A co-founder of Benedictus College has expressed her hope that their education style, inspired by the writings of Bl. John Henry Newman, will help to change the face of higher education in Europe.
“No one’s tried to do anything like this in the UK before,” Dr. Clare Hornsby told CNA in a Feb. 17 interview, emphasizing that “our offer will be a unique one.”
Benedictus is a university-college that Dr. Hornsby co-founded in 2010, and is modeled off of the Catholic University structure in the US, giving special emphasis to the learning of philosophy and theology with the aid of the fine arts.
The integrated courses, Hornsby observed, will “bring together the text approach” as well as firsthand experience, so that rather than just reading a book about art, the students will be able to “go out and look at art,” which brings together an “intellectual and cultural heritage.”
Hornsby explained that the idea to begin the college came about through conversations she had with her colleague Franz Forrester, who graduated from Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, Calif., recalling how they wanted to link the study of the philosophical traditions of Plato and Aristotle to the study of culture and history.
Recalling the visit of Benedict XVI to England in 2010 for the beatification of the now-blessed John Henry Newman, Dr. Hornsby revealed that the occasion was a key inspiration for starting the initiative.
In his work “The Idea of a University,” Newman envisioned exactly this style of an “education that educates the whole person,” Hornsby observed, adding that “Newman,” as a Catholic, “was hoping to create this type of university.”
During the courses, Hornsby noted that philosophy will be used “as a way to learn how to think,” as well as to “create a complete picture” of education so that the students will be turned “into whole inquiring minds.”
Offering their first course over the summer, entitled “Foundational Aspects of European Culture,” Dr. Hornsby emphasized that this will “give people an opportunity to sample the Catholic liberal arts education.”
Particularly, it will be an opportunity to “introduce the Catholic liberal arts education to young people” in Britain, as well as those studying abroad, because this style “is relatively unknown in the UK.”
Taking place in London at the Heythrop College campus, the course will last for two weeks, and will give students the opportunity to discuss classic works of philosophy and theology, as well as history and art, with the aim of highlighting the “important thematic connections” between all of the subjects.
Class sizes are limited to 15 students so that they will have the opportunity to discuss the topics in depth with a tutor, Hornsby noted, emphasizing that “tutor courses don’t exist in any other places” outside of Oxford and Cambridge.
Expressing her excitement for the college’s first course, Dr. Hornsby explained that they are still in the process of receiving their accreditation, and that this will provide them with an opportunity to prove their academic status.
Referring to the current environment of higher education in UK, Hornsby stated that it is “in a state of flux,” but that it is “much more open” than it was in the past.
“This is the time for small institutions to move ahead,” she observed, adding that “a lot of people want a broad approach, and we can be part of it.”
Drawing attention to the “secular atmosphere in higher education in the UK,” the college founder expressed that “we have a big debt to pay to the US” for the “accessibility” of this type of education, because “if it weren’t for that model Benedictus” wouldn’t exist.
Benedictus is also offering a research forum in Florence on July 4, hosted by the British Institute in Florence, during which professor John Haldane will be the keynote speaker.
“Our offer will be a unique one,” Dr. Hornsby explained, emphasizing that “it’s the right time.”
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article had incorrectly identified Thomas Aquinas College as the University of St. Thomas.