By Reagan Scott
LINCOLN (SNR) - On Wednesday, Aug. 9, Dr. Don Briel, the founder of the Center for Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., gave a talk entitled “Out of the Shadows: Newman and the Pursuit of Truth.”
Dr. Briel was speaking as a guest lecturer for the Newman Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture at the St. Thomas Aquinas Newman Center in Lincoln.
Since its inception last year, the Newman Institute, under the guidance of director Dr. John Freeh, has given UNL undergraduate students the opportunity to take challenging courses in the humanities and participate in cultural and service opportunities.
The Institute will host three more speakers in the coming semester as part of the Reborn in Wonder speaker series: Dr. Russell Hittinger who will speak on the common good Sept. 20, the Most Reverend Michael Barber, S.J., Bishop of Oakland, who will discuss Newman Oct. 25 and Dr. Ralph Wood, who will talk about J.R.R. Tolkien Nov. 29.
Dr. Freeh said all three will discuss great literature and thinking from a Catholic perspective. In fact, all of the past and present speakers for the Institute have met the same criteria.
“We have speakers come who have something interesting to say on matters of literature, philosophy and Catholic thought and culture,” Dr. Freeh said.
Both students and the public have reacted positively to the events, and 1,100 people were able to attend the speaker series held last fall. Freeh encouraged all interested to come and hear the speakers this semester.
“All of the speakers will have something important to say and will be well worth the trip,” he said. “All of them will be speaking on matters of general interest to everyone. They all speak from experience and expertise.”
The events this year will be held at 7 p.m. at the UNL Newman Center. Free parking will be available in the College of Journalism parking lot at the corner of N 16th and Q streets.
The upcoming fall semester will allow UNL undergraduate students to choose from two different classes taught by Dr. Freeh: Introduction to the Great Books I: Seekers, Sojourners and Pilgrims; and Humanities Seminar I: Love and Friendship.
Seekers, Sojourners and Pilgrims will have two sections with room for 12 students each, and will cover works by great authors from Plato and Homer to Dante and Shakespeare. Analysis of these works will allow students to wrestle with some of life’s greatest questions, such as the meaning of life and the search for happiness.
Love and Friendship, with room for 12 students, will allow those taking the class to explore the nature of love by studying the works of authors such as Aristotle and Augustine, Dante and Shakespeare, Jane Austen and Willa Cather, among others.
“I am always struck by the effect of great literature on undergraduates,” Dr. Freeh said. “They begin to realize that the great minds and noble souls of past generations have something important to share with them about the human condition. This encounter can be life-changing.”
Last year, 21 students took classes through the Institute, which they were able to have recognized by UNL and receive transfer credit for.
While the classes focus on humanities, many students who took them last year did not have a background in the subject. Regardless, Dr. Freeh noted that this fact did not have a negative impact on their learning, nor their enjoyment of the class.
“There was great energy and fellowship in the classes,” Dr. Freeh said. “The general feedback has been positive, and we’re hoping that more students will consider joining us in the future.”
Andrew Minarick, a junior at UNL last year, was changed by his experience taking Seekers, Sojourners and Pilgrims.
“As I became familiar with Homer, Plato, Shakespeare, and others, I became more familiar with the good, true, and beautiful things of life. Not superficial imitations or fleeting trends, but truths I knew were real in the depths of my heart,” he said.
As a part of the Institute, students who took the class also had the opportunity to go on a pilgrimage to Rome in May.
Elizabeth Geren, a convert and junior at UNL, has taken two classes through the Newman Institute and was able to go on the pilgrimage. There, she encountered Christ in a very real way.
She said, “The Word of God in the Eucharist was far more captivating than all the beauty of the Roman basilicas, and that same captivating Presence is also found here. Truly so, wherever we located that Adoration Chapel – at St. Peter’s or St. Paul Outside the Walls, or the catacombs of San Sebastian – we sought Him out. For wherever that chapel was found, we found home.”
Despite these accomplishments, Dr. Freeh still hopes to help the program grow in the future.
This year, in addition to a trip to Rome in May, Dr. Freeh would like to take a group of students on a pilgrimage to the beatification of Father Stanley Rother in Oklahoma in September as well as make other service opportunities available to participants.
Dr. Freeh would also like to be able to expand the Newman Institute to ensure that even more people can participate, not just undergraduate students at UNL.
“The Institute is here to serve the undergraduate community of Lincoln, but we hope to make the same talks, classes and seminars available to the Lincoln community in the future,” he said.
Dr. Freeh said that due to many requests, he is hoping to be able to offer Institute classes for adults in the spring as well as work to make sure that students from other colleges around Lincoln can take classes and receive transfer credit at their schools.
Father Robert Matya, pastor at the UNL Newman Center said, “The Newman Institute has already been a great blessing to students on the UNL campus. It is evident to me from the students who have taken the classes that they benefit by growing in their identity and sense of purpose. I look forward to the Institute’s further growth so that many students will benefit in the same way.”