Ministry in ‘Academia’!
People working in academic institutions (universities, colleges, institutes, schools etc.) are sometimes regarded as ‘lost’ in ‘ivory towers’ of irrelevance and as disconnected from ‘ordinary’ life and ordinary people’s concerns. This perception is sometimes applied a fortiori to religious and priests working in such places. Why are they not out ‘in the real world’ of parishes and the like? Such perceptions are often based on misunderstandings of the work that goes on in educational establishments and without which many people who work in ‘the real world’ would lose out in terms of training and education for the work that they actually do.
The Augustinian Order has a history of involvement in academic establishments internationally – in the USA (Villanova University), in Spain (several second-level schools), in the Philippines (Iloilo University), Australia (Villanova College, Brisbane and St. Augustine’s, Sydney) to name but a few. In England in medieval times, the Austin Friars were attending courses at Cambridge and Oxford and had student-houses in these locations. Religious and clerics who engaged in academic work then and more recently have seen their ministry as training and educating future ministers for the proclamation of the gospel and for the continued engagement of the Church in society as a whole. Parishes and secondary schools especially, have benefited as a result.
The Irish Augustinian Province has had a small but notable involvement in academic life in Ireland and overseas. The late F. X. Martin was professor of medieval history in University College Dublin. Still happily with us are Gabriel Daly who taught in Milltown Institute, The Irish School of Ecumenics and Trinity College Dublin and Peter Haughey who taught in Milltown Institute. Currently, Dick Lyng teaches in the history department of Galway University and Pat Gayer teaches in All Hallows College Dublin. Outside Ireland, James Downey teaches scripture in Rome and Denis Mason teaches philosophy in Nairobi, Kenya. The tradition of Augustinian teaching in Milltown Institute continues in the persons of Tom Cooney (Pastoral Studies), Kieran O’Mahony (Scripture) and David Kelly (Spirituality).
My own involvement in academic life apart from twelve years in secondary teaching in New Ross and Cork, has extended from postgraduate studies in spirituality at Milltown Institute in the mid-1990s up to my current full-time post as a lecturer in spirituality and as director of postgraduate programmes in Christian spirituality. The ‘buzz’ in teaching work of any kind comes necessarily from engagement with those one teaches whether at academic level or at a personal level. Students keep teachers and lecturers ‘awake’ and ‘on their toes’ and there is a great satisfaction to be gained in seeing those you have been teaching and supervising (dissertations) successfully complete their studies and receive the awards they have worked so hard to attain. My work is a small contribution to training students, many of them lay women and men for pastoral and educational ministry in the life of the Church, an articulate cohort of people who can bring the values of the gospel into the market-place. Ministering to future ministers is a ministry in itself and a vital one at that!
David Kelly osa