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Archbishop Coakley’s Matriculation Remarks: “Drink Deeply of These Wellsprings of Wisdom”

Posted: August 21, 2017


by the Most Rev. Paul S. Coakley, S.T.L., D.D.
Archbishop of Oklahoma City
Remarks from the Matriculation Ceremony (transcript)
Convocation Day
August 21, 2017


In my remarks during my homily, I said with all seriousness that this visit was a “bucket list” thing for me. I learned of Thomas Aquinas College when I was an incoming freshman at the University of Kansas in Lawrence in 1973. Thomas Aquinas College at that time was in its infancy, but our professors there, particularly Dr. John Senior, were very fond of what was happening here on the West Coast, and we would hear a lot about both the similarities and the contrast between these two educational initiatives, so new and really so radical at the time.

It was, I think, National Review that referred to the Integrated Humanities Program as “an experiment in tradition.” That’s what it seemed to me when I went as an incoming freshman at the University of Kansas. I had received an invitation to attend an orientation lecture about the Integrated Humanities Program. Not knowing what it was — and it was so unlike anything that I had done before — I thought, “This is something very radical.” But I was thinking “radical” in the other direction. It turned out the program was so radical and so innovative because it was so very, very traditional. The whole point was to recover and restore a sense of those perennial values and that perennial wisdom, that perennial philosophy, which are the root and foundation of Western civilization.

The motto of the Integrated Humanities Program was “Let them be born in wonder” (nascantur in admiratione). John Senior really believed that, at that time in the 1970s, students were so jaded by the culture and society in which we lived that we were out of touch with the real world around us. What needed to happen before we could even begin to address the serious studies that you are embarking upon here at Thomas Aquinas College, a study of the great books, was a kind of a remedial introduction, which would be in a sense a re-education of the imagination.

So a lot of what we did during those years that the Integrated Humanities Program flourished in the 1970s and into the 1980s was an education in what came to be known as “the poetic mode.” This, of course, included a great deal of memorization and recitation of poetry, which we did weekly in sessions with fellow students led by a student mentor. It also included things like stargazing, going out and looking up into the stars on a dark night outside of Lawrence, Kansas, and taking notice — paying attention to — things that most of us, growing up in the city perhaps, had never bothered to look up at before. To be amazed, to look up at the stars in wonder.

There were also things like learning to waltz; we had annually a spring waltz. This was in the early and mid-1970s, so you had these guys with shoulder length hair — hippies, you would have to say — dressing up in tuxedos, and young women in long, floor-length formal gowns, approaching each other, a little awkwardly at first. The girls had dance cards, and part of the method was to teach manners, to teach courtesy, to teach a sense of how to do things with a certain sense of respect and reverence and propriety. We had learned to ask the young lady to dance, and she learned to accept [laughter]. Sometimes it was a little bit of a challenge!

But that was all very much a part of this innovative and yet very traditional educational undertaking, which really was kind of laying the groundwork for the more serious studies that followed as we entered into the great books of Greek and Roman culture, and the Christian Middle Ages, and the modern period. So it was a remarkable and transformative time for me, personally. I can honestly say that I would not be a priest today were it not for my immersion into that experiment in tradition which was the Integrated Humanities Program, and the same could be said for hundreds of others. There were literally hundreds of conversions to the Catholic faith at the university of Kansas in the 1970s and the 1980s.

I had the privilege of meeting the Venerable Frank Duff, founder of the Legion of Mary, once upon a time on an Integrated Humanities Program semester in Ireland. I had the chance to chat with him, and he was comparing KU at the time of the Integrated Humanities Program with the Oxford Movement, what was happening there in terms of the number of young converts to the Faith. From those many converts came many vocations, dozens of vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life. Obviously the Benedictine at Clear Creek Abbey are a direct fruit of that experience as well. Back in the day, when I was a college student at KU, the Integrated Humanities Program was a feeder institution for the Abbey of Fontgombault, just as Thomas Aquinas College has become a “feeder,” if you will, for Clear Creek Abbey. Many of the founding monks at Clear Creek were students at the Integrated Humanities Program.

So coming here today is very much like a homecoming, though it’s the first time I’ve been here. I feel as if we are first cousins, and I am so truly excited for the experience that you freshmen are embarking upon today. And the rest of you who have already begun to drink of these waters — what a tremendous opportunity is being afforded to you! I encourage you with all of my heart to drink deeply of these wellsprings of wisdom and learning and the Gospel and philosophy, theology, and poetry, and all that you are being introduced to. This is really, I think, a light in a dark place. The eclipse has passed by now, but we have work to do yet, I think, before the eclipse of Western civilization is complete and we emerge on the other side into the light of truth and goodness and beauty.

So thank you for this opportunity to experience Thomas Aquinas College for myself and to offer the Mass with you and for you. Know that you are in my prayers. May God, who has begun this good work in you, bring it to completion in ways that you cannot even yet begin to understand or imagine. God bless you.



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