Cornell University initiative strives to connect faith, intellect - Catholic Courier
Jonathan Lunine, astronomy-department chair at Cornell University, speaks to the audience during COLLIS Institute’s inaugural event on Nov. 5, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Ming DeMers)

Jonathan Lunine, astronomy-department chair at Cornell University, speaks to the audience during COLLIS Institute’s inaugural event on Nov. 5, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Ming DeMers)

Cornell University initiative strives to connect faith, intellect

ITHACA — As an Ivy League school with a strong Catholic campus ministry, Cornell University is an ideal setting for deepening connections between intellect and Catholicism.

That’s what Elizabeth Lyon Hall has affirmed in her role as executive director of the COLLIS Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture, which launched this past fall at Cornell. The initiative is geared toward Cornell’s students, faculty and staff — and, eventually, the wider public as well — through offerings of seminars, courses and music.

“There’s so much energy and so much talent. These are Catholics from very different backgrounds. They come together and have very meaningful conversations,” Hall remarked about COLLIS’ first few months of activity.

Bishop Matano attends institute’s inaugural event

COLLIS Institute was established through a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. The initiative is part of the newly established In Lumine Network, which supports Catholic intellectual tradition on campuses as it relates to dialogue on theology, philosophy, and the natural and social sciences. The other network members are the University of Chicago, University of Southern California, University of Virginia, University of Pennsylvania and Harvard University.

Hall noted that the word collis is Latin for “hill,” reflecting both Cornell’s hilltop location overlooking Ithaca and scriptural mentions of hills and mountains. COLLIS’ inaugural lecture and ceremony took place Nov. 5, 2022, at Cornell’s Sage Chapel and included a visit and blessing of the new organization by Bishop Salvatore R. Matano.

“It was very meaningful to Catholic students to have the bishop present on their campus where they worship and study,” Hall said. “The bishop not only provided his blessing but assured us of his continued prayers for the students.”

Also that day, Jonathan Lunine, chair of Cornell’s Department of Astronomy, delivered a lecture about the views of Father Georges Lemaître, a Catholic priest who first advanced the big bang theory in the late 1920s.

Lunine serves as chair of COLLIS Institute’s board of directors. Completing the board — which Hall describes as “world-renowned” — are other Cornell professors as well as Stephen J. Loughlin, president of St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry in Pittsford.

Cornell University initiative offers many current, future opportunities

Additional activities have been offered during COLLIS’ first few months. They include:

  • An undergraduate non-credit mini-course on bioethics that took place during the 2022-23 school year’s fall semester. Hall noted that the spring-semester mini-course is focusing on science, religion and the environment, highlighting Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical on environmental concerns, “Laudato Si’, On Care for Our Common Home.”
  • A monthly seminar series for graduate students and faculty. One of the seminars was co-led by Hall and her husband, Matthew, who serves as associate director of Catholic campus ministry at Cornell and Ithaca College. The Halls spoke on the role of faith and philosophy in the modern university, noting St. John Paul II’s 1998 encyclical on the relationship between faith and reason, Fides et Ratio.
  • A Gregorian Chant Choir that operates jointly with Cornell Catholic Community. The choir supplies sacred music at one Cornell Catholic liturgy per month, as well as such special events as Bishop Matano’s visit. “The chant choir has been really popular. Attendance has been growing and growing throughout the (first) semester,” said Hall, who earned her doctorate in musicology from Cornell in 2022.
  • A public lecture series featuring noted speakers from near and far. For instance, Joseph Mudd — director of Catholic studies at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash. — will be the guest speaker Wednesday, March 22, at 6:45 p.m. in Room 230 of Cornell’s Anabel Taylor Hall. His topic will be “The Eucharist, Physics, Metaphysics: (Mis)Understanding the Real Presence.”

Hall noted that Mudd’s lecture is an example of COLLIS Institute’s focus on the three-year National Eucharistic Revival that began in June 2022. In addition, she said, the institute is striving to create more opportunities for eucharistic adoration.

As COLLIS Institute continues to develop, Hall said she’s aiming for programming to include Catholics of all ages and spread across religious boundaries as well.

“We hope to extend more into the general Ithaca area,” she said. “We would love to be able to reach out to the community and eventually offer Catholic intellectual, cultural and artistic traditions that would be accessible to families.”

Tags: Eucharistic Revival, Newman Community, Tompkins County News
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