Reflections from Notre Dame theology’s incoming and outgoing department chairs
For the first time since 2017, the Notre Dame Department of Theology announced a new chair. Professor Timothy Matovina stepped down, and the John A O’Brien Professor of Theology, Fr. Khaled Anatolios, took up the position. The Rover reached out to both men to gauge their impressions of the department and their outlook on the future.
Matovina is an award-winning author and expert in Latin American theology. Under his tenure, the department has been ranked the number one theology program in the world in three of the last four years by QS World College Rankings. In an interview with the Rover, Matovina attributed the success to “strong faculty and strong students.”
He explained that his first action when appointed chair was to sit down with the faculty in the department: “My attitude was ‘to be a department chair is like being a pastor.’ You have to support and accompany the faculty, the staff, and the students. And if they flourish, you flourish.” He added,“I’m grateful—and, in a sense, proud—for the atmosphere of collegiality, working together, and trying to help each other to flourish.”
While he expressed pride and admiration for each of Notre Dame’s theology programs, Matovina made special mention of the undergraduate community: “Who else has over 600 majors and minors like we do? It’s just unheard of.” He explained that a strong departmental and faculty commitment to the undergraduates is the key to such unprecedented numbers. “We have faculty who teach foundations, and, by the time they’re done, half the class is a major or minor.” Mattovina also gave credit to past and current departmental staff for their roles in the success of the undergraduate program.
Matovina continued by explaining that he believes the prevalence of theology majors and minors is essential to Notre Dame’s Catholic mission. “Most of those students are not going to go on in theology—they’re going to go on in their profession—but they’re bringing their faith life to their profession and their own ongoing development as human beings.” He recounted one particular anecdote of a student who told him that, though she had other career aspirations, she minored in theology out of personal interest and “for the sake of (her) eternal soul.” Matovina explained, “That’s exactly what Notre Dame ought to be about.”
Matovina expressed his excitement for the department’s future under the leadership of Fr. Anatolios: “Fr. Khaled is a great patristic scholar, internationally regarded. He knows the East and the West of the Church. He does patristic theology in such a way that he’s extremely conversant with the issues in systematic theology today, and he helps connect the patristic teachings of the Fathers to the current theological needs and debates of the Church.”
Matovina explained that he believes that the number one challenge for Fr. Anatolios will be replacing the many “star” faculty members that are nearing retirement. “The choices we make over the next five years when we get chances to hire new faculty are going to be very determinative of where we go in our next steps.” However, Matovina affirmed his belief that Fr. Anatolios is especially qualified for the task.
As for his own future, Matovina is looking forward to working on multiple projects, including continuing his research on Our Lady of Guadalupe and helping to lead Hacienda Caminos, an outreach and fellowship program designed to help young Latin American students explore theology.
Fr. Anatolios responded to questions from the Rover by email. When he came to Notre Dame in 2015, Fr. Anatolios immediately made his presence felt as Notre Dame became the first Catholic university in the United States to offer regular Byzantine Catholic Divine Liturgy.
A married priest in the Greek-Melkite Catholic Church, Fr. Anatolios anticipates his Eastern heritage and ministry will continue to shape and direct his academic life, “I think it’s a significant witness to the catholicity of the Church to have a Byzantine Catholic as chair of the theology department at Notre Dame. Celebrating the Byzantine liturgy at Notre Dame has been a source of great spiritual enrichment for me and, I hope, for many others. I was already a theologian and a scholar before being ordained a priest 8 years ago. Since then, I have experienced a great synergy between my priestly work and my academic work. I see both as distinct modes of witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Although he acknowledged the challenge that Matovina identified with hiring new faculty, Fr. Anatolios expressed confidence in the future of faculty hiring: “I am very optimistic that our department will be able to handle this and any other challenges with wisdom and charity. We have a wonderful community of faculty and students that is more than adequate to meet this or any other challenge.”
When asked about his aspirations, Fr. Anatolios said: “Right now, I am focused on our department motto for this year, which is ‘Gaudium in Veritate,’ meaning ‘Joy in the Truth.’ I want us to redouble our efforts to be a community dedicated to the rigorous pursuit of truth at the highest level of intellectual inquiry and, simultaneously, to rejoice in our communion in the search for Truth.”
Fr. Anatolios concluded by expressing optimism for the department and its future. “The first few months have been very hectic, but I have received tremendous support and encouragement from both faculty and students. So, overall, I feel very positive.”
William Hunter is a senior in the theology and philosophy joint program. Although being vivisected, he can still be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo Credit: Notre Dame Department of Theology
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