Engaging the Academy From the Heart of the Church | Carl E. Olson | CWR
How two Catholic professors at a Reformed Protestant college are working to provide spiritual formation with a serious intellectual dimension for their students
The Saint Benedict Forum (saintbenedictforum.org) was co-founded in 2014 by two Catholic professors and scholars, Dr. Jared Ortiz and Dr. Jack Mulder, at Hope College, a liberal arts college rooted in the Reformed tradition, in Holland, Michigan. The Forum's site explains that it “seeks to promote and nurture intellectual work done from the heart of the Catholic Church, to foster an ecumenical community of Catholic Christians and friends committed to the renewal of culture, and to aid in the formation of intellectually and spiritually mature Christians by making available the riches of the Catholic tradition to Hope College and the wider community.”
Dr. Ortiz, Executive Director of The Saint Benedict Forum, attended the University of Chicago in the 1990s as a lapsed Catholic and self-described “confused agnostic,” eventually returning to the Catholic Church. He then studied patristics at the Catholic University of America, where he received an MA and a PhD. His doctoral dissertation was on creation, deification, and liturgy in St. Augustine’s Confessions. Dr. Ortiz is currently assistant professor of religion at Hope College.
Dr. Jack Mulder, Assistant Director of the Forum, studied philosophy and religion at Hope College before pursuing an MA and PhD in Philosophy at Purdue University, where he wrote his dissertation on Kierkegaard. He was received into the Catholic Church while attending graduate school, and he is the author of several books, including Kierkegaard and the Catholic Tradition (Indiana University Press, 2010). Dr. Mulder is chair and associate professor in the Philosophy Department at Hope College.
The two scholars recently corresponded with Carl E. Olson, editor of Catholic World Report, about the work of Saint Benedict Forum.
CWR: What is the Saint Benedict Forum?
Dr. Ortiz: The Saint Benedict Forum is a new way of establishing a robust and credible Catholic witness on college campuses. The statistics about Catholics at college are rather staggering: upwards of 85% of college-age Catholics in the United States don’t attend Mass regularly. And even the ones who do are often not very well formed in their faith. The Saint Benedict Forum is our New Evangelization response to the crisis of formation that has afflicted the Church for the past few generations.
When we started discussing this crisis, Jack and I decided that we wanted a Catholic center that could form the whole person. So, the Saint Benedict Forum combines two endeavors that are not often found together: a campus ministry—aimed at spiritual formation—and a center for Catholic thought—aimed at intellectual formation and engaging the academy from the heart of the Church. We are, roughly, a Newman Center combined with a Lumen Christi Institute. We know that spiritual formation without a serious intellectual dimension leaves our students vulnerable, while intellectual formation without a serious spiritual dimension can leave our students arid. We know our students need both if they are to live integrated and happy lives in service to God and neighbor.
Dr. Mulder: We also have the good fortune of being at a college with an intentional Christian mission. We’ve tried to partner with the resources on our campus in ways that are organic and integral, so that we can build on existing relationships and complement the good things already going on at Hope.
CWR: How did it come about—especially at a school, Hope College, that is rooted in the Reformed, Calvinist tradition?