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Benedictine education engages students' minds, bodies and spirits
By William Carroll | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 1/25/2008 12:17 AM

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In a column published Nov. 2, I began a discussion on "What is the Benedictine approach to teaching?"

I noted that Benedictine University is grounded in the spirit of the founders who based their lives and work on St. Benedict's "Rule for Monks," written in the early sixth century. That rule is not only for monks, but a blueprint for all people to lead a life lived in balance. Educational life and efforts at the university are built on those same values.

I covered the first four of seven values from a teaching perspective -- or from a more contemporary perspective -- as a framework on how to understand the Benedictine classroom. Here's a brief synopsis of the first four values:

• A search for God by oneself and with others.

This value is indicative of the incompleteness with which we are born. Our quest for knowledge helps us become complete in and out of the classroom and with other people who come into our lives. We need other people to help us accomplish our quest, or our search for God.

• A tradition of hospitality.

We are urged to welcome the stranger. At Benedictine, we have a wonderful mix of "strangers" -- faculty, staff and students from many ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds. This mix is a constant, as we continually learn about diversity.

• An appreciation for living and working in community.

I am sure the Divine Plan is for us to live, work, play and achieve our destiny together. We are all works in progress, and we need each other.

• A concern for the development of each person.

At Benedictine we embrace our incompleteness and work with one another to make each of us the best we can be.

Now, let us look at the final three values:

• A dedication to responsible stewardship of the earth.

Our analysis of Benedictine University values has been replete with words such as the incompleteness of creation, the need for community, the ability of individuals to realize their potential.

Stewardship calls us to a larger view of community. As the oldest religious order in the west, the Benedictines have a wonderful sense of history. A movement is not seen in a day, a year, or even many years. Things are viewed in the context of centuries, if not more. The view of stewardship views time as practically endless with community pervasive throughout.

In the first four values, we have seen the need for community in the realization of each person's potential. Under stewardship's mantel, we now view community as all those who have come before and will follow. Future generations will be born incomplete and become co-creators as we have been. They (as we) will be charged with completing God's creation while realizing their potential.

As part of this human chain, we have a monumental obligation to pass on to them a world in good order -- a world complete with God's creatures and resources.

The Benedictine University value of community is not locked into a particular epoch, but spans the spectrum of community itself. Those yet unborn are part of our community. We must pass on to them the tools (nature, creatures, etc.) necessary for them to realize their potential.

In fact, Benedictine's motto, "Informing Today -- Transforming Tomorrow" takes on a completely new meaning in the context of stewardship.

• A commitment to academic excellence.

The university strives to develop an academic community that supports each person in the pursuit of knowledge and personal development. This undertaking will be achieved through a life enriched by the collegiate community in which the individual's interest is tempered by concern for the common good.

• An emphasis on a life lived in balance.

This Benedictine value actually binds the others together.

A human being is not a bunch of neurons that need to be developed in the classroom. A human being is a unique juxtaposition of body, mind and soul. As a Benedictine institution, we subscribe to the belief that health in one aspect of the human being requires health in all aspects. While the mind is exercised in the classroom, the soul and body require a similar regimen.

A vibrant Benedictine community is active and encourages participation in all three areas of mind, body and spirit.

Our goal is to produce students who emerge from the university as people in touch with themselves and various aspects of their being.

Rigorous academics, robust athletic programs, meaningful liturgy and religious dialogue must all be part of the "learning experience" at Benedictine University.

Given the seven Benedictine values and the framework I have laid out for each, I submit that there is a distinct Benedictine teaching method at Benedictine University. While other institutions may have similar values, the seven values listed by this university provide a unique framework on how we approach our students and ourselves.

Our faculty is challenged to enter the classroom with a profound sense of welcoming of our students qua strangers. We believe we are welcoming God into our midst with all the awe and reverence that inspires. We believe that creation is an ongoing process in which individually and collectively we seek our common end, Truth Itself.

As such, we are challenged to help one another realize our potential and to help the community realize its potential.

As a Benedictine community, we know our community stretches far beyond our own time, into the past and into the future. As such, we are mandated to protect our natural resources and to renew them so that future generations may use them in their search for Truth.

Central to the Benedictine tradition is the celebration of community as a gathering of people who share a commitment to a common mission.

Finally, there is one Benedictine hallmark, not a part per se of our published values but intimately involved with the very purpose of those values. That hallmark is "conversatio."

This Latin term, though difficult to translate adequately, means a transformation, an ongoing process in every aspect of our lives. At Benedictine, we engage in education for conversatio, for transformation. This process of transformation is life long and culminates in our completion in God.