Monday, September 25, 2006

Confabs All Around

I'll always remember this as the night one of my icons came to town... and I was there.

Having taken the long way to Philadelphia (Dublin to Frankfurt to here), Archbishop Diarmuid Martin -- he of "Holy Father, this is Mr Bono, he is a rock singer" fame -- regaled a Villanova University crowd with a lecture on "Catholic Social Teaching and Human Work." The occasion was twofold: the 25th anniversary of John Paul II's first encyclical on work, Laborem exercens, and the inauguration of the Augustinian university's new president, Fr Peter Donahue, OSA.

It's just one example of the recent uptick in the intellectual life of the Catholic scene here, which had long lain dormant when compared with the vibrance present in the other hotspots of the East Coast. Slowly, however, and gratefully, it's changing for the better... not that these pages are any justifiable sign of that, but still.

Anyways, Martin's talk drew heavily from the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church -- a text of great import which, for some strange reason, isn't mentioned all that often in American Catholic chattering circles. Hmm. The archbishop, who served for many years at the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, ending up as its bishop-secretary before being sent to Geneva as the Holy See's permanent observer to the UN there, recalled that while in his time at the dicastery, "Religious thought it would make me happy to tell me that, 'We used to do education, but now our community focuses on social justice,'" there is no better service to realizing and making manifest Catholic thought and practice than education.

To commemorate Donahue's installation as its 32nd president, 'Nova (home of the 1985 NCAA champion Wildcats) has played host to an impressive series of talks and symposia in recent weeks, kicked off by a talk on "The Responsibilities of the Catholic University in the 21st Century" given by Fr J. Bryan Hehir, currently director of Catholic Charities in Boston and followed quickly thereafter by a daylong conference on "Continuing the New Evangelization of Law, Politics, and Culture," sponsored by the Law School and keynoted by Cardinal Avery Dulles, SJ.

(While I wasn't able to make the latter conference in real time -- blame it on Lecturegate (i.e. Regensburg and its fallout) -- I'd be remiss if I didn't belatedly thank Patrick Brennan, holder of Nova Law's Scarpa Chair in Catholic Legal Studies and one of the Mirror of Justice crew, for sending an invitation my way to the post-conference party. A great time was had by all; featured cameos by Rick Garnett of Notre Dame Law and the predictable gaggle of clerics.... The evening served as rare proof that in this, the undisputed world capital of clericalism, the supposedly unwashed/ontologically deficient layfolk really do have something going on. Hah.)

The Donahue celebration series wraps with a triple-barrel blast: a conference on Augustine this weekend, followed immediately by one on "Discipleship and the City" (headlined by the venerable James Alison), and ending in late October with something on religion and postmodernism (Roger Haight'll be at that one).

And Nova isn't alone. The Catholic Intellectual Series at Jesuit-run St Joe's kicks off its second year -- the whole of which'll be based around the premise of "Catholics in the Public Square" -- tomorrow night with Peter Steinfels. Other featureds are Ron Modras of St Louis U in October, Harvard's Mary Jo Bane (with Tom Reese and my onetime prof John DiIulio in tow) in February and George Coyne, SJ, the recently-retired director of the Vatican Observatory, in April 07. (Coyne was recently profiled in the local paper of his temporary base, Raleigh, where he's taking a year before returning to astronomical work in Arizona.... I'm reminded of the time when I wrote the lyrics to "Across the Universe" on my Astro1 final in college and received no extra credit, which I could've used, but I digress.)

There is, however, one more. Fans of the blogs would be advised to book your calendars for next 20 March, when the fair Amy Welborn and the just-as-fair Grant Gallicho of dotCommonweal will headline the evening... yours truly will also be onstage. And moderating it all will be Bill McGarvey, local boy/rockstar/editor of Busted Halo.

Get ready, and plan your pilgrimages... we might have to move it to the Fieldhouse or something. The Linc, even.

Elsewhere in the Wide World of Church, Catholic U in Washington held a conference on the state of the US branch last week, keynoted by everyone's favorite uncle and new grandpa, Cardinal McCarrick. (Webstreams available here.) And there are others here, there and everywhere....

As for my night, the (um, really) cute co-ed next to me seemed impressed by the Diarmuid-Wojtyla-Bono story... English major, she was attending for a class, didn't realize the guest speaker was a rock star in his own right. And, should you be curious, I didn't get her e.mail address or phone number because, as those of you who read a certain recent blurb in Philadelphia magazine know, when push comes to shove, your narrator has the tendency to be absolute chickenshit.

(Pardon the Latin; my inner Tridentine can't help it.)

As you also know, however, that's precisely not the case when bishops are around (nothing to lose, there).... I didn't know what to expect on going up to pay my respects to Martin, except that I'd been looking forward to the moment for a very long time; I don't hold many people in this business in unqualified awe, but Diarmuid just happens to be one of 'em.

The authorship of these pages was momentarily pushed to the background as, keeping with my usual practice, I introduced myself as nothing more than "Rocco Palmo from The Tablet."

The archbishop skipped a beat, beamed and exclaimed, "Oh, Whispers! I thought you were an old man!"

I try hard not to be the boastful type but, just this once, forgive me for enjoying it.