Flannery O’Connor: Imagination, Solitude, and the Oddities of Life

Though long hailed a literary icon both for America and for the Catholic Church, Flannery O’Connor in the present moment may be more compelling than ever.  To mark what would have been her 95th birthday this spring, a new NEH-supported documentary, Flannery, was released to critical acclaim, winning the Library of Congress’s first ever Ken Burns Prize for Film.  Burns himself called O’Connor “one of our country’s greatest writers.” 

She was a bold and honest writer, convicted by the power of storytelling to change the hearts of readers. She was both a strong woman and a fragile woman, adamantly and particularly herself while carrying her compromised body with her. From her mother’s farm, surrounded by her birds, Flannery gave us a vision that is marked by humor and violence, loss and triumph.

The global pandemic and quarantine protocols have only enhanced the relevance of the one who once wrote, “Lord, I’m glad I am a hermit novelist.” Before the world turned upside down, recent scholarship had traced the final thirteen years of her life which she spent in ill health and isolation on her family farm in Georgia.  It is even more vital now to revisit the legacy of this author whose life and work have always spoken with a peculiar power, but appear to target us today. 

For O’Connor, the world she observed from her own kind of isolation was dark and strange, and yet ineradicably marked by grace. The Collegium Institute invites you to join us for a panel with four distinguished thinkers, all women, who will gather together to discuss their fascination with one of the greatest American female writers:

          • Jennifer Frey, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of South Carolina and co-editor of Self-Transcendence and Virtue: Perspectives from Philosophy, Psychology, and Theology.
          • Jessica Hooten Wilson, Associate Professor of Literature at John Brown University and the author of Giving the Devil His Due: Flannery O‘Connor and The Brothers Karamazov.
          • Christine Flanagan, Professor of English at University of the Sciences and the editor of The Letters of Flannery O’Connor and Caroline Gordon
          • Moderated by Jessica Sweeney


On June 3, from 7:00 to 8:30pm, join the Collegium Institute’s Ars Vivendi Arts Initiative for a dynamic evening conversation via Zoom exploring Flannery O’Connor on the imagination, solitude, and the glorious oddities of life.


This event is co-sponsored by Dappled Things, The Lumen Christi Institute, The Genealogies of Modernity Project, Abigail Adams Institute, The Beatrice Institute, the Penn Catholic Newman Community, Morningside Institute, and Portsmouth Institute.



Time and Date: Wednesday, June 3rd, 7:00-8:30pm EST

RSVP & Zoom Information: To RSVP and for more details

Student Reflection during the Coronavirus

On Caring and Grieving for the Dying and the Dead

On Wednesday at 5:40PM, I prepared to attend Food for Thought, as usual. Only this time, I travelled from the kitchen to the living room, to attend Collegium’s first virtual Food for Thought seminar. The first part of the seminar was a casual check-in. We discussed our current feelings of helplessness, our coping mechanisms, and our concerns about the long term impact of COVID-19 on society. Dr. Lydia Dugdale, who led the seminar, shared her thoughts on how restricted public gatherings affected funeral services. I had not previously considered how current services being put on hold, or held online, would affect the in-person grieving process. 


Dr. Dugdale drew parallels between COVID-19 and the Bubonic plague, which struck Europe and Asia in the mid 1300s, killing at least a third of the population. Due to the magnitude of death during this period, few people in general, let alone the clergy, remained to bury the dead, and so bodies were hastily thrown into mass graves. Years later, this shortage of clergy to attend to the death contributed to the creation of Ars moriendi (the Art of Dying), religious texts which offered advice on how to “die well.” According to this text, a dying person was instructed to accept death, while avoiding temptations such as impatience. In turn, their loved ones were instructed to offer consolation through the promise of redemption, say appropriate prayers for the dying man, and ease him into the next life. As seen, this practice meant that death was a community experience. 


