Morris Inn’s terrace

The first full day of the Vita Institute is underway today. I’m staying in Ryan Hall for the next eight days, and our Vita Institute sessions are being held nearby in Eck Hall’s McCartan Courtroom. Today we’ve got four sessions, starting with Carter Snead’s opening remarks. During lunch today I plan to find a Limebike and explore the campus in the summer for a bit.

In the meantime, I’m sharing some scenes from my arrival yesterday afternoon in South Bend—the first two shots are at South Bend Airport, and the rest are from Morris Inn’s back terrace where I had lunch and a beer and worked for a few hours before Ryan Hall opened for check-in.

It was a beautiful Indiana summer day, and today is a lot like it.

Entertainment, in its proper place


I took this photo on Friday afternoon while walking through the little village of Lemont in Central Pennsylvania. I think it fits with these Benedict XVI observations:

“Entertainment, in its proper place, is certainly good and enjoyable. It is good to be able to laugh. But entertainment is not everything. It is only a small part of our lives, and when it tries to be the whole, it becomes a mask behind which despair lurks, or at least doubt over whether life is really good, or whether non-existence might perhaps be better than existence.”

Mount Nittany rainshowers

Peter Atkinson and I slept in after last night’s barbecue, eventually making our way to Mount Nittany by mid-morning for a hike in fairly steady rainshowers from the trailhead to the Mike Lynch Overlook and back. It was one of my favorite hikes.

The Mike Lynch Overlook was totally obscured, with the look of a veil of mist and rain having been lowered almost directly in front of us as we peered out onto the imagined view of Penn State’s campus. Along the Mountain’s ridge the rain continued, thick and chilly and spring-like.

Afterwards we ate breakfast at Lemont House, then drove back into State College where we showered and cleaned up, made it to Our Lady of Victory for mass, and closed out the trip with a Corner Room lunch before Peter caught his ride back to New York.

As I was finishing some errands, I walked out onto Allen Street where Ray Cromie was slowly making his way toward College Avenue. We walked slowly together to his destination as we caught up for the first time in at least a year. I met Ray when I was involved with The LION 90.7fm as a Penn State student, when Ray’s “Avant Garde” show took listeners on journeys to strange and wonderful soundscapes.

Still raining as afternoon gave way to evening, I hopped into my rental car and made my way back to Philadelphia.

In Park Forest, and nearby

A few snapshots from a beautiful summer day in State College, introducing Peter Atkinson to Penn State and the Nittany Valley for the first time.

We spent the afternoon visiting with Ben Novak and Maralyn Mazza in Park Forest Village. Maralyn will be celebrating her 91st birthday later this month. Like her husband, Paul, Maralyn has been a pillar of the State College community. She’s an incredible woman with an ageless spirit.

After visiting, Peter and I met another friend and took Hollow for a walk to Park Forest Elementary and the nearby woods. After a power nap at the Glennland Building in State College, we picked up supplies at the grocery store and grilled burgers, dogs, and corn for friends for an evening on the deck. And as the burgers were cooking, Justify became the second Triple Crown winner in my lifetime.

I don’t think days like today can be planned, exactly. They’re a gift.

Walking through Lemont

I met a mystic today.

A remarkable man emailed me yesterday, asking if I would meet him on Mount Nittany to hear about a vision for a few acres. Today I met him, and spent most of the afternoon in his orbit. I’m not sure how to put the experience into words. He spoke for all but maybe ten percent of the nearly five hours we spent together, and the sheer volume and velocity of his thought was incredible. I won’t soon forget him, this mystic figure who occupies what he calls “real time” and who experiences a distinctive life.

We walked down Mount Nittany from the trailhead through Lemont and back at one point; I captured a few of those scenes along the way. Just two thoughts from the walk that were shared with me:

First, an answer to the riddle, “Why do they call them ‘Nittany’ Lions?” What if, rather than owing either to any American Indian folklore or to thin-air invention of a never-seen breed of mountain lion, there were a simpler and more likely answer? What if the earliest settlers noticed something different about the Pennsylvania mountain lions that lived and lingered near the Nittany Mountain, some distinctive and maybe peculiar demeanor or set of habits that set those Pennsylvania mountain lions apart, those looks that drank their water from the springs of the Mountain and prowled beneath its ancient canopies? “Those Nittany mountain lions,” the settlers might have started to reflect amongst themselves… “There’s something about them…” An answer to a riddle that presents another. But the simplest answer yet: those Pennsylvania lions acted differently when they were near Nittany Mountain, for whatever reason.

