June 24, 2016
“The Christian faith is not a ‘religion of the book.’ Christianity is the religion of the ‘Word’ of God, a word which is ‘not a written and mute word, but the Word which is incarnate and living’” (CCC, n. 108).
In words attributed to St. Jerome, “When we pray we speak to God; When we read, God speaks to us.” The Dominican pastoral staff of St. Catherine of Siena Parish and Newman Center at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City has created two small theology libraries—in their café and Newman building—as a simple way to connect students to the Word through reading good books.
In January 2016, St. Catherine of Siena parish opened Cate’s Café as a space for students, young adults, and even professors, to study, relax, or engage in small group faith sharing. In the corner of the café, a small reading nook is perfect for settling down with the writings of a great saint, a poet, or a novelist. Students and parishioners have even started donating their own favorite books to the library to share. Perusing the bookshelves of Cate’s Café, you will find classic authors like G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, the popes, and saints, as well as more modern writers like George Weigel and Matthew Kelly.
Campus Minister Julie Bellefeuille says that a number of small group book studies have popped up among college students in the Newman Center. Past and present picks include Pope Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth, Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, and Peter Kreeft’s Back to Virtue.
Pastor Fr. Lukasz Misko, OP, and associate, Fr. Peter Hanna, OP, see the idea of a Catholic library at the café as one practical expression of the Dominican’s motto: Veritas (Truth). For the intellectually or spiritually curious student, an accessible library sends the message, “We’re open to exploring and discussing ideas.”
In an intellectual or cultural hub like a university, Julie and the Dominicans believe a theology library is a simple catalyst for cultivating the “Catholic Imagination,” which seeks to inspire and shape young Christians to think about their lives and work with the mind of Christ. Students often bring up current school topics in conversation, from evolutionary biology, business, to art and philosophy, looking for ways to integrate their faith into their future careers or just answers to personal questions. John Henry Cardinal Newman, namesake of campus Newman Centers across the nation, was himself a scholar and university teacher who tried to connect theology and professional vocations (see his classic book The Idea of the University). The goal of a theology library or Catholic book group is not to replace or undermine what students learn in class, but to engage and connect their studies with the intellectual tradition of the Church and find practical applications to living the Christian life on and off campus.
Even with the ubiquity of e-readers and iPads, experience shows how books (that actually take up physical space!) are still a draw, especially among the millennial crowd. If your library or café space has a public computer, a parish or campus ministry may also benefit from investing in a theology software program such as Verbum where students can gain access to more great resources.
By: Evan Ponton, Assistant to the Pastor, Church of the Nativity, Timonium, MD