Ars moriendi and its notion that a goal of one’s life should be to practice and try and master the art of dying, has been largely abandoned with the secularization of society and the advancement of modern medicine. In today’s society, the contemplation and process of death has become something largely hidden from view. As one symptom of this, Dr. Dugdae notes in an interview with Rebecca Quiñones, “[o]ver the years more and more people have died in hospitals removed from family and friends and from society’s view.” This trend, as Dr. Dugdale notes, is deeply concerning because when we don’t think about death as a pressing issue, we struggle to cope with death as we are dying. The significance of tending to the dying can be further seen in MacFarquhar’s article, ‘A Tender Hand in the Presence of Death,’ which follows Heather Meyerend, a hospice nurse. What is most significant about her work is not the medical care she administers, but rather, the connection she has with her patients, through a hug, a prayer, or a conversation. This personal connection, as Dr. Dugdale stresses, is largely absent from the practise of dying today. 

How then, can we usher in a new Ars moriendi for the 21st century? Dugdale believes that the healthcare system’s metric of success should consider the quality of life lived in addition to the prolongment of life. Furthermore, hospitals can do more to integrate a person’s spiritual beliefs and practises into the care of patients, to ensure a peaceful passage into death. On a more personal level, we should recognise the value in death being an intimate and vulnerable one shared between an individual and their loved ones. However, even before that moment, we need to be having those conversations about death, life, and meaning, so that when death does come, our passage is a much more peaceful one. This might sound like a lot of work, but we argued that it should be. It is, after all, your final performance.


You can soon find more of Sophie’s reflections on the Art of Dying Well, along with that of other peers, on the soon to launch Collegium Student Blog.

Reading in the Time of the Coronavirus

March 31, 2020:  

These last weeks have been a whirlwind. We may feel as though our hearts and minds are spinning with all of the changing information, filling us with stress, worry and fear. However, we may also find ourselves locked in at home, which might offer us rare opportunities to read and think for awhile, if we commit to that.

It’s crucial to occupy our time not just with more news and scrolling, but with words that can fill us and help us understand the current situation within our broader history and perhaps our metaphysical condition. To that end, our staff has begun to assemble a list of texts, from novels and poems, to articles and theological texts. We will be keeping an inventory of all the entries here for easy access. They are also available on our Instagram page, Facebook page, and also through our email newsletter.


Week 1:

The Skin of Our Teeth: A Play, by Thornton Wilder

The Plague by Albert Camus

Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez

The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius

Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich

The Cure for What Ails Us, by Lydia Dugdale (our special guest for this week’s Food for Thought Webinar!)

-He Leadeth Me by Fr. Walter Ciszek, S.J.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

The Betrothed by Alessandro Manzoni

-“To Hope” by John Keats


Week 2:

Urbi et Orbi address by Pope Francis

Love in the Ruins by Walker Percy

Laurus by Eugene Vodolazkin

Uncanny Homes by Terence Sweeney in Plough Magazine

Learning to be Quiet with Tomie dePaola, a short video

Week 3: Holy Week Edition

The Student, a short story by Anton Chekhov

Symphony No. 3 by Henryk Górecki

Ubi Caritas Hymn sung by Audrey Assad

-Watch the Queen’s message here

-“Imaginary Conversation,” a poem by Linda Pastan

-“Liberation at the Cross,” reflections by Oscar Romero

Week 4: Easter Edition

We hope your Easter season is off to a joyful start even amidst this time of social distancing. Our reading recommendation series for thoughtful, fruitful texts to encounter during this time continues this week with an Easter edition. 