And second, one of the most obvious ironies about most of our experiences with Mount Nittany that I had never given any thought. “Everyone drives halfway up the Mountain from Penn State or Lemont village, and then park and start hiking at the trailhead’s halfway point. When they come down they say, ‘I’ve hiked Mount Nittany!’ But those people have hiked one half of the Mountain.” This is what spurred our walk down the Mountain from the Mount Nittany Conservancy trailhead to Lemont and back. We’re only really hiking one half of the Mountain from the elevation of the trailhead…

Visiting Penn State/State College/Lemont/Boalsburg this weekend for the first time since late January. Tonight I’m heading to “Mount Nittany Night” at Mountain View Country Club in Boalsburg, which will bring together a few dozen of the Mount Nittany Conservancy’s supporters. I think this is the third “Mount Nittany Night” of the eight they’ve hosted that I’ll have been to.

It’s good to be in Happy Valley in summer. Peter Atkinson gets in from New York tonight.


I wrote that other day that Chesterton’s at the University of Mary embodies their Benedictine value of “moderation,” and want to write a bit more about that today and about my experience there. As much a community center as a pub, here’s how Chesterton’s describes itself:


Chesterton’s is the community center and “campus pub” located at The Cloisters, the University of Mary’s upperclassmen apartment complex. It’s an incredible place to study and socialize, watch television, play pool and old-time video games, or just enjoy the view. Chesterton’s also hosts a weekly community night for all members. Chesterton’s features complimentary coffee and popcorn, snacks and soda, Wi-Fi, and printing. Members have 24/7 access to the main level of the community center.

Chesterton’s is proudly named for G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936), the English writer, literary critic, poet, and Catholic apologist.  The design of Chesterton’s was inspired by The Eagle and the Childpub in Oxford, where J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and the rest of The Inklings used to gather for good cheer and conversation. …

Three nights a week, Chesterton’s operates as our “campus pub,” offering concessions and beverages. Chesterton’s members who are of legal drinking age and who have completed the University of Mary alcohol training seminar are admitted to the community center to enjoy a limited food and beverage menu, as well as complimentary beer or wine.

The Tolkien-themed beer on tap, “Southfarthing Stout” and “Green Dragon Ale,” are locally brewed for Chesterton’s at Buffalo Commons in Mandan, ND.

The University of Mary is committed to educating students on the responsible and moral use of alcohol. Student members participate in thorough training which includes cultural, legal, and heath perspectives. No alcohol is for sale. Rather, as a benefit of membership, members are provided with up to two glasses of beer or two glasses of wine per evening without charge. Consumption is tracked by Mcard, and no one is allowed more than two glasses of beer or wine per night. No liquor is available, and those who bring alcohol of any kind into Chesterton’s have their membership revoked.

It was pointed out that the University of Mary is a “dry” campus, and so to some there might seem to be a contradiction in Mary playing host to a pub. But seen as a community center that happens to have a pub, and a pub that happens to be open only a few days a week, and a pub that when it happens to be open is only open for members, and as a public that’s occasionally open for members only providing two mugs of beer or glasses of wine… Well, suddenly you’ve got a physical environment for drinking in the context of others, and a whole milieu designed to foster moderation that points toward richer relationships and experiences suggesting that the natural human desire to pursue more can be satisfied with good beer and wine, but not only through more wine and beer.

Chesterton’s pub only ended up being open for one of my nights at University of Mary, but that experience was a refreshing one. Knowing, heading in, that I could only order two drinks did make me focus and savor every sip. I found myself tasting that Southfarthing Stout and that Green Dragon Ale.

I’m sure there are times when students or professors or whomever sort of rue that two drink limit (and I wonder whether the complimentary sodas, iced teas, etc. help offset that), but I imagine there are plenty of other times when someone wakes up the next day and is grateful not to be hungover after ending up just thoughtlessly ordering one after another. And that’s one aspect of the virtue of moderation that’s not spoken about often enough in a free market, personal-liberty-trumps-all-else culture—that something like moderation can be encouraged systemically “from above” through a pub/club like Chesterton’s that adds a bit of variety and distinctiveness to a culture that says it values pluralism but rarely seems to tolerate substantial difference.

What I’m trying to say is this: Chesterton’s was great, and I’d welcome that club/pub approach in other places.

Admiring the view

A view from the University of Mary’s campus, looking west to the Missouri River and beyond. It’s a beautiful day, and it has been a beautiful few days here in Bismarck even as the weather has varied from clear blue skies to rain and thunder to high winds to partly cloudy. Listen to the bird song in the scene above.

