Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Doctor is in ... England!

"I am currently awaiting confirmation of a job offer—prayers, please!" Until now, that plea, posted on The Dawn Patrol last April, was the last bit of news I shared on my blog concerning my plans upon becoming the first woman to receive a canonical doctorate in sacred theology from the University of St. Mary of the Lake.

At the Our Lady Seat of Wisdom statue outside Oscott, October 10, 2016

Today it is my joy to write of answered prayers. Since October, I have been a resident lecturer in theology at St. Mary's College, Oscott, which is the seminary of the Archdiocese of Birmingham, England. It is the largest seminary in the English-speaking world outside the United States (not counting the U.S.-operated North American College in Rome).

Although Oscott has long had women on staff and recently awarded the title of Professor to Church History lecturer and Director of Studies Dr. Judith Champ, my hiring marks the first time that the seminary has ever had a female theologian in residence. It is also the first time any lay member of the faculty has resided on campus (a necessity for me, as I do not drive).

Rector David Oakley first approached me about teaching at Oscott when I visited the seminary during my European speaking tour in May 2015 to address seminarians on "Celibacy and Communion in John Paul II's Catechesis on Human Love." We stayed in touch as I completed my doctorate, and the hope of entering the field of seminary teaching — which was what I had long felt the Lord was calling me to do — inspired me as I wrote my dissertation.

Why, then, has it taken me so long to share this wonderful news with Dawn Patrol readers? Two reasons: First, although I arrived in the UK on a tourist visa in August, there was no legal assurance that I would be able to accept a teaching position until late September, when the authorities granted my request for a work visa. Second, once the visa was finally approved — which came after much bureaucratic back-and-forth, a visit to an immigration lawyer, and a journey back home to complete the application process — I had to not only dive straight into teaching three classes but also make up for weeks of lost lecture time.

Thus far I have been teaching three classes — Eucharist, Ecclesiology, and The Church and Dialogue — and next semester I will contribute two lectures to a fourth class, Holy Order (for which I will teach the theology of the priesthood from Vatican II to the present). My students, all of whom are men studying for the priesthood, hail variously from England, Scotland, Wales, the Philippines, Cameroon, and Nigeria. They include not only diocesan seminarians but also members of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, the Vocationist Fathers, and the Oratory of St. Philip Neri. Because I teach three different year groups, I have a total of thirty-two students in my classes—nearly half the seminary.

My initial experience of teaching was simultaneously exciting and daunting. It was exciting to finally begin to teach for the first time and discover that I really could do it. And it was daunting to discover how much I was in need of the wisdom that comes with experience. I began to understand that whereas I am blessed to have certain natural gifts for teaching, it will take significant time and effort to become the kind of teacher I want to be. Some things can be learned only by doing.

Although I arrived at Oscott having some experience of seminary life, it is unquestionably a different experience living at a British seminary than it was living at an American one. In fact, British culture in general is much stranger to me than I had imagined it would be. Most of my previous experiences of it were in the 1990s, when I was moving in a very different world, interviewing rock bands for compact-disc liner notes and for Mojo magazine. (I later romanticized those times in a song, "Girl on the Northern Line," that was recorded by the Anderson Council.)

Girl on the Northern Line: Rocking my way through London, October 1991.

Something to smile about: Catching up with the legendary Paulist Father James Lloyd during a Christmas trip to NYC, 2017 


If there is a thread of continuity between my experiences of England as a rock historian and as a dogmatic theologian, perhaps it is that of being an insider in a world that is well known but beyond the reach of most people.

For example, in 1992, while on assignment as a liner-note writer for reissue producer Ron Furmanek, working on collections of music by the Hollies and other British rockers, I stayed for two weeks in a townhouse at the Abbey Road Studios complex—the same place where Paul McCartney stayed when he recorded there. Ron was working closely with the Apple Records at the time, and I was able to tag along with him to a rehearsal of George Harrison with his touring band—which then included Tom Petty— at a cavernous soundstage at Shepperton Film Studios. I also went with Ron to visit Dave Clark at his famous Mayfair penthouse apartment. (My outstanding memory of that event is Clark's praising Ron and assuring him that, when the time came for him to license the Dave Clark Five's music for reissue, Ron would be his producer of choice. Instead, however, he made an ill-fated deal with Disney.)