-John Updike’s poem, “Seven Stanzas at Easter

-Josef Pieper’s In Tune With the World: A Theory of Festivity

-Christina Rossetti’s poem, “Easter Monday

-Andrea Bocelli’s Quarantine Easter Concert at the Duomo in Milan

-Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

-The Royal Choral Society performs Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus virtually

Week 5: Mercy Edition


A Prayer Journal by Flannery O’Connor
-John Henry Newman’s
The Dream of Gerontius
-Edward Elgar’s oratorio “The Dream of Gerontius,” setting Newman’s poem to music, Part 1 and Part 2

-“Reasons for Reading the Decameron Even After Coronavirus Is Over” by Stephen Metzger on Church Life Journal
The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare
-Henri Nouwen’s The Return of the Prodigal Son


Week 6: 

The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy

Catherine of Siena by Sigrid Undset

Life of Anthony, St. Athanasius (Incidentally, Michelangelo’s first painting was inspired by St. Athanasius’s account of the life of Saint Anthony.) 

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster (playful staff debate and disagreement on this choice…)

Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.

Week 7: 


Lost in Thought: The Hidden Pleasures of an Intellectual Life by Zena Hitz

The Tables Turned, a poem by William Wordsworth 

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

In the House of Brede by Rumer Godden 

Siciliana Da Antiche Danze Ed Arie Suite III” by Ottorino Respighi

Week 8: 


The Consolation of Poetry by Mark Bauerlein

-Hard Times Come Again No More, a folk song by Stephen Foster (here and here)

Prayer of Teilhard de Chardin

No Man is an Island by John Donne

The Summer Book Tove Jansson

Spring Webinar Series on Reason and Wisdom in Medieval Christian Thought.

This event is hosted by the Lumen Christi Institute and cosponsored by Collegium Institute, the Saint Benedict Institute, and the Nova Forum.

What can reason discover about God? Are there other possible ways to know God? Medieval Christians undertook great rational enterprises—including the sharp logic of Abelard and the grand system of Thomas Aquinas—as well as practiced experiential and contemplative modes of knowing, as did Bernard of Clairvaux. This course will examine how different preeminent medieval Christian thinkers saw the relationship between reason and wisdom, how to arrive at them, and so how to seek the face of God.

Join us for our second installment of our Spring Webinar Series. Professor Aaron Canty, who teaches theology and medieval thought at Saint Xavier University, will present on the thought of Saint Anselm of Canterbury (d. 1106).

Anselm was a startlingly original monastic writer and thinker who drank deeply of Augustinian and patristic theology but formulated his own theological and philosophical writings in spare and compelling chains of reasoning. His “Why God Became Man”, “Monologion”, and “Proslogion” each chart new ways to practice ‘believing in order to understand (credo ut intelligam).’ This event is free and open to the public. Online registration through Constant Contact, linked below, is required. This event will take place online through Zoom. Registrants will receive a link to the webinar via email.


Upcoming Seminars:

Thursday, April 23, 7PM CDT
“Thomas Aquinas on Ways to Know God” | Brian Carl (University of St. Thomas, Houston)

Thursday, April 30, 7PM CDT
Hildegard of Bingen (Title TBD) | Barbara Newman (Northwestern University)

Thursday, May 7, 7PM CDT
Abelard and Bernard of Clairvaux (Title TBD) | Willemien Otten (University of Chicago)

Thursday, May 14, 7PM CDT
Julian of Norwich (Title TBD) | Katie Bugyis (University of Notre Dame)

Thursday, May 21, 7PM CDT
Bonaventure (Title TBD) | Kevin Hughes (Villanova University)

More dates will be added as speakers are confirmed.


Cardinal Francis George, the American Contribution to Catholic Social Thought, and Our Current Moment

This event is hosted by the Lumen Christi Institute and cosponsored by Collegium Institute, America Magazine, the Saint Benedict Institute, the Nova Forum, the Beatrice Institute, the Calvert House Catholic Center, and Mundelein Seminary

A Memorial on the 5th Anniversary of the Death of Cardinal Francis George, O.M.I.

After his appointment as archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal George emerged as an intellectual leader within the Church, nationally and world-wide, and served as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. His thought on American culture and society—expressed in numerous lectures and in three major books—provides a challenging, critical view of the American experiment from the perspective of post-Vatican II Catholic thought. Revisiting his book on social questions and public life—God in Action: How Faith in God Can Address the Challenges of the World—allows us to reflect on the American contribution to Catholic Social Thought and to apply it to consider our situation today as we confront a great global crisis.

