By John Moorehouse
Thirty years ago in New Hampshire an extraordinary project was undertaken by three Catholic laymen. Close on the heels of that most turbulent of decades, the 1960s in the very year in which the moral landscape of America was darkened by the legalization of abortion a businessman, a high school teacher and a college professor lit a small lamp that has continued to provide light amidst darkness, clarity amidst obscurity and truth amidst falsehood.
In the authentic spirit of the Second Vatican Council, Francis Boucher, John Meehan and Peter Sampo undertook the ambitious endeavor of founding a Catholic college featuring socratic seminar-style classes in which the great works of Western civilization would be studied. Ambitious enough was the task, but it was made even more so because, at the time, according to Meehan and George Stanciu, a long-time teacher at the school, the founding, by laymen, of a Catholic college that incorporated the spiritual renewal of the laity into its Program of Studies, was “an apostolic adventure unheard of in Catholic undergraduate education.”
Theirs was a genuine response to the Council as their vision was inspired by sincere meditation on the documents emanating from Vatican II, specifically the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, the Decree on the Apostolate of the Lay People and the Declaration on Christian Education.
Called Magdalen, after Saint Mary Magdalene, the College, in the words of President Jeffrey Karls, “teaches the lay vocation and lay apostolate to her students so that they can be missionaries of the new evangelization called for by Pope John Paul II.”
And what missionaries her graduates have been! Nearly 13% of Magdalen alumni have answered a call to the priesthood or religious life. Suffice to say, there is no vocation shortage in Warner, New Hampshire. Numerous others have embraced the vocation of the laity both in the world of work as teachers, businessmen, doctors or nurses and in the world at home as husbands and wives, fathers and mothers. These last have embarked upon their own apostolic adventure as founders of families, those domestic churches and first “schools” in which their children will learn the Faith. Later, having experienced first-hand the value of a Magdalen education, many alums entrust their own children to the College.
Those of us who have been blessed to live during the pontificate of John Paul II know the struggles and achievements of that great man. In many ways, the founders of Magdalen College anticipated much of the Pope’s program for the renewal and reinvigoration of the Church in our times. That they did so is not surprising when one considers that both the pontificate and the College were and continue to be inspired by the genuine “spirit” of Vatican II.
The Pope reminds the laity of their special dignity; Magdalen has been doing so for thirty years. The Pope encourages all Catholics to “be not afraid”; thirty years ago, three Catholic laymen in New Hampshire were not. And, perhaps sadly, the Pope, in Ex Corde Ecclesiae, has been forced to call Catholic colleges back to an authentically Catholic vision; Magdalen College has been living that vision for thirty years. May she continue to live it for many more.
Visit Magdalen College at www.magdalen.edu. John Moorehouse, a free-lance writer in Massachusetts, is launching a new magazine for Catholic men for which he is seeking distributors. Individuals and booksellers can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.