I caught a 3pm flight to Chicago where I am now, and am connecting soon to Philadelphia. Captured this view of University of Mary’s campus and the Missouri as our flight ascended from Bismarck:


Sunday in Bismarck

Another full day at University of Mary, with classes with Dr. John Brehany and Dr. David Echelbarger. Woke up to catch 7:15am mass with Fr. Dan Connealy in St. Joseph’s hall chapel. After classes ended around 5pm, I took a brief nap before meeting Paulo for an Uber into Bismarck where we met Celeste and Dominic at Blarney Stone for supper as the Cavs fell to the Warriors in Game 2 on the background screens as we talked together. When we got back, we walked a bit to enjoy the view, and as we were looking toward the horizon, Msgr. James Shea, the young president of University of Mary, led a Corpus Christi procession from the Lumen Vitae center to the campus chapel. We joined the procession, which ended with the surprisingly affecting and powerful hymn sung by Msgr. Shea.

The group of us then walked with Fr. Cory Catron over to Chesterton’s. The pub was closed but the building and upper porch provided a good place for conversation before we realized how late it was, and wandered to sleep.

Here are the University of Mary’s “Benedictine Values,” which seem to really tangibly inform the spirit, character, and increasingly even the built-environment of campus. Chesterton’s itself is an example of the effort to make the value of “moderation” into something practicable and practical, which I’ll write more about later.

Benedictine Values

“Although communal life inspired by the Rule of St. Benedict stores a vast treasury of Benedictine values, six of these are of particular importance for our life here at the University of Mary…” —Fr. James P Shea, President

Community: Striving together for the common good and growing in relationship with God, one another, and self. (“Let all things be common to all.” Rule of Benedict 33)

Hospitality: Receiving others as Christ with warmth and attentiveness. (“Let all be received as Christ.” Rule of Benedict 53)

Moderation: Honoring all of God’s creation and living simply with balance and gratitude. (“Regard all things as sacred and do everything with moderation.” Rule of Benedict 31)

Prayer: Attending to the mystery and sacredness of life, abiding in the divine presence, listening and responding to God. (“Listen intently to holy readings. Give yourself frequently to prayer.” Rule of Benedict 4)

Respect for Persons: Recognizing the image of God in each person and honoring each one in their giftedness and limitations. (“Honor everyone and never do to another what you do not want done to yourself.” Rule of Benedict 4)

Service: Meeting the needs of others in the example of Jesus the servant leader. (“The members should serve one another.” Rule of Benedict 35)

University of Mary, first full day

I’m heading into the second full day at University of Mary. Before I do, I’m sharing scenes from yesterday—a great, full day of classes and exploration across a campus that is situated in a really beautiful place. I’m not a fan of the predominantly brutalist architecture, but the wild beauty of the prairie offsets the indulgences of that architectural style.

It rained sporadically today, and the new grass you can see above near the Lumen Vitae center seemed to be happily soaking in that water. After a full day of classes, and after a dinner with one of the Annunciation sisters who gave a short talk on their order, I walked with speed over to Chesterton’s, the on-campus pub, as the skies threatened. I made it there just as the rain started, and enjoyed a “Southfarthing Stout” while enjoying the rain from their lower porch.

It eventually cleared up, and by that time the empty Chesterton’s had nearly filled up with visiting FOCUS missionaries, who are spending six weeks here for their annual summer training. (I had been in Ave Maria in years past when their entire training took place there, and discovered this year that their people have been split up between Ave Maria and University of Mary.) I struck up conversation with a few second and third-year missionaries over a “Green Dragon Ale,” and eventually made my way back to St. Joseph’s Hall for the night. Along the way, I caught an incredible sunset.

The sun set sometime about 10pm.

Exploring University of Mary

In the midst of an immersive day of bioethics history and lectures, here are some scenes from my exploration of the University of Mary campus last night after arriving mid-afternoon. A beautiful clear day gave way to a peaceful evening and sun-down. I lit a candle and prayed at the Grotto, which reminded me of Notre Dame, and someday after I’ve had an experience of it will remind me of Lourdes.

Afterwards I caught the last 20 minutes or so of the Cavs/Warriors in Game 1 of the finals. The Cavs blew it, and the Warriors got a great win despite Lebron’s best-ever 50+ point finals performance.

Sitting there amidst that grass and taking in that simple sunset was one of the best things I’ve done in a long time.