The panel will include Russell Hittinger, Senior Fellow of the Lumen Christi Institute and Visiting Professor at the University of Chicago Law School (Fall, 2020); Stephen Schneck, emeritus Professor at the Catholic University of America and Executive Director of the Franciscan Action Network; and Theresa Smart, assistant professor in the School of Civic and Economic Thought at Arizona State University. Each will draw from their own expertise and entertain the question of what distinctly American contributions have been made to Catholic Social Thought and how Cardinal George’s work fits within this tradition. This event is free and open to the public. Online registration is required. Registrants will receive an email with a link to join the webinar on Zoom.



Friday April 17  | 4:00 PM – 5:30 PM CDT

Online Zoom Webinar

Food for Thought Module VI: Silence and Community

Concern and fear about technology’s omnipresent role in modern life is not new. The number of people trying to find ways to “unplug” and “escape the noise” seems to have been on the rise for years. Now, a global pandemic forcing people to isolate themselves indoors has thrust technology into an even more central role in the lives of many students and workers, and questions of its value are more relevant than ever. Is it a socially destructive force that breeds anxiety and isolation? Or is it a lifeline that preserves relationships and community in times when they would otherwise be torn apart? Does it enrich our education or undermine it? 

Join us as we gather over a series of three Zoom webinars(!) to explore nuanced issues of technology, personal relationships, education, intellectual community, and the value of silence in a technological world. We will kick off this series this Wednesday with distinguished guest facilitator Justin McDaniel, Professor and Undergraduate Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Professor McDaniel is known to the academy for his remarkable scholarship on Buddhism, Southeast Asian Literature, and Manuscript Studies, and known to Penn students for his popular courses like “the monk class” and the seven-hour-long course on “Existential Despair.” Waiting lists for his classes are hundreds strong, but we have the privilege of Professor McDaniel leading this Wednesday’s live session on silence, community and the monastic tradition. Please see below for more details!

The two recommended readings for the Prof. McDaniel’s session on April 15 are excerpts from the Rule of St. Benedict (attached below), and the introduction to the Buddhist Monastic Code (which can be found on pages 11-26 attached below) . Both readings for the first session are completely optional; you will be able and encouraged to participate in the conversation even if you do not complete them. Stay tuned for more information about the following weeks’ readings.


Wednesdays | 4/15, 4/22, 4/29 | 7:30 – 8:30 PM 

Online Zoom meeting

* Just pages 11-26 for reading 1

The Waste Land

This event is hosted by the Abigail Adams Institute and cosponsored by Collegium Institute.

Join us for an online workshop on T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, in which we will read through and discuss the entire poem—the supreme instance of poetic modernism. Here Eliot grapples with the personal and social chaos of Western civilization after the inferno of the First World War and the conflagration of “liberal” optimism. Uprootedness, alienation, apocalypticism, the war between the sexes, the memory of the dead, Europe’s death instinct, the possibilities of coherence within postmodern pastiche, the possibilities for renewal amidst devastation, possible synthesis of East and West: The Waste Land contains worlds, and goes to the heart of the world in which we still live.

Date & Time: Friday, April 17th at 4:00 PM



Zoom information will be sent out to those who RSVP once they register.

