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Running Towards Something Good

Anthony Esolen (Saint Joseph/Flickr)

Prof. Anthony Esolen announced this morning that he is leaving Providence College to teach at Thomas More College in New Hampshire.  You may recall that the noted author and translator of Dante had been going through hell at, um, P.C. after he criticized the way “diversity” was treated on campus. Well, they finally ran him off — but as he tells it, he is not so much running away from something bad but running towards something very good. Excerpts:

Sometimes a single encounter with what is healthy and ordinary—I use the word advisedly, with its suggestion that things are in the order that God by means of his handmaid Nature has ordained—is enough to shake you out of the bad dreams of disease and confusion. If it isn’t quite yet like meeting Saint Francis on the road, it is like meeting a bluff and jovial fellow who has just come from a conversation with that great little man of God.

I’ve had such an encounter, at Thomas More College, in New Hampshire.

He then writes about a visit to the orthodox Catholic college’s campus, and seeing what college life — and his life as a college professor — could be like. More:

When we came back from the altar at Communion, a young bearded fellow stood up to the side, with another lad and four lasses, directing them in a sung prayer to Saint Michael, singing the verse at first in unison, then in harmony, then in harmony while two of the sopranos sang a descant. It was elegant and beautiful and devout, without the least trace of the “show”; all subordinated to the Mass and to prayer. I was later told that the director is a freshman, that he himself composed the music, and that one of the first things he did at Thomas More College was to establish that small chorus.

Now, I have been teaching college students for more than thirty years, and have never been near to such an act of devotion. But then—in ordinary times, people who have the talent compose music, plenty of them, and people, both men and women, sing. “Singing is what the lover does,” said Saint Augustine, so you shouldn’t expect much singing from young people who have been scalded and scorched by the Lonely Revolution; but from blessedly bright and cheerful boys and girls who have retained their innocence, you would be foolish not to expect singing. And not to expect other ordinary things, too.

I sat at table for lunch, with three or four students, among whom was the young lady I have known since she was a little girl with curly hair. One of them smiled as she put before me a copy of Dante—would I sign it for her? We all talked and laughed for about an hour. A young man whose people come from South America talked with me about Portuguese, and the conversation then ranged all over the place, as happens when somebody with real intellectual objects of devotion, and their little brothers called hobbies, meets somebody else of the same sort. Good Lord! I enjoyed that conversation as well as the best of such that I’ve ever had with college professors. Among them you must often hedge and keep your thoughts to yourself, lest you be accused of breaking The Unwritten Law and having your head nailed to the floor.

He goes on to write about what it was like to teach classes with students who actually loved the material — Virgil, in this case — and who wanted to learn it. Life is short; why waste it teaching sullen, haughty children in the company of professors who would see you hang for having violated some politically correct orthodoxy? And so, Prof. Esolen made his decision to shake the dust off his feet and head for New Hampshire. He writes:

I have countless memories of fine students at Providence College, some of whom are now my close friends; and to my colleagues in Western Civilization—of whom many have retired and some have passed away—I owe a debt I can never repay, for their friendship and support and instruction. But I am too old to want to spend the evening of my career trying to shore up a crumbling wall, when those who are in authority at the college are unwilling to listen to our pleas, or even to meet with us so that we can make the pleas in person, but instead pass out lemonade to the professors with the sledge hammers.

No, I’d prefer to be in on building something exciting for the Church and for sheer ordinary humanity: The Center for Cultural Renewal, at Thomas More College. More on that to come.

This is great news on a number of levels, but if you read Tony’s terrific recent book, Out Of The Ashes — and you really should if you haven’t — you will understand what a spectacular event it is that he is going to have the opportunity to realize his vision. To me, this is the Benedict Option in action: when faithful Christians stop trying to shore up the dead and dying order, and instead focus on building new forms of community within which the life of faith and virtue might survive the coming Dark Age.

Congratulations too to the leadership of Thomas More College for having the vision to hire Prof. Esolen.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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