Fast forward to today, and instead of having an inside look at how records are produced, I have an inside look at how priests are produced—or, rather, formed. More than that, I do so not as a mere spectator but rather as part of a team that is responsible for their intellectual formation.

And I still get to live and dine in rarefied, veddy British surroundings—only my present digs are more Downton Abbey than downtown London, being designed by Augustus Welby Pugin.

The faculty dining room at Oscott, with table set for a formal dinner, September 2016
But there is another side of being an insider that is not so enviable. Sally Read, in her masterly memoir Night's Bright Darkness, describes how Soho Square, where she used to party with her friends, took on a new meaning for her when, during her journey to Catholicism, she discovered the friendship of Jesus in the Eucharist at the parish church there, St. Patrick's. Too often, Catholics—and I include myself here—treat the faith as though it were an insider's experience, available only to those in the know. The faith may be attractive to us, but we don't really expect anyone else to be attracted by it. I remember an English monk years ago when he wrote to thank me after I gifted his monastery with a copy of The Thrill of the Chaste: "I'm sure that now we will all enjoy being chaste." Granted, he was being witty, but every day I encounter Catholics—again, myself not excluded—who lack confidence that, by living and proclaiming their faith, they can draw those on the outside toward the good, the true, and the beautiful.

Although Read encountered Catholic laypeople prior to her conversion, the person she credits with bringing her to the faith is a priest. My experience was similar, only it wasn't just one priest but many, and it wasn't only priests, but seminarians. They reached out to me during the time between late 2003 and early 2005 when I was a newly baptized non-Catholic Christian searching for a church to call home. I remember how such wonderfully dedicated Catholic seminarians such as Dennis Schenkel and John Brown, S.J. (both now priests) encouraged me in my search for truth. There was no pressure and no hint of triumphalism about their witness. They simply made themselves present for me, answering my questions, giving me good Catholic reading, praying for me, and demonstrating by their lives that Catholic morality—including the teachings on chastity and on celibacy for the Kingdom—far from quenching charity, truly enables it.

My hope is that, as a convert from Judaism via Protestantism who was long entrenched in the most secular corners of the media world, I can help the seminarians in my charge have confidence that, given a life of prayer and a sound understanding of their faith, they can bring souls to Christ who are lost as I was.

* * *

Now that I am teaching, I am looking forward to having summers off so that I may do ... more teaching! I am looking to teach at a university's summer program in theology and am also interested in giving classes to members of institutes of consecrated life. If you or someone you know would like to discuss having me teach in July or August, my e-mail address is dawneden [at] gmail.com.

In other good news, my doctoral dissertation is now available to academic libraries via ProQuest. "The Mystical Body and Its Loving Wounds" examines magisterial teaching on redemptive suffering from Pius XII's reign through the first three years of Francis's papacy. Now that I have settled into my teaching schedule, I intend to begin approaching academic publishers so that I might publish it in book form.

I am most grateful to those who continue to spread the word about my books on healing and conversion, including the good people at Catholic World Report, which recently published both Dr. Christopher S. Morrissey's review of my latest book Remembering God's Mercy and Rhonda Ortiz's interview with me about it.

Last, given that everything I have ever asked my family, friends, and Dawn Patrol readers to pray for has come to pass, might I ask you to please pray for one more thing for me? Please pray that I might make close friends in the metropolitan area where I am currently living. Moving an ocean away from friends and family, to a strange country where my accent and mores make me stick out, is the most difficult thing that I have ever done. I miss living around people who know me well enough that I can ask them for a hug without anyone being scandalized. On the upside, I am gradually meeting people and I do realize that friendships, like all good things, take time. Thank you for your prayers, and please know that every day I pray to Jesus through Mary for all my readers, including you.