Afternoon Tea at the Abbey and a Weekend with Thomas More
With the launching of the new and new-look Newman Guide last week, I was intrigued to see that I have been to fourteen of the seventeen residential colleges listed in the Guide, having previously served on the faculty of two of them. Of the non-residential, international, and online institutions listed, I am currently on the faculty of one of them (Holy Apostles), was formerly on the faculty of another (Aquinas College), have spoken at a third (University of Navarra) and have helped edit the study guides of a fourth (Ignatius Angelicum Liberal Studies Program). It is truly a joy and a privilege to be working so closely with these faithful Catholic colleges.
Within the past two weeks, I have had the pleasure of renewing my acquaintance with two of these colleges: Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina and Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in New Hampshire.
On March 18, at the invitation of Dr. Ian Crowe, an Associate Professor of History at Belmont Abbey College, I spoke and answered questions at an informal “afternoon tea” with his students and with several faculty guests. Dr. Crowe and I have a lot in common, in the sense that we are both English ex-pats, married to fine American ladies, who are now living in the South and teaching at faithful Catholic colleges. We are also about the same age, which means that we have both shared the experience of growing up in England in the 1970s and ‘80s. Since Dr. Crowe is teaching a class on modern British history, post-World War Two, he invited me to speak about my own checkered past, and specifically of my involvement in radical politics in both England and Northern Ireland, as recounted in my book Race with the Devil.
After we’d all settled down with a cup of good English tea, accompanied by cake and imported English biscuits, i.e. cookies, I spoke briefly about my experience of politics in the 1970s and ‘80s and then answered questions from students and faculty alike. The afternoon tea having ended, I visited the rare books collection in the College library before proceeding to a local restaurant for further convivial conversation with selected faculty and students. As I drove home, crossing the border from North to South Carolina, I was positively aglow with the pleasure of having had afternoon tea at the Abbey in such pleasant and invigorating company.
Two short days after my visit to Belmont Abbey College, I flew to New Hampshire to take part in the fifth annual Catholic Literature Conference, sponsored by Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in partnership with Christ the King Parish. Since I flew in early on Friday, a day ahead of Saturday’s conference, I had the opportunity to revisit Thomas More College’s campus, rekindling memories of the two years that I had taught there. Steeping myself once more in the colonial past, I admired those buildings on campus which were built way back in 1726, almost three hundred years ago. Although the students I taught have all since graduated, becoming themselves a part of the campus’s history, I was able to renew friendships with my former colleagues on the faculty and staff, and bask in the academic culture that I had enjoyed while I was there. I watched as students emerged from the library having successfully defended, before a panel of faculty members, their Junior Projects, one of which was on Jane Eyre and the other on Newman’s Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine.
On Saturday morning, accompanied by College President William Fahey, we drove north to the state capital of Concord for the conference. Following Mass and the opening prayer, I gave the first talk of the day, on “Innocence and Wisdom in Narnia.” Other speakers were Dr. Amy Fahey, a fellow of Thomas More College, who spoke on children’s literature; Dr. Glenn Arbery, president of Wyoming Catholic College, who spoke on Milton and C. S. Lewis; and, last but indubitably not least, Dr. Anthony Esolen, a professor at Thomas More College whose work and musings will need no introduction to readers of this Journal, who spoke on Dickens’s Bleak House.
As I returned home, exhilarated and exhausted from my civilized sojourn in the still slightly chilled north-east, I counted my blessings and said a prayer of thanksgiving for the life I live among those who work so courageously for the restoration of Catholic education in this country.
Copyright © 2020 The Cardinal Newman Society. Permission to reprint without modification to text, with attribution to author and to The Cardinal Newman Society, and (if published online) hyperlinked to the article on the Newman Society’s website. The views expressed herein are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Cardinal Newman Society.