The Heights Throughout The Century
Published: Sunday, October 20, 2013
Updated: Sunday, October 20, 2013 22:10
Students here at Boston College may have heard of the Lonergan Institute, a multi-disciplinary program at the University that offers courses and seminars, sponsors the PULSE and Perspectives programs, and is housed in the Bapst Library.
Students may not know that it is Rev. Bernard Lonergan, S.J., a Canadian Jesuit, who gives his name to the Institute. Lonergan was a noted philosopher and theologian and also a professor who served from 1975 to 1983 as a distinguished visiting professor at BC. The Heights has run a number of articles about the famed Jesuit. Although Lonergan’s life spanned the 20th century from 1904 to 1984, the first mentions of him in The Heights seem to come only in the late ’60s. Prior to that time, he established himself as an educator and thinker, working at Loyola College in Montreal, the Gregorian University, and Regis College in Toronto.
Even prior to Lonergan’s appointment to the faculty, BC professors revered his work. He first made an impression on them during lectures he gave in the ’60s.
A picture of him appears on the July 19, 1968 issue of The Heights with an accompanying article by then philosophy department chairman Joseph Flanagan. Flanagan is now deceased, but directed the Lonergan Institute for many years.
Flanagan’s article reiterates one of Lonergan’s essential points about the Catholic Church, that it needs a new cultural context rather than a new theology. In t he article, Flanagan discusses Lonergan’s radical ideas about theological methods.
“Lonergan argues that the most basic and far-reaching problem for contemporary theologians is the problem of method,” Flanagan writes. “Theology has everything to gain and nothing to lose by discarding the Aristotelian notion of science, and the method based on that notion, and working out procedures proper to its own tasks.”
Lonergan places emphasis on groups over individuals in the future of the church. “To grasp the contemporary issue and to meet its challenge calls for a collective effort,” Lonergan said in Flanagan’s article. “It is not the individual but the group that transforms the culture.”
One of the earlier mentions of Lonergan in The Heights was in a Nov. 6, 1969 issue. The article announces an upcoming lecture to be delivered by Lonergan on “The Contemporary Crisis of Faith.” Throughout his life, he was concerned with applying modern thinking about faith, economics, science, education, and other topics. He examined not only these fields of knowledge, but also knowledge itself during his life.
Lonergan is perhaps most well known for attempts to reconcile reason with faith, using Thomas Aquinas as his model. An article from The Heights from Sept. 15, 1975 describes his appointment and his role as both a lecturer for undergraduates and seminar teacher for graduate students.
Lonergan passed away on Nov. 26, 1984 at the age of 79. The Heights ran an obituary on Dec. 3, 1984 to memorialize his life and discuss his lasting impact on the University in particular. “[His] importance to Boston College is that his general methodological and theological world view has been the supporting background of what is going on here in the interdisciplinary Perspectives on Western Civilization Program,” then theology department chairman and current professor emeritus Robert J. Daly, S.J., said in the article.
Daly goes on to praise Lonergan for his role in fostering interdisciplinary discussion, both at the University and in the world. His influence was great, especially in academic communities, as illustrated by the over-100 doctoral dissertations and over 1,000 scholarly articles written about his work, at the time of his death and the many more published since.
His work still remains extremely important in the formation of curriculum at the University, especially in the philosophy and theology departments.
After his appointment to the faculty, he began giving yearly workshops about his work, and these workshops have continued even after his death.
The workshops have held lectures for the wider campus in recent years including one on Christian Mystic Meister Eckahrt, written in The Heights on Dec. 9, 2002, another on the faith of Catholics in their church during the clergy abuse scandals of the early 2000s, written about in The Heights on Jan. 20, 2003, and one on Augustine and the liberal arts from earlier this year, appearing in The Heights on Feb. 10.