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Register Radio - Opus Dei in the U.S. and Great Books Approach to Education

BY Sarah Reinhard

| Posted 5/31/14 at 12:45 PM

 

This week on Register Radio, Jeanette De Melo talks to biographer John Coverdale about the cause for canonization of Father Joseph Muzquiz, the priest who brought Opus Dei to the U.S. In the second half of the show, Dan Burke discusses great books in education with Magdalen College president George Harne and student Chris Rand.

Opus Dei in the U.S.

John Coverdale is a law professor at Seton Hall University and an expert on the history of Opus Dei. He has personally known and written books about three people in Opus Dei who are canonized saints or whose causes for canonization are underway. He has chronicled the lives of Opus Dei founder Saint Josemaria Escriva and his successor soon-to-be Blessed Alvaro del Portillo as well as Servant of God Joseph Muzquiz, who first brought the Work to the United States. 

The diocesan phase for Fr. Joseph’s cause finished earlier this May and now the process moves to Rome from the Archdiocese of Boston. “At one level, it was a kind of purely formal, legal sort of proceeding with people taking oaths and signing documents and all of that sort of thing. But at another level, it…indicated that the [Arch]diocese of Boston, after two or three years of investigating, has concluded that yes, there’s enough evidence here for us to forward this on to Rome and for them to look into it.”

Fr. Joseph was an engineer who joined Opus Dei right after the Spanish Civil War ended in 1940, Coverdale said. He was one of the first three members of the group. He was ordained in 1944, at the request of Saint Josemaria Escriva. In 1949, Fr. Joseph came to the U.S. to start Opus Dei. 

He didn’t speak much English, had no money, didn’t know anyone, and he was bringing a difficult message, a call to holiness for everyone, not just priests or nuns. “That [message] struck an awful lot of people as crazy,” Coverdale said. “If you take your religion that seriously, you become a priest or a nun.”

The message and work of Opus Dei is emphasizing the universal call to holiness and sanctifying our lives in the ordinary circumstances of everyday life.

Fr. Joseph and the lay member who came to the U.S. with him landed in New York and moved on to Chicago, according to Coverdale. Within six months, he managed to buy a rather large house near the University of Chicago, in part by convincing the real estate agent to give him the commission for the down payment.

“He certainly had great faith in God,” Coverdale said, “and his hope was really quite remarkable. He was sure that things would work out. He had great love for people and for God. … I think [the virtue] that stood out in the minds of many people was just how hard he worked. He was a tremendously hard worker.”

Coverdale continued, saying Fr. Joseph would have said that, “I’m a priest, so the work I have to do is that of a priest: preaching and hearing confessions and saying Mass. But what makes you holy isn’t doing some specific form of work but doing it well for love of God.”

Listen to the entire interview to hear about the mosaic in St. Peter’s Square. You can learn more about Fr. Joseph at his website, JosephMuzquiz.org, or from Coverdale’s book, Putting Down Roots: Fr. Joseph Muzquiz and the Growth of Opus Dei (Scepter Publishing).

Great Books Approach to Education

In the second half of the show, we hear from two guests: George Harne, president of Magdalen College, and student Chris Rand.

George Harne is convert to Catholicism.  He and his wife entered the Church in 2006, coming from an evangelical and Anglican background.  George is a father of five and president of the College of Saint Mary Magdalen, where he also teaches music and humanities.  George studied medieval music at Princeton University and Great Books at St. John's College.  

A Great Books education, Harne said, is “an approach that goes back to the sources, the original foundations of education.” In this approach, educators introduce students to the great books that have shaped our culture and are sources of truth. 

This is done at the college through dialogue, Harne said, with a conversation led by a tutor or professor after a close reading of the texts. The books include those in a range from Homer all the way to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. “It’s a wonderful stretch of history and historical works that we discover,” Harne said.

When all you do is study great commentaries on great commentaries, you lose a direct connection to sources themselves. The Great Books approach allows students to “avoid a lot of the potential distractions,” according to Harne. There’s no getting caught up in individual thoughts and forgetting the question “What is true?” “In the Great Books approach, we just cut directly to that fundamental question, ‘is it true?’,” Harne said.

So much of culture is filled with recycled arguments of authors, and Magdalen College students are able to base their understanding on what the original authors actually say. “There’s nothing dull about it,” Harne maintains. “It’s an exciting adventure” for both the students and the teachers.

Harne shared the exciting news that Magdalen College is offering free room and board to all incoming freshmen and transfer students. 

“We believe that what we have here at the college is a transformative experience for young people that will serve ultimately them, their families, and the larger culture. We want to make it as available as possible to as many people as possible,” Harne said. “Given the economic climate in which we find ourselves, it’s difficult for a lot of families; they think that this kind of education is out of their reach.”

To hear how the Magdalen College experience changed student Chris Rand, be sure to listen to the entire interview. You can learn more about Magdalen College at their website, magdalen.edu, or follow them on Facebook.

Listen to this week’s show online or on your mp3 player.