Feb. 23, 2011 — We enjoyed Prof. Miller’s remarks last night about John Henry Newman and what it means to have — and to be — an “alma mater.” The phrase “alma mater” is not usually translated, having gained enough of its own currency in English to no longer need it. Most people know it means something like “the college I went to/graduated from.” But, while our language is certainly enriched by the importation of foreign words and phrases, there is almost always something lost in translation, so to speak. Had I been asked, I would have known that “mater” means “mother.” But I didn’t know that “alma” means “nourishing.” One’s “alma mater” is thus the mother that intellectually and spiritually nourishes one. What a beautiful image!
In his talk, Prof. Miller graciously shared some personal reflections on his own alma mater, the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium, where he earned his doctorate. He then offered some insight into Cardinal Newman’s relationship with what he considered his alma mater, Trinity College at Oxford, a place that Newman recalled much later as having “never been unkind” to him, even as he was shunned by the rest of Oxford for his conversion to Catholicism. Finally, Prof. Miller brought us some insights (based in part on unpublished end-of-year reports which Newman was obliged to submit annually to the bishops) about how Newman sought to ensure that the institution he founded, the Catholic University of Ireland in Dublin, would continue this tradition of nourishing its students’ minds and souls.
The presentation was accompanied by numerous pictures — of Louvain, of Oxford, of the Catholic University in Ireland — some of which brought back fond memories for those who attended the beatification of Cardinal Newman last September. We only wish more members of the Newman community could have attended this special Newman Week event. For those who did attend, feel free to add your comments below!