Catholicism and the Common Good Summer Seminar

When: Thursday, June 25 to Saturday, June 27, 2020 
Where: University of Pennsylvania and Penn Catholic Newman Center
Seminar Description
The Collegium Institute is excited to introduce Catholicism and the Common Good, the summer session of CI’s Young Catholic Leaders Initiative for advanced high school students at the Penn Catholic Newman Center and on the University of Pennsylvania’s campus. 
Each day will focus on one of the ‘three necessary societies’ stipulated by Catholic Social Teaching, namely, the family, the state, and the Church. Through a combination of keynote lectures and seminars with Penn faculty, panel discussions and city tours with experts in local history, we will explore the principles undergirding Catholic thought on the common good by engaging with thinkers ranging from Augustine and Aquinas to Weil and Wojtyla, as well as seeking to apply those principles to our contemporary American context. 
This seminar is open to high school students who will be entering their junior or senior year in the Fall of 2021, and rising college freshmen.
Application Information
Applicants are required to submit the following: a cover letter explaining your interest in the seminar, your current unofficial transcript, and the email addresses of two faculty member references.The priority application deadline is Friday, May 15th, and the final application deadline is Wednesday, May 29th at 11:59pm. 
Collegium will continue to monitor the unfolding coronavirus situation.  As it stands, we are capping the number of admitted students to 20 in order to keep the gathering small as well as to facilitate optimal seminar conditions.  If, however, it proves impossible to host Catholicism and the Common Good as currently scheduled, the Collegium Institute will postpone the seminar. Any admitted applicants will be given the choice to attend Catholicism and the Common Good at the rescheduled date, or Collegium will refund the cost of the registration fee.  Please note that there is no cost to apply; students that are admitted and plan to attend will be required to pay a registration fee of $30. To apply, please click below.
Accepted students are expected to arrive at the Penn Catholic Newman Center at 9am on Thursday, June 25th for registration and breakfast. The Collegium Institute will provide breakfast and lunch on June 25th and June 26th, as well as breakfast, lunch, and dinner on June 27th. The Collegium Institute will not provide overnight housing; students must coordinate with their parents to return home by the end of programming at 5:30pm on June 25-26, and 7:30pm on Saturday, June 27th.
Every morning after breakfast, students will participate in a two hour seminar on the philosophical and theological underpinnings of each of the three necessary societies: family, state, and Church.
Students will have the option of attending daily Mass at noon every day of the seminar, followed by lunch. 
After lunch, students will participate in a two hour seminar on the practical applications of the principles explored in the morning seminar, viewing the family, the state, and the Church through the lenses of intellectual history and political thought. 
Following the afternoon seminar, there will be a different activity every day ranging from scavenger hunts and poetry recitations to tours of the city and local museums. 
Below is a general outline of what students can expect each day. 
Day 1
Thursday, June 25th
The First Necessary Society: The Family
Persons and Relationships: On Friendship and Family
9:00-9:30am, Registration and Breakfast
9:45-11:45am, Morning Seminar: On Personhood, Friendship, and Marriage
12:00-12:30pm, Mass
12:30-1:30pm, Lunch
1:30-2:30pm, Guided Tour of Penn’s Campus
2:30-4:30pm, Afternoon Seminar: The History of the Family in America
4:30-5:30pm, Scavenger Hunt on Penn’s Campus
Day 2
Friday, June 26th 
The Second Necessary Society: The State
Souls in the State and the State of Souls: Community of Persons
9:00-9:30am, Breakfast
9:30-11:30am, Morning Seminar: On Justice and the State
12:00-12:30pm, Mass
12:30-1:00pm, Lunch
1:00-2:00pm, A Guided Tour of Sacred and Secular Philadelphia
2:00-4:00pm, How Americans Became Catholic
4:00-5:30pm, A Guided Tour of Sacred and Secular Philadelphia
Day 3
Saturday, June 27th
The Third Necessary Society: The Church
The Church in Society: Communion of Saints
9:00-9:30am, Breakfast
9:30-11:30am, Morning Seminar: The Church as Necessary Society
12:00-12:30pm, Mass
12:30-1:30pm, Lunch
1:30-3:30pm, Afternoon Seminar: Catholicism in Contemporary America: Religious Liberty and Incipient Integralism
3:45-4:45pm, Guided Tour of Renaissance Manuscript Exhibition
5:00-6:30pm, Panel Discussion on How Catholics Became American
6:30-7:30pm, Dinner
Students are required to have done the readings prior to their arrival on campus. Admitted students will receive a hard copy of the readings one month before the beginning of the seminar. Authors may include Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Leo XIII, Weil, Anscombe, and John Paul II, among others. 
The faculty members for this seminar are affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania and the Collegium Institute under the leadership of Prof. Daniel Cheely, Executive Director of the Collegium Institute, also the Executive Director and Perry Family Scholar of History, Religion & Culture, Program for Research on Religion & Urban Civil Society, at the University of Pennsylvania. Faculty members include Dr. Michael Breidenbach, a research associate at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, and Professor Janice T. Chik, Barry Foundation Fellow and Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania.
Admissions Information
Admitted students will be notified of their status by June 4th. A $30 registration fee is required of all admitted students.
Please email Jose Perez-Benzo at

