THE BEGINNING OF THE END
First, apologies to faithful readers for not blogging during the course of this past academic year. Some folks were kind enough to let me know that they missed reading about my adventures, which I appreciate. During the course of this past year, occasionally something would happen that would strike me as “blogworthy” — I have gotten used to seeing things as if I were going to narrate them to others during the course of my studies, which I find interesting.
The title of this post is a bit misleading. On the surface level, it is not quite closing time. It is true that this Tuesday, 31 May, the Feast of the Visitation, I will defend my doctoral dissertation. If all goes well (please God), I will be awarded a doctorate in sacred theology at the end of it. However, it is a bit like getting an empty diploma case at high school graduation — there will still be a few steps before things are completely finished. A few days after the defense, I will pick up my grade and a list of revisions that I need to make to the dissertation — as simple as typos, as complicated as sections that need to be rewritten. I will also need to publish the dissertation in Rome, and there are things to do connected with that. Hopefully the revisions will not be too many — if all goes according to plan, by the time that I leave Rome in early July, I will have submitted the final final copies of my dissertation. Sometime in the fall, the diploma should be ready to retrieve, and a helpful monk has already agreed to take care of that for me.
On a deeper level, it is certainly not closing time. I have goals that will always require growth: to be competent in my field, to be a good teacher, to be a good colleague. Moreover, when I was asking about the possibility of going on for further studies in my early years at Collegeville, the goal was never simply a five-year process to earn the license and the doctorate. The goal was an eleven-year process which included earning those degrees as well as earning tenure at Saint John’s. Bigger challenges lie ahead of me.
Nonetheless, I am coming to the end of my time in Europe as well as a season in my life, and it seems appropriate to mark that. This has been a rich and challenging experience. It wasn’t always clear to me that this point would be reached, and I am deeply grateful to be here. In addition to the labor involved in writing a doctorate, the last half of my 30s have largely been spent abroad. I am ready to go home. Time has passed for me — as well as for family, friends, and community. I turned 40 this past November, and am transitioning from young adulthood into middle age. When I first starting teaching at Collegeville in fall 2007, I had students who had older siblings who were my age (to say nothing of the teaching that I did in my later twenties). When I resume teaching in fall 2016, I will be closer to the age of their parents. Wild.
The Hammarskjöld quote rings true: for all that has been — thanks. For all that will be — yes.
At doctoral defenses here in Rome (at least those I have attended), it is customary for the candidate to take a few minutes to acknowledge and thank those who have been of particular assistance in completing studies. To conclude this post (or not quite conclude, as faithful readers have generally been far more interested in what I’m eating), let me share with you that portion of my presentation as prepared for delivery this week:
I’d like to thank my family, especially Bob and Mary, my parents. Their handing on the Catholic faith has been their greatest gift to me, which in my poverty has both brought me great joy and served as a lamp for my feet and a light for my path. Shortly before Christmas this past year, my father suffered a heart attack. The open heart surgery that followed, the subsequent stroke, and the lengthy recovery have been a great challenge, one my parents have met with the patience, fortitude, and general steadiness that mark their characters. I’m honored to dedicate this modest work to them. What I’ve been doing in Rome these past several years has been something of a mystery to them as well as to my brothers and sisters and their families, but I’m happy to tell them that I’m coming home soon.
I’m so grateful to my Abbot, John Klassen, and to my confreres at Saint John’s Abbey for their support during this period of study. While I’ve lived at Sant’Anselmo these past years, I’ve had the joy of meeting monks from around the world. This has led to visiting several European and American monasteries, an experience that has been both enriching and fun. While I’ve been in Rome, Madre Rosaria and the Trappistine nuns of Vitorchiano have provided a home away from home for me, and I’m consoled that this defense is remembered in their prayers. I’m also grateful to the Jesuits of Campion Hall and the Benedictines of Saint Benet’s Hall, who were so hospitable to me during my year in Oxford. Professor Ian Ker was an outstanding tutor during that period.
It has been just a joy to complete the license and doctorate here at the Alfonsiana. I’d like to thank Signora Danielle Gros for her outstanding work in the segreteria. I’ve talked to students from multiple pontifical universities, and I am confident that there is no secretariat in Rome with greater professionalism and care for students, and I know that is due to Signora Gros and those who work with her.
I’m grateful to my second reader, Professor McKeever, for his careful and rigorous reading of my work, which has made me a better scholar. Also, he is a very fine teacher. In class some years ago he illustrated Aquinas’ views on distributive justice by discussing how a pizza might be shared. Since I have never enjoyed sharing my pizza, I found that lesson particularly helpful.
Finally, I’d like to thank Professor Hidber, who has taught me, moderated seminars in which I participated, and directed both my licentiate thesis and doctoral dissertation. He is a very fine scholar and teacher – personally, I haven’t seen better work on the problem of evil from the perspective of moral theology. Moreover, he has been a true Doktorvater to me. Writing a doctorate is hard, and his gentle guidance has been an inestimable gift. Pope Francis has caught the world’s imagination by saying that priests should be shepherds living with the smell of the sheep. When I think of what that should look like in the academy, I will think of Professor Hidber.
FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD