practice engage culture, the St Gregory the Great program incorporates study of Christianity’s roots in the Mediterranean, stages of growth in Europe, expansion to the Americas, and current global status. Students explore how Christianity has engaged in intensive dialogue with distinct cultures—sometimes cooperative, sometimes combative, always transformative—and thereby become better prepared to bear witness to its continuing potential to do so. They also become more aware of both real historical differences and ecumenical possibilities in Christian thought and practice. Ultimately, students in the minor better understand the relationship of Christianity to culture in their own time and place. They are able to articulate that relationship in conversation with a variety of audiences and to translate and connect their experience of the Benedictine heritage on our campus to the world beyond it.
The program’s coordinating committee reflects the interdisciplinary nature of the minor. Dr. Farrell O’Gorman (committee chair) has published two books on Christianity and modern literature, with a particular focus on American contexts. Dr. Patrick Wadden, a native of Ireland and graduate of Oxford University, is an award-winning expert on the medieval history of northern Europe. Dr. Grattan Brown, who completed graduate studies at the Accademia Alfonsiana in Rome, speaks widely on bioethical concerns and Catholic social thought.
Generous donor funding has enabled faculty to lead students on intensive study abroad trips in support of the minor. Last year students visited Rome with Dr. Grattan Brown and Dr. Daniel Hutchinson. This May, a group of Abbey students will be traveling to Ireland, where they will have the opportunity to see first-hand the Book of Kells, Newman University Church and a host of other sites associated with Ireland’s unique Catholic culture and history. Their experience will be richer as a result of having heard these exceptional lectures by leading scholars on campus.