My friend Emma told it to me

What do you call a sleepwalking nun?

A roamin’ Catholic.

James Whitaker is a graduate student in the Theology department. But he wasn’t always. He was born at a young age in New York to his parents, who were present for his birth. After several arduous years of gaining the ability to talk and a semblance of literacy, he began writing. His first preserved written opus, written circa 2005, is reprinted here, unchanged and with the author’s permission: “Once upon a Time There Was a Boy Named Jakob He got Lost! He Found a Bat and a lion! His Dad found Him They Were HAPPY     The end.” He was clearly destined for greatness.

Whitaker then moved from New York to the Washington D.C. area where he adjusted to the southern climes and swampy airs. At his elementary school, he began to broaden his horizons with extracurriculars: there was an after school chess club, at which he never won a single game (and still hasn’t to this day), as well as an early morning Spanish club, which he only joined because his crush Sarah was there. He was placed in an advanced math group which would skip the ordinary math lessons and play sudoku instead. At least, he assumes it was advanced math. It is equally possible that he just wandered off, started playing sudoku, and was convinced by his egotism that he was special.

Following these years at a public elementary school in northern Virginia, he attended a Christian K–12 school. His transition was smooth and successful, and it was at this time that he became close friends with Josh Gilchrist, Executive Editor Emeritus of the Irish Rover. It was at Gilchrist’s suggestion that, in his later years, Whitaker joined both the cross country team and the choir, wherein he was just as adequate as he was in Spanish and chess. The two boys also did Boy Scouts together. Whitaker can’t right now remember whether they also did Cub Scouts together. He suspects so.

In the midst of his rigorous studies between the ages of 10–14, he was also being trained to play the pianoforte and the violincello. Eventually, because his father was a drummer and his older sister a guitarist, he had shunted onto him the meek and humble duty of learning the bass to complete the family band. He put a rather mild effort into this duty, and yet went on to play bass for his church’s praise and worship band.

Since he is finally halfway to the word minimum assigned by the Rover editors, Whitaker’s life story will continue swiftly along… It was in his sophomore year of high school when Whitaker, with Gilchrist, was first exposed to philosophy and patristic theology, beginning in both of them not only a lifetime pursuit of the ‘life of the mind,’ so to speak, but also a reinvigorated interest and pleasure in the contemplation of God. They ‘caught the bug’ to such a degree that they would spend their lunch hours reading Aristotle and Aquinas, hungry for an intellectually rich account of beauty, truth, and God.

And yet, despite the beginnings of an intellectual life and a spiritual renewal, high school presented to Whitaker a number of spiritual struggles which he had not the fortitude or discipline to endure. In the words of Saint Augustine, “Veni Carthaginem, et circumstrepebat me undique sartago flagitiosorum amorum … Quaerebam quid amarem, amans amare, et oderam securitatem et viam sine muscipulis.” But it is by God’s grace that He permits His children to stumble. When a young child falls and skins his knee, there is nothing he longs for more than the embrace of a parent. Likewise, it was through His son’s very prodigality that God beckoned him back to Himself: “his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.”

Whitaker parted ways for a while with Gilchrist, the one for the University of Virginia and the other for a year of study abroad. In those three years of undergraduate study, Whitaker studied Greek and Latin and began an up-close and personal encounter with the Fathers of the Church, on and in their own terms. At this same time, in his tenure as president of the G. K. Chesterton Society, he grew fond of writing in a way that was edifying and, once every blue moon, humorous. And in the first semester of his graduate studies of Theology at Notre Dame, he was received into the Catholic Church on December 5, 2021, sponsored by his good friend.

If you are interested in writing a spiritual autobiography or creatively meeting a 700 word-minimum on an assignment, you can request professional advice at

Photo Credit: Matthew Rice

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