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University Of Mary’s President… Says We Need To Rediscover Contemplation

June 18, 2017 Frontpage No Comments

By PEGGY MOEN

MINNEAPOLIS — Asked by The Wanderer what advice he would give to someone planning to transform a Catholic college, Msgr. James Patrick Shea, president of the University of Mary, said “hiring for mission” is paramount.
“Find people who love the Lord and the faith,” he said, and then put them in “key positions.”
These key people can then build a campus culture that supports contemplation, said Msgr. Shea, who earned a licentiate in philosophy at Catholic University, and studied theology at the Gregorian and Lateran universities in Rome.
Monsignor was speaking at the Church of St. Helena here at the 21st Annual Benefit Banquet for The Catholic Servant, a locally based monthly newspaper. In his June 7 talk, he addressed “ora et labora [prayer and work] at a time of distraction.” Ora et labora is the well-known phrase of St. Benedict of Nursia (480-587) that summarizes his rule of monastic life.
The University of Mary, Bismarck, N.D. (umary.edu), defines itself as “private, Christian, Catholic, Benedictine,” and says that it infuses “Benedictine values throughout the educational experience.”
Msgr. Shea, who was ordained for the Diocese of Bismarck in 2002, has served as the president of Mary since 2009. His becoming president at age 34 made him the youngest college or university president in the United States.
Since then, he has been honored and written up for his success in renewing the Catholic character of Mary, as well as for establishing a number of practical programs, such as the Year-Round Campus program that allows students to graduate in 2.6 years and earn their master’s degree in four years. Most students major in the health sciences or business-related fields, reflecting the university’s focus on career preparation.
The specifically Catholic programs Shea has inaugurated include a new campus in Rome; the Catholic Scholars program, which provides free room and board to incoming freshmen who are eligible graduates of Catholic high schools; and the Bishop Paul A. Zipfel Catholic Studies Program.
A May 15, 2016 National Catholic Register article praised St. Gregory’s University, Shawnee, Okla., for choosing Msgr. Shea to deliver its commencement address that year, noting: “In short order, Msgr. Shea has propelled his university to be among the faithful Catholic institutions in the country.”
The Newman Guide agrees, saying: “The University of Mary is part of a second generation in the renewal of Catholic higher education. The 56-year-old university has been taking exciting steps to reinforce its academics, student life, and Catholic identity, following the example of Newman Guide colleges that have likewise embraced their Catholic mission.”
At St. Helena’s, Msgr. Shea told his one hundred plus listeners that he gives a number of talks to his incoming freshmen. One of the most popular is: “Technology: Servant or Master?”
“Students have high-hearted hopes . . . and yet they come to us breathing the air of our culture. . . . I think we all see in our own lives that we’re more easily distracted,” he said.
“We can Skype a person in Australia,” he explained, “yet the result is not a sense of connectedness, but a sense of isolation,” which can produce deep feelings of anxiety.
St. Benedict and his monks in the sixth century did not set out to save a culture; that happened, “but incidentally” — “they set out to seek God.”
Benedict’s call for a balance of prayer and work is “great for every time,” and for all who seek God. But the founder of the Benedictine order had to come at things from the opposite direction that we do, said Msgr. Shea. “Benedict dignified work,” something that was necessary because while the ancients revered contemplation, they scorned servile labor.
But now, “we are as a culture workaholics . . . so our main task” is to “remember the great value of contemplation, to re-familiarize ourselves with the truth that we were made for far more than work,” said Msgr. Shea, who grew up on a North Dakota grain and dairy farm.
That task is especially pressing for Americans, because “we’re practical and we want things to work. . . . But we don’t honor contemplation.”
Msgr. Shea recalled Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical against Americanism, in which that Holy Father faulted the tendency in America to place the active life above the contemplative life, while the Church has always taught the opposite.
“We’re dazzled by technology,” said Monsignor, “…but it’s not the great savior.” After all, consider what we go through in traffic!
Americans feel pressure “to get ahead before it’s too late” — but this creates a good bit of anxiety and false perspectives.
Reflecting on what he sees in students, Msgr. Shea noted that they sometimes forget how much time there is. Time can and should be devoted to family, said Monsignor, the oldest of eight children. We need to allow more time for leisure and contemplation.
He also regrets the “terrible aversion to commitment” that he observes, especially in the young. But “this is the way of the Lord . . . to commit ourselves to some great work on His behalf.”
Shea recommended “some possible avenues” toward regaining a culture of contemplation.
First, adopt the attitude of St. Benedict, seeing work as important but maintaining perspective on it. It should free us to consider “the most important things” and avoid the love of money.
Second, allow time for leisure — and let ourselves “be created anew and more deeply formulated.” Msgr. Shea referred to the works of Josef Pieper on this subject.
Third, make time for festivals and celebrations and “honor the Lord’s Day.” Let traditions grow.
Fourth, let’s moderate our use of screens. Evidence shows they are addictive, he pointed out, noting earlier in his talk the need that many have to play “just one more round” of a videogame. “Screens” can leave souls prey to despair.
In contrast, said Msgr. Shea, we have the “peace and happiness to be gained” even here on Earth through knowing the Lord, and realizing “the happiness and the goodness” that have come from the monasteries and their culture of contemplation.
Also that evening, The Catholic Servant presented its annual award to Fr. Michael Creagan, pastor of St. Joseph’s Parish in West St. Paul and a part-time chaplain in the Minnesota Army National Guard.

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