Lecture series on saints appeals to Catholic imagination

The McGrath Institute for Church Life’s “Saturdays with the Saints” lecture series resumed this fall following last season’s transition to a virtual format due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Institute’s website, the series “combines the university’s rich traditions of Catholic faith and spirited game days.” Professor John C. Cavadini, director of the institute, helped establish the series 12 years ago in an effort to bring additional Catholic content to the public.

“We wanted to have one [series] explicitly Catholic thematized. We thought of the saints because the saints appeal to the imagination,” Cavadini told the Rover.

The series brings together Notre Dame theology faculty and institute staff to present saints chosen for “their uncommon virtue and their willingness to let their faith stand in contradiction to the wisdom of the world.” This year’s theme, “Saints of Healing: Physical, Cultural, and Spiritual,” highlights a wide range of holy men and women, from St. Francis and St. Augustine to Servant of God Sr. Thea Bowman and Venerable Mother Henriette DeLille.

“[The saints] offer people a sense of hope in times that seem so bleak,” Cavadini said. “Hope is a healer, and the saints bring this hope.”

Theology Professor Tim O’Malley, who presented the “Saints of the Black Death” on Oct. 2, discussed the importance of the lecture series in an email to the Rover.

“Our series combines fun, Catholicism, and the intellectual life. Football at Notre Dame is simply a gift. I know few faculty may say this. But, it’s a chance for joy, for revelry, and even for communion,” O’Malley said.

Sophomore theology and philosophy student Will Hunter learned about the lecture series in his theology class with Professor Cavadini and has attended multiple lectures this fall. Hunter believes in the importance of the series, as it combines two important characteristics of Notre Dame: its Catholic identity and football.

“The Catholic culture of the university is very important to me and my family, and I think to have that ingrained with something that is universally seen as important to the character of the university, the football program, is very important and impactful,” Hunter said.

Cavadini believes that in times of uncertainty and divisiveness, the saints can be models of holiness because they can be easy to relate to.

“We meet saints who make grand gestures, but we also meet saints whose sanctity we meet in persistent small gestures. That is what I mean that sanctity is in the grasp of everyone. Small gestures of self-giving, hospitality, and genuine courtesy tend to expand one’s potential to relate with people and for healing,” he said.

This idea was present in Cavadini’s Sept. 11 opening lecture, titled “St. Francis and St. Augustine: Saints of Laudato Si,” in which he shared an anecdote about St. Francis’ compassion for earthworms on the road. The saint moved them so that they would not be crushed by passersby. St. Francis’ humble gesture testifies to Christ’s glory in all creation, even the seemingly useless earthworm.

“[St. Francis] saw in them an image of the Savior, stripping Himself of the dignity fit only for the divine to come among us, in effect a worm,” Cavadini said in his lecture.

O’Malley’s lecture also offered guidance on intentionally combating the crisis of communion and presence due to uncertain and divisive times.

“The saints dealt with everything we dealt with. Pandemics, yes. Racism, yes. Political unrest, yes. And how did they respond? Through conforming themselves more to the source of all love, Jesus Christ,” O’Malley told the Rover. “Be who you are called to be. But also be holy.”

Cavadini also stressed the importance of understanding that sanctity can be achieved by anyone. “The lives of the saints teach us that sanctity is within anyone’s grasp. It is within your grasp now,” he said.

This season’s final lecture will take place on Saturday, Nov. 20, at 10:30 am in Andrews Auditorium in Geddes Hall. The lecture, titled “Bernadette, The Spring, and The Immaculate One,” will be presented by Theology professor Catherine Cavadini. The event is free and open to the public.

Nicholas Orr is a junior from Fremont, Nebraska, studying Accounting and Theology. If he is not listening to the Foo Fighters or another rock band, you can reach him at norr2@nd.edu.

Photo credit: McGrath Institute for Church Life