Abbot Placid Solari, OSB, is the Chancellor of Belmont Abbey College. He has been a monk of Belmont Abbey since 1974, and was ordained in 1980. On Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 25, 1999, he was elected the 8th Abbot of Belmont Abbey. In the past, Abbot Placid has served as the President of the college, and he was its Academic Dean from 1996 until his election as abbot. He continues to teach as well as provide an orientation session to every new hire to the college faculty and staff. Recently, we interviewed him about the college, its educational philosophy, the relationship of the monastery to college, and other related topics. Click below for a short video in addition to the Abbot’s interview.

 

Benedictines are part of the larger community of the Catholic Church, so we bring a unique aspect of the millennium and a half community life tradition of seeking God by living, working, and praying in community. I think that this community aspect of the Benedictines influences the tenor of college life here. The aspect of mentoring also is important in monastic life, and I think that transfers into the educational experience offered to the students. Regarding what it means to be a Catholic college, I think we have always adhered to what Pope John Paul II outlines in his document Ex Corde Ecclesiae as the four essential characteristics about what it means to be a Catholic college. They are as follows: 1. A Christian inspiration, not just of individuals, but of the whole college community. 2. A reflection on the growing treasury of human knowledge in the light of the Catholic faith. 3. Fidelity to the Christian message as it comes to us through the Church. 4. A commitment of service to the church and to the larger human community.
The first effect on the students is simply due to the fact that the monks founded and continue to sponsor the college, so the educational approach established and maintained here reflects the Catholic intellectual tradition. What do I mean by that? In particular, I mean the belief in the reality of the truth which can be found, and the belief that the study of any area of human endeavor or knowledge leads one to some authentic part of a whole truth. These parts must be integrated into a whole, and the complementary roles of faith and reason direct that integration. Furthermore, this tradition upholds objective moral norms found in the nature of reality. It upholds the importance of community in the formation of the individual, and the obligation of an educated person to contribute to the larger community. And the very presence of the monks raises questions in student minds that would not normally arise at another institution. Either they can consider Belmont Abbey College some kind of nice theme park, like a Catholic Williamsburg, or they must confront and answer for themselves why these men they see here every day would choose this type of life. The students enjoy an advantage, too, because of the stability inherent in Benedictine life (the monks stay in one community for life), which sets up relationships here at the college that can endure over time in a way that does not happen at other undergraduate institutions. If I would visit my undergraduate institution (I am not a graduate of the Abbey here), there is only one professor who had a profound impact on me who is still there. The rest have moved to other institutions, are retired, or are in heaven. We have graduates here from the 40’s, 50’s, and so on who can come back to visit the monks who were their professors, and though they are retired, they are still here. Or they can visit them in the cemetery. In this way, the monks can become a kind of touchstone in their lives.
First of all, as in any educational institution, I would hope for intellectual development, normal things such as critical thinking and communication skills. The purpose of the college experience is to help set the stage for success in life. How will a graduate be successful in life? Part of that is career. Any educational institution should prepare someone for a successful career. Even more important, though, what does it mean to be a good human being, how will you be successful in that? Often the seeds are planted here, because ultimately the definition of ‘success in life’ depends on faith, but they don’t germinate until later, for example, at marriage or the birth of a child. Oftentimes, we again see that the college becomes sort of a touchstone in the lives of the alumni, a place they can come back to at these pivotal moments in their life to get priorities settled again, to be reminded of what they were taught, or to consult with us.