AS THE NEW CHAIR of the Department of Catholic Studies, I am pleased to have an opportunity to share some thoughts with you.
An interdisciplinary project such as Catholic Studies is a rare creature in an academic world marked by specialization. While other interdisciplinary programs exist at many universities, including St. Thomas, Catholic Studies is distinctive because of its emphasis on integration. Most programs offer students a range of courses from different disciplines. We try to go one step further by placing great importance on helping students see Catholic thought and culture as an integrated whole, not merely as a collection of parts. As a result, we attract faculty whose own scholarly interests have often led them to do work across traditional disciplines.
My own case, while unique, may serve as an example of the kind of interdisciplinary interests and scholarship we value in our faculty and seek to model for our students. I earned my undergraduate degree at St. Thomas several decades ago, majoring in philosophy. I followed that with a master’s degree in theology but then took a completely different path by spending a number of years in business. Finally, I returned to school and earned a doctorate in medieval studies at the University of Notre Dame in 1985, concentrating in philosophy and theology.
After several more years in nonprofit management I was invited in 1988 to join the faculty at St. Thomas to teach business ethics. In 2002 I moved to the Department of Catholic Studies, but I still hold a joint appointment in the College of Business. Out of this background I developed a deep interest in the Catholic social tradition, particularly in its economic and political dimensions. Much of my published scholarly work focuses on the application of this tradition to business, politics and the military.
This is an exciting time to be chair of the Department of Catholic Studies. We are fortunate to have a fine faculty and many very bright and eager students. Still, we are at a crucial stage in the Department’s development. About 120 students, nearly 10 percent of this fall’s incoming freshman class, have expressed an interest in majoring in Catholic Studies. Added to this are nearly 150 students who have already declared a major. We are growing rapidly, and we hope to see significant increases in numbers in the next few years. These increases, though, will require us to devise better ways of serving students in what may become one of the larger majors on campus.
We are also in the process of revising the curriculum for our undergraduate majors to make our core courses more truly integrated. Since we are the first program of the kind in the country, we have no successful models to follow but instead must break new ground. In addition, similar changes are underway for our master’s program as we seek to build on a solid foundation and establish a reputation for excellence. Our dedicated faculty, who bring to the table a wide range of skills and ideas, are inspired by and take energy from this unprecedented opportunity to further St. Thomas’ reputation as a leader in the growing field of Catholic Studies.
As we strive to best fulfill our mission, we are most grateful for the encouragement we’ve received from students, parents, faculty, and members of the larger St. Thomas community over the last 10 years. While the road ahead will bring its challenges, we look toward the future with great optimism and confidence.