Twice weekly, students would listen to the three professors discuss the texts together. As part of their weekly class, students would also engage in discussions, and conduct poetry recitations. Students took an immersive Latin class, which was based on rhetoric, rather than a more systematic approach to the language.
IHP was also renowned for its extracurricular activities, and seemingly unconventional methods of education. Students were encouraged to attend stargazing sessions, ballroom dances, and medieval banquets. Before every lecture, an upperclassman would teach the students a song, usually an English ballad or American folk melody.
The program has inspired similar initiatives, including Wyoming Catholic College. In 2005, the college was founded by Bob Carlson, who was a graduate assistant for IHP and an undergraduate student for Senior when he taught in Wyoming. Washut said Carlson was inspired by Senior and sought to create a similar experience.
“That humanities course, like it was at Pearson, it was not any one discipline, but it was a combination of literature, history, and even some philosophy text, and occasionally some theology texts, but all read with the goal of encountering them and engaging them in much the way that students would have engaged them at the IHP,” he said.
“[It is] a raw encounter with the natural realities as a necessary foundation for further studies. So we have a field science, we have a backpacking trip, we have a horse riding class,” he said.
IHP inspired conversions and religious vocations. The founding monks of the Benedictine Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey in Oklahoma were students of the humanities program. After they graduated from KU, many students traveled abroad and discovered the Abbey of Our Lady of Fontgombault in France. Some of the travelers became monks in the order, and, in 1999, they returned home to establish a monastery in Oklahoma.
Coakley and Conley, who were roommates at KU, were spiritually inspired by the program.
Both bishops told CNA that they grew up with little interest in Christianity. Coakley was raised Catholic, but he said it was not until he entered the program that he appreciated his faith. Conley grew up going to Presbyterian church, but he said the program, especially the readings of Augustine and Newman, inspired him to convert to Catholicism during his junior year.
They described themselves as “70s kids,” who had long hair and listened to rock music. But they said that because of the IHP, they were captivated their freshman year by a world of beauty - full of literature, poems, music, and nature. It was the world of the IHP.
“It was an incredibly effective program, in terms of awakening a sense of wonder in students and a love for learning. In fact, the motto of the program was ‘Nascantur in admiratione’: ‘Let them be born in wonder,’” Coakley told CNA.
“The overarching theme was to immerse the students into the good, the true, and the beautiful, so that we might ask the big questions: ‘What is life all about?’ ‘What is death?’ ‘What is eternity?’ ‘What is evil?’ ‘What is good?’” Conley reflected.
“We students began to look deeper into those perennial questions. And for many, like myself, it led us to our faith and to the Catholic Church,” he added.
When asked about their favorite aspects of the program, both bishops said they enjoyed the literature, the poetry, and the adventures, but they especially appreciated the joy of a community unified by its pursuit of truth.
“This community was formed based on really deep study of those perennial truths as they were taught through literature, art, music, [and] architecture,” said Conley.
“I was with others who were on the same journey searching for the truth. That combined experience really changed my life.”
On Sept. 1, a memorial ceremony was held at the St. Lawrence Catholic Center, adjacent to the University of Kansas. A barbecue was held the day before.
Mass was offered by Archbishop Coakley, and concelebrated by Bishop Conley and some of the Clear Creek monks. After Mass, participants processed to the memorial, which was completed last November.
Sculpted from Indiana limestone, the memorial commemorates the founders, and depicts a scene from “Don Quixote,” - the famous battle with a windmill.
This article was originally published on CNA Sept. 1, 2019.