.- As a new academic year begins, Wyoming Catholic College’s new president believes that his school offers students an education meant to integrate all aspects of the human person, allowing an openness to God.
“The physical, the poetic mode of education – the physical formation of students here – opens their hearts further, not only to the will of God for their life, but also for the intellectual, academic rigor that follows,” college president Kevin Roberts told CNA in a September interview.
He said that a “lack of engagement with God's first book” – nature – is among the “crises facing modern society.” Part of Wyoming Catholic's mission is to correct the tendency to “simply not appreciate enough” the natural beauty that is around us.
Wyoming Catholic was founded in 2007 to provide a liberal arts education that forms the whole human person in all his aspects – physical, spiritual and intellectual. The school is unique, even among Catholic liberal arts schools, for its inclusion of the physical: the curriculum includes a three-week camping trip, and horsemanship as well.
This “poetic mode” of education, which appeals to both the exterior and interior senses, and which also includes an emphasis on poetry and its memorization, is “so important for the development of the intellectual and moral virtues later on,” added Robert Carlson, who helped found the school along with Father Robert Cook, a priest of the Diocese of Cheyenne, and Bishop David Ricken, who was Bishop of Cheyenne from 2001 to 2008.
The vision for formation and education at Wyoming Catholic College is indebted to John Senior, who with Dennis Quinn and Frank Nelick ran the Integrated Humanities Program at the University of Kansas during the 1970s. Graduates of the program include Bishop James Conley of Lincoln and Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City.
As a graduate student, Carlson worked with Senior on the program.
“I learned a tremendous amount about education, and what it should and should not be, experiencing those three professors.”
While teaching at Casper College in Wyoming, Carlson explained that he “became friends with Fr. Bob Cook and Bishop Ricken, and we spent a lot of time together, over pasta, and wine, et cetera, discussing education, and they of course were introduced to this Integrated Humanities Program and John Senior, and I got them quite excited about it.”
Senior, Carlson explained, is the “immediate cause of the motivation and inspiration for the founding of Wyoming Catholic College,” but Senior considered himself to be merely a “doorman to the great minds” such as Plato, Aristotle, Dante, Thucydides and Herodotus, whom Carlson called the remote causes of the school's founding.
Following in Senior's vision, the professors at Wyoming Catholic are meant to be “doormen,” facilitating the students' encounter with the profound thinkers of the Western tradition.
Roberts, the college's new leader, said that the first part of his role as president is to “emphasize its roots, its foundation,” which was given to it by its founders. He then added that “the second is leading us from this transition phase to the next 10, 20 years, which will involve the building of a new campus.”
“But the key point I want to make, is that colleges and schools are people – they're not buildings.”
“And what we're doing this year, and I hope forever, is relishing in the human beings around us. I think that's what the founders did so well, in the years leading up to the college, and in the first stage of the college.”
Roberts added that “what we want to do is bottle that and harness it, and ensure that the supernatural joy that Bishop Ricken, and Dr. Carlson and Fr. Cook set in motion, is something that's sustained over the years.”
Roberts, who co-founded John Paul the Great Academy, a primary and secondary classical school in Louisiana, prior to becoming president of Wyoming Catholic, said that at the academy “my faculty and I became devotees of John Senior and the Integrated Humanities Program in Kansas. We were, of course with secondary education, trying to perfect our own practice of the poetic mode of education.”
“So in a profoundly spiritual sense, as well as a professional one, I felt called to come here, in large part because not only does the college commit itself to a robust formation of faith, but it does that by using the John Senior approach of opening the door to the great minds of civilization.”
He added, “I think we're in a really good spot … to continue that moving forward. We don't want to deviate from that unique mission that Dr. Carlson set out … our goals here are grand, magnanimous: they're for the glory of God.”
Roberts emphasized that he was drawn to Wyoming Catholic because “anyone who visits here, experiences a supernatural joy that I've not seen anywhere else.”
Even though he has been drawn back into higher education, Roberts remains “deeply immersed in efforts to bring a classical curriculum to as many secondary Catholic schools as possible.”
He noted that “an increasing number of bishops and superintendents of education, and dioceses around the country” are coming to understand and appreciate the value of an “authentic Catholic liberal education.”
The adoption of classical and liberal arts education, he said, “is I think the only way we're going to renew Christian society, in the U.S. and beyond.”
Together with physical and intellectual formation, Wyoming Catholic College offers spiritual formation, including daily Mass. Roberts said, “we believe very firmly that Wyoming Catholic College should stand with the Church in its entire liturgical tradition, which is why we're committed to offering both the extraordinary and ordinary forms, and occasionally the Byzantine rite.”
“Because we are committed to the three transcendentals, what is good, beautiful and true, in the highest form of prayer, the Mass, we need to be emulating that,” he added.
Zach Thomas, a junior at the school, said that “every day I'm nourished by the sacraments, I'm encouraged by the teachers, by my fellow students,” adding that the “ability to live in a real Christian community” has been the most important result of his formation there.
The community naturally engendered within the culture of Wyoming Catholic College has resulted in strong relationships between faculty and students, with faculty and their families becoming friends with their students, inviting them over not only for class sessions, but also for poetry readings, croquet matches, music, and dining.
“Families are a constant part of the students' life, and it's great to see how much the students attach themselves to the teachers and their families, and admire them as role models,” Thomas reflected.
He concluded that the opportunity to get “breathing room” from the constant flow of incoming electronics has been among the “most valuable aspects” of his time at the college.
“The physical aspect of being in Wyoming, of being immersed in the purity and the depths of the outdoors, has been really formative.”