Studying at the John Paul II Institute ranks as one of the best decisions in my life. My desire to attend the Institute began when a college professor encouraged me to study there after seeing my great interest in the thought of Pope John Paul II and theologians associated with the Communio Theological Journal.
Before attending the Institute, I worked for a couple of years for Bishop Robert Barron at Word on Fire. Many of his intellectual heroes were associated with Communio, and his library was stacked with Communio issues. I read them with great interest, convincing me that the Church’s most creative and rich theological thinking was happening at the Institute. My teachers not only opened up for me the rich theological tradition of the Catholic Church but also provided me with a vision of the good life that has changed my life. My experience was deeply transformative, to say the least.
An added plus was that I met my wife at the Institute. Unlike many graduate programs, community is central at the Institute. Friendships are formed that will last a lifetime, and the lessons learned will inform everything from vocation to work to being itself.
I am currently the Fellow of Education at the Word on Fire Institute, and my educational vision is, in large part, thanks to the professors at the Institute. Their vision is a truly Catholic vision, that is, seeing all reality in light of the transcendent whole. I see it fostering renewal within the Church, particularly within Catholic schools, helping her schools to better realize their full potential, and my goal as an educator is to hand this vision on to as many Catholic teachers as I can. I would have never known about this rich vision if not for the Institute.
Most Institute alumni leave their studies transformed intellectually and spiritually. Accordingly, theology is not studied as merely an intellectual exercise but as speech about God that is conducive to becoming holy. It is articulating the holy vision of the saints. As Hans Urs von Balthasar aptly said, it is a “kneeling theology” animating from and conducive to prayer.
It is hard to sum up the influence the Institute has had on me. As my wife well knows, the fact that I nearly check almost each week the Institute’s upcoming events or read the professors’ latest writings are signs that I am deeply indebted to Institute and continue to learn from its professors. The reason I suppose I keep returning is that no matter the subject Institute professors get at the heart of an issue. There’s no glib analysis nor is there an attempt to be fashionable or popular. The life of the mind is definitely lived there. And this is all done in the context of holiness.
Before attending the Institute, I was worried if it was the right decision to apply. I supposed practical concerns about career did not go away, but I learned to prioritize the deeper contemplative dimension of life. My generation is fixated on establishing a career, never asking ourselves if such a way of life is good for us. The Institute puts such a way of life into question, pointing its students to something deeper and more in accord with the fullness of our humanity, i.e. life in Christ. It is hard to ask for more of a graduate school.