October 31, 2014

Myser lecturer Chittister explores role of public intellectual

During the Myser Lecture, Joan Chittister, OSB personified the advice she gives to budding public intellectuals, “Speak gently, speak lovingly and sometimes speak with humor.” Photo by Ashley de los Reyes '15

The clarion call from this year’s Myser lecturer, Joan Chittister, OSB was clear: Do something.

Provocative and passionate in conviction, with an audacious sense of humor, Sister Joan held a rapt audience at The O’Shaughnessy as she spoke on the topic "Going Forward with Hope and Courage: The Role of the Public Thinker in Church and Society."

Sister Joan opened the lecture by calling out the first line St. Catherine University’s mission: to educate students to lead and influence.

“I am here precisely to talk about the leadership and influence in a society that is on the verge of bartering its future by simply abandoning the values of the past,” she stated.

To fight this, as a society we must encourage, embrace and engage public intellectuals in addressing our world’s most pressing problems.
In a world of talking points and canned news, Sister Joan said “public intellectuals are guardians of the marketplace of ideas.

But these public intellectuals don’t have to be others — we have the power, if motivated and willing, to count ourselves among their ranks.

“They are average people, these public intellectuals,” she explained. “They are people like you and like me who have questions and ask them, who discover issues and challenge them, who hear contradictions and confront them — who stand up and speak out until the cry is heard, the questions are faced and the issues engaged finally.”

Sister Joan outlined eight ways in which public intellectuals strengthen the quality and character of a just and democratic society:

  1. Public intellectuals bring transparency.
  2. “Public Intellectuals in a society that protects freedom of speech have the obligation to make the invisible visible,” says Sister Joan. Public intellectuals expose systemic corruption.
  3. Public intellectuals seek evolution rather than revolution.
  4. Public intellectuals bring hope.
  5. Public intellectuals maintains the spirit of the young.
  6. Public intellectuals bring the gift of courage to social change.
  7. Public intellectuals invite healthy self-criticism and tests the group’s moral maturity. “The public intellectual shines a light on our own national darkness and so serves to keep us honest,” she explains.
  8. Public intellectuals bring vision.

Too often, questions ignored result in disillusionment, polarization and revolution. Sister Joan said the public intellectual is responsible for “raising questions that engage the soul of the public.”

During a highly spirited Q & A following the lecture, she addressed the question of how to find hope in dire situations with "Hope is not an antidote for suffering and despair. Hope is a by-product of difficulty. Hope comes out of what we grow through. Hope comes out of despair conquered."

When asked how to become a public intellectual, Sister Joan's charge was clear: start with what’s in your heart.

“The answer is simple: Do something,” she said. “Do something for women, or do something for poverty, or do something for politics or do something for the economy. Follow your heart. What is it that you care about?”

Amata, Joan and Pat Amata Miller, IHM, director of the Myser Initiative on Catholic Identity; Joan Chittister, OSB; and Patricia O'Connor Myser '56 gathered at a reception the evening before the lecture. Photo by Julie Michener.

More about Joan Chittister, OSB

Joan Chittister, OSB is a Benedictine Sister of Erie, Pa., where she served as prioress for 12 years. She is a best-selling author and international lecturer on topics of peace, justice, women's issues, human rights, and contemporary spirituality. She has authored over 50 books, including the recent Following the Path: The Search For a Life of Passion, Purpose and Joy (Random House) and Monastery of the Heart (BlueBridge).

Sister Joan is co-chair of the Global Peace Initiative of Women, a partner organization of the United Nations. She is founder and executive director of Benetvision, a resource for contemporary spirituality. She holds a doctorate in speech communications theory from Penn State University and was an elected-fellow of St. Edmund’s College, Cambridge University.

More about the Myser Initiative

The Myser Initiative on Catholic Identity annually brings professionals who exemplify in their life and work the values and principles inherent in the Catholic Identity of St. Catherine University. The initiative infuses Catholic perspectives and understandings more deeply into the curriculum and daily life on campus. Workshops and discussion groups promote greater depth of thought, inquiry, sharing, listening, dialog and understanding about the Catholic faith and understanding the great spiritual resources alive and accessible in every religion.

By Sharon Rolenc