Civitas through Caritas: Cultivating Love, Cultivating Citizens
Marylu Hill, Teaching Professor & Director of The Augustine and Culture Seminar Program and Graduate Liberal Studies
When I heard a presentation in 2018 by Andrew Delbanco about Columbia’s summer program “Freedom and Citizenship”, I knew immediately that Villanova University, and specifically our first-year experience program, could bring something unique and important to the Teagle Foundation’s “Knowledge for Freedom” initiative. Thanks to the funding from the Teagle Foundation, we will start our program entitled “Civitas through Caritas: Cultivating Love, Cultivating Citizens” in the summer of 2021. The title of our program, with its terms of “civitas” or civil society, and “caritas” or love, draws on the thought and example of St. Augustine of Hippo, the 4th century North African theologian and bishop, and patron saint of the Augustinian order of friars who founded Villanova in 1842. Augustine remains surprisingly timely for modern American culture, not least because he advances the idea that love, or caritas, to use Augustine’s word, makes all the difference in how we might engage in civic discourse, especially in turbulent political times. Caritas offers a model for how we engage in conversation, and how we navigate disagreements across a wide range of differences.
We will invite our Civitas through Caritas students—who will come from the greater Philadelphia area—to consider what love is, what people have said they loved, what they have actually loved, and what they ought to love—and, most importantly, to ask the same questions of themselves. By providing these students from varying backgrounds and perspectives the skills to grow together, the goal is to develop reflective and responsible citizens who are committed to the common good, community formation, and responsibility towards others. Furthermore, because responsible citizenship is bound up with how we engage with each other, both in discussion and through the written word, we will draw on Augustine’s practical and pastoral advice in the field of rhetoric to explore how writing in the spirit of love can transform the fraught modern landscape of political discord fomented via social media.
The story of Villanova University itself will also be highlighted as an object lesson for civitas. It was founded in 1842 to educate the sons of Irish immigrants in a time of virulent anti-immigrant fervor, as demonstrated in the destruction of Olde Saint Augustine’s Church in Philadelphia (which led to the removal of the college to the countryside outside of Philadelphia). This history is a powerful reminder of the violence which accompanies the breakdown of civic discourse, and the ongoing challenge of seeking the common good in dialogue across differences.