Wyoming Catholic College and Hotel California

I was so pleased to receive the invitation to be this year’s commencement speaker at Wyoming Catholic College, not least because it would afford me the opportunity to return to WCC’s campus almost a decade after my only previous visit.

As I prepared for this trip, I wondered whether it would prove to be as much of an adventure as my previous visit had proved to be. All those years ago, I had made the long trek to Lander, Wyo., from my then-home in Ave Maria, Fla. It was December 2009, and I was a little concerned by what I’d heard about the extremities of the winter weather in the wilds of Wyoming. The journey on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception was long and arduous, though otherwise largely uneventful. I gave a talk on Shakespeare’s Catholicism to the entire student body, which in those days fitted relatively comfortably into one large classroom. In 2009, WCC was only in its third year of classes and had not yet graduated any students.

On the following morning, at around 4:30, we drove through blizzard conditions to Riverton for my 6 a.m. flight to Denver en route to Fort Myers. Upon arrival, we were informed that the flight was cancelled. When, I asked, was the next flight? Noon, was the reply. Would this be cancelled, I asked? No idea, was the non-committal response. Not wishing to cancel my own classes at Ave Maria University on the following day, I asked my host if he would be willing to drive me to Denver, a mere six-hour drive, so that I could catch my 4 p.m. flight to Florida. In an act of heroism, he agreed to do so.

All seemed well. The snow stopped, and a Marian blue sky greeted us as we headed south. After a couple of hours, we were blinded by a ground blizzard, a weather phenomenon I’d never experienced before. For those who are as ignorant of ground blizzards as I was, it’s caused by powdered snow being blown up from the ground by the wind. The day was clear and the sun shone brightly, but the blown blizzard of snow still reduced visibility to almost zero. There was no doubt that driving in such conditions was treacherous, and we were not surprised to find that the freeway was closed, forcing us to take a long circuitous route to Denver. We arrived at Denver airport just in time to wave my flight off as it departed. Thus, and in spite of my best efforts and the noble sacrifice of my chauffeur, I was forced to spend the night in a hotel near the airport, necessitating the cancellation of my classes the next day.

Recalling that Chesterton described an adventure as an inconvenience rightly considered, I have recalled and recounted this adventure whenever Wyoming Catholic College came up in conversation in the ensuing years. WCC had much in common with Hotel California, I said; you could check out, but you could never leave!

Such thoughts and such memories were at the forefront of my mind on May 11 this year, as I left my home in South Carolina. What inconvenience or adventure would await me this time? Surely I was safe from ground blizzards in May.

The problem on this occasion was what might be called the domino effect. My 6 a.m. flight from South Carolina was delayed just long enough to ensure that I would miss my connection in Denver. This necessitated a seven-hour layover until the departure of the next flight to Riverton, which meant that I missed the baccalaureate Mass and the eve-of-commencement festivities which followed. I was, however, present at the commencement itself, and my heart rejoiced at the growth in the college’s numbers in the nine years since I had last visited. The Lander community hall was packed to the seams, or filled to the brim, with students and their friends and families, together with the faculty and staff and their families.  What I witnessed, and of which I was blessed to be a part, was the fruits of authentic Catholic education, a day of joy and festivity exuding the very presence of the splendor of truth.

Returning home the next day, everything went well until I got to Charlotte. My 10:10 p.m. flight was delayed and, at 1 a.m., was finally cancelled. I shared an Uber to Greenville airport with another stranded passenger at which we picked up our respective cars and drove to our respective homes. I finally walked through my door sometime after 3 a.m. and collapsed into bed after another glorious “adventure.”

Looking back on my two visits to Wyoming Catholic College, I have come to realize that there is something providentially apt about the trials, tribulations and travails involved in getting there. The college is deliberately a place of isolation. The students go on a three-week orientation hike into the Wyoming back country at the beginning of their freshman year, surrendering their cell phones and replacing them with a college experience more akin to a monastic cell. I imagine that the four years that the students spend at Wyoming Catholic College resemble an intellectual and spiritual retreat, so different from the sort of sordid experience that they would have endured at secular and secularized Catholic colleges and universities. As the father of a ten-year-old daughter who will, at some stage, presumably, be going off to college, I know that I’d rather that she experiences the adventure of Wyoming Catholic College than the nihilistic drudgery of the toxic mainstream. For this reason, and for many other equally good reasons, I hope and pray that WCC and the other Newman Guide colleges continue to grow and prosper.

JOSEPH PEARCE is a senior fellow at The Cardinal Newman Society and editor of its journal. He is a senior contributor at The Imaginative Conservative and senior editor at the Augustine Institute. His books include biographical works on C.S. Lewis, Shakespeare, Tolkien, Chesterton, Solzhenitsyn and Belloc.

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