Going Beyond the Covers of the Books We Read

My name is Katherine Gardner. I was blessed to spend three years at the ITI earning a Masters of Sacred Theology (STM 2009), and these years prepared me well to both go on to earn a PhD in Theology from Ave Maria University and to begin what I hope will be a long and happy teaching career at Thomas Aquinas College in California. Of course, the academic formation at the ITI has been essential to my success, but the ways that it prepared me for my work in Catholic higher education go well beyond the covers of the books we read.

I came to the ITI in search of a strongly Thomistic graduate program in Theology, faithful to the Magisterium, with a classroom focused on discussion and original texts. When I got there, I found what I was looking for, but also found there was a lot more to the ITI that made it special—I found myself truly at the heart of the Church while participating in the life lived by the community, which included Catholics of different rites, in various states of life, and all with a living and active faith.

"Diversity" is much-touted these days by educational institutions, as if mere difference from one another was intrinsically desirable. But at the ITI, the community—diverse as it was—was unified in the Faith of the Church in such a way that there was genuine complementarity, not a relativizing of the truth. One place the diversity of cultures was a blessing was in the classroom. I had a Catholic Social Teaching class with students who were born under communist regimes, members of the EU, and Americans. I also had a class on marriage and priesthood with students from the Eastern rite, where priests can marry, and from the Western rite, where they are celibate, as well as along with both religious and married students. These things make a big difference in the discussion and contribute to the right kind of openness of mind to the whole of what the Church authentically teaches.

In addition to what I found within the community, being in Europe was life-changing for me. We went on pilgrimages as a community to Lourdes and Lisieux, to the chapel where Margaret Mary Alacoque had visions of the Sacred Heart and the cave where Mary Magdalene spent the last years of her life in prayer, to the city where Joan of Arc was martyred and to Ars, and also to Czestechova,the birthplace of John Paul II, and the Shrine of Divine Mercy. These pilgrimages—made on busses with families and students and professors together—were laden with blessings for us as a community and as individuals. They complemented our intense efforts to gain wisdom about God and His Church by bringing us into contact with profound holiness and with springs of grace. We had examples in each other and in the saints and we venerated how the truths we study transform lives in unexpected and breathtaking ways.

Overall, I would say that studying at the ITI was an experience of the Church in her universality that was not superficial or fleeting because it was based in real friendships, faithful instruction, and lived faith. My own studies, and above all my ability to lead students with me into the study of divine things, have been fed by these things in ways in which it  would be difficult, or even impossible, to replicate anywhere else.