Conversatio: The Core Conversation

Lest I add to the misperception of professors having the summer “off,” you should know that I have done more in recent months than sit on a back porch, listen to frogs and seek out the gravesites of dead poets. Like most of my colleagues, I have spent many summer hours in solitude and with others attending to the significant thought and work that the inherent busyness of an academic year does not afford. One portion of that work for me this summer has been working with other faculty to complete the design of Conversatio, the first iteration of the new Humanities Program for incoming Saint Anselm students.

“Conver-what?” If this is your response, you are not the first one to be puzzled by this Latin word that occurs several times in the Rule of Saint Benedict and has been part of the vows professed by Benedictines ever since the sixth century. Simply, conversatio means “way of life.” In the context of the Rule it means “monastic way of life,” or the way men and women who vow to be Benedictine monks or sisters promise to live as individuals within their community.

For Saint Anselm students conversatio signals the “way of life” which they have chosen by coming to study within a Catholic, Benedictine Liberal Arts community. It also challenges them to begin to consider the way of life that they will ultimately choose for themselves. From its various biblical and other uses, conversatio carries the rich connotations of citizenship and conversion. Significantly it is also the root of our English word conversation.

For the past three years I have been engaged in hundreds of conversations with people on and off campus involved or interested in the shaping of a new core curriculum for the College. As my various roles in this process have evolved, these conversations have frequently been intense, sometimes contentious, usually rational, often fruitful, rarely brief, and nearly always passionate. In fact, despite the inevitable diverging viewpoints that are the source of life in any academic community, nearly every one of the core conversations I have had was with someone whose heartfelt concern was what they believed was best for Saint Anselm students.

Never has this been more the case than with the group of faculty and administrators with whom I have been working this summer to shape Saint Anselm’s new first year common learning experience. Our work began nearly a year ago and together we have read stacks of books, shared hours of inspired conversations, engaged in many lively debates, and made some really difficult choices. Our degrees and decades of teaching experience notwithstanding, each of us has read things that we had never read before. Together and individually we have reflected upon our own way of life, our own cherished beliefs and what our greatest hopes and greatest fears are for the students we are privileged to teach.

Now in only a few weeks all of those hours of our thoughtful speculation and imagining will give way to real life as we inaugurate Conversatio by welcoming a significant cohort of the Class of 2017 into our seminars. We share some of the anxiousness of what NASA engineers must feel before the actual launch of an intricately designed and innovative machine. We also share the cautious optimism and excitement of an author and cast of a new play on the eve of its public debut. Personally, I am very hopeful that in the years ahead, Conversatio will inspire on this campus thoughtful, substantive and even life altering conversations.  I report that in the year that has passed, it already has.

  • Cheryl Ruffing

    It sounds interesting. I hope that in future posts, you'll let us know more about what/who students encounter in Conversatio.

  • Annette & Mike Bonomo

    You walkers look mahvelous! Keep it up, you guys can do it. We will see you on Saturday.

  • Janice zanella

    Nicole zanella
    Hugs and prayers for you! I love you GAMMY