Pope Francis and Joy

Symposium Brings Catholic Leaders to Benedictine College

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Benedictine College’s fourth annual Symposium for Advancing the New Evangelization brought hundreds of participants together to discuss the best way to bring the Gospel message to the world with joy.

The event, held March 27-28 on the Benedictine College campus in Atchison, Kan., attracted some of America’s leading intellectuals and practitioners in the New Evangelization. The theme was taken from Pope Francis’ “Influential Joy: Gaudiem et Spes to Evangelii Gaudium."

“We continue to attract some of the finest leaders of the New Evangelization,” said David Trotter, director for Mission and Ministry at Benedictine College. “The scholarly and practical advice gives fruit to the Gospel to be spread around the world.” 

Benedictine College President Stephen D. Minnis said the Symposium is another in a year of academic highlights.

“We began the year by opening up our Great Books courses, featuring the Wisdom of the Ages exhibit of rare and important documents on campus and celebrating several new faculty books,” Minnis said. “Benedictine College is the flagship college of the New Evangelization, and that means that Catholic thinkers and  missionaries look to us to lead.”

The four keynote speakers were: St. Louis University professor Fr. David Meconi S.J.; Catholic missionary, speaker and EWTN host Peter Herbeck; Donnelly College President Msgr. Stuart Swetland and R.R. Reno, editor of First Things magazine.

Father Meconi, one of the world’s leading scholars of St. Augustine of Hippo, said, “Augustine is the saint of the New Evangelization. He wrote for our age.”

He examined Augustine’s Confessions and showed how it speaks to modern misconceptions about God and faith. “For Augustine, all creatures are windows to God,” said Meconi. “Rejecting creatures to get to God is like destroying a stained glass window to see the sun.”

Herbeck gave a rousing address on the need to embrace the New Evangelization with joy and courage. “Everyone is preaching the anti-Gospel today, and they aren't timid,” he said. He called on the audience to embrace Scripture and quoted Pope Benedict XVI, saying of Lectio Divina Scripture reading: “I am convinced it will produce a new spiritual springtime in the Church.”

Msgr. Swetland said Pope Francis epitomizes the New Evangelization with his emphasis on joy, mercy and reaching out to the margins in a unique way.

“The names ‘Pope Francis’ and the ‘New Evangelization’ have at least two things in common: people talk a lot about them, and most people don’t really know who or what they are,” he said.

Msgr. Swetland hosts the television show Catholicism on Campus on EWTN and "Go Ask Your Father" on Relevant Radio. Benedictine College students, faculty and staff recently taped several programs with him for EWTN.

Reno spoke about the danger in the tendency for modern education to stress “critical thinking.”

“‘Critical thinking’ has taken on a new meaning in recent decades, one more associated with critique than constructive criticism, and it has become an end-in-itself for many educators,” he said. “Unless we learn how to affirm beliefs as true, we can never arrive at the truth.”

The talk sparked a dialogue with Benedictine College speakers in the room about how best to help students in an information-rich, analysis-poor age.

The symposium was preceeded by Benedictine College's annual Vocations Fair, and attracted more than 20 religious representing several orders to participate or give presentations. Participating men’s religious congregations included Benedictines, Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, Jesuits, and the Apostles of the Interior Life. Women’s congregations included Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal, Dominican Sisters of St Cecilia and Dominican Sisters of Mary Mother of the Eucharist, Benedictine Sisters, and sisters of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity. 

Dominican Sister of Mary Mother of the Eucharist Joseph Andrew attended from Ann Arbor, Mich., and presented at the event. “The organization was powerful!," she said. "I will continue to unpack much of this through the ensuing days and weeks.”


In addition to the four keynote speakers, presenters at the colloquium sessions were from a variety of different institutions, organizations and ministries and came from many walks of life. Archbishop Joseph Naumann from the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas celebrated Mass at the conference and explained how true joy could even be found on Passion Sunday.

“The keynotes were very good, and the breakout sessions were a real eye-opener, giving a new angle to questions that you do not typically hear in undergraduate courses,” said Brianna Sluder, a senior with majors in Journalism & Mass Communications and Theology who attended both days of the Symposium. “It was great hearing from so many orders of religious men and women. Their experiences showed how we can all better live the call to the New Evangelization.”

Founded in 1858, Benedictine College is a Catholic, Benedictine, residential, liberal arts college located on the bluffs above the Missouri River in Atchison, Kansas. The school is proud to have been consistently named one of America’s Best Colleges by U.S. News & World Report as well as one of the top Catholic colleges in the nation by First Things magazine and the Newman Guide. It prides itself on outstanding academics, extraordinary faith life, strong athletic programs, and an exceptional sense of community and belonging. It has a mission to educate men and women within a community of faith and scholarship.