Gold Mass for Catholic Scientists

Join us for a special Gold Mass for Catholic scientists on November 14th!*

Gold Masses are for Catholics who are or have been involved with science, including scientists, retired or former scientists, science teachers at any level, science graduate students and undergraduate science majors, as well as all of those with an interest in science, formal or informal.

The patron of this Mass is St. Albert the Great, a Dominican friar, born around 1206, noted for his great works in the natural sciences. Among his students were St. Thomas Aquinas. St. Albert is the patron saint of scientists.

There will be a reception following the Mass. All are very welcome to attend.

*Due to the coronavirus outbreak and restrictions, this event is being postponed until November 14th 2020.

Young Catholic Leaders Initiative: On Reconciling Science and Religion

Register for the Inaugural Workshop of the Young Catholic Leaders Project on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. The first session, On Reconciling Science & Religion, will take place on Monday November 14th*, featuring two keynote lectures by world-renowned Catholic scientists and speakers, breakout seminars with peers and Collegium Institute facilitators, an interactive activity on science-faith-and-modern film, and a panel discussion on vocations in science, medicine, and engineering, along with a special Gold Mass for Catholic Scientists at midday!

Continental Breakfast, Lunch, and Light Dinner included with registration.

Not only for students with STEM interests, this workshop is geared toward all advanced high school students seeking to become Catholic leaders who are able to appreciate the harmonious relationship between the faith and the sciences. Registration will be limited. Preference will be given to Junior and Seniors who register by the deadline of Friday, March 13th. The system may close before either date if the program already has reached capacity.

After registration and breakfast, Dr. Daniel Cheely will kick off the day’s events with opening remarks on the mission of the Collegium Institute and his vision for the Young Catholic Leaders Initiative. Dr. Cheely is the Executive Director of the Collegium Institute, Resident Senior Fellow of the Fox Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania and Lecturer in Penn’s History Department.

Following Dr. Cheely’s remarks, Prof. Stephen Barr, President of the Society for Catholic Scientists and Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the Unversity of Delaware, will give his keynote lecture at 9:45am. Breakout discussions will follow the lecture, after which there will be a Gold Mass for Catholic Scientists at St. Agatha-St. James Church at 12:15pm (click here to read more about the Gold Mass).

There will be a lunch reception immediately after the Gold Mass for Catholic Scientists. After lunch, at 2:00pm Dr. Marisa Cristina March, a cosmologist from Imperial College London and senior lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania, will lead an interactive workshop on the topic of science and faith as presented in film.

At 3:15pm, Professor Peter Dodson, Professor of Anatomy at Penn’s School of Veterinary Medicine as well as Professor of Paleontology at Penn’s School of Arts and Sciences, will deliver his keynote lecture, followed by breakout discussions.

Finally, at 5:30pm there will be a panel discussion on the Vocation of Catholic Scientists, Engineers, and Medical Professionals moderated by Prof. Janice Chik, Barry Foundation Fellow and Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania.

The Collegium Institute’s Young Catholic Leaders Initiative is co-sponsored by the Penn Catholic Newman Center and the Society for Catholic Scientists and is made possible by a generous grant from the Connelly Foundation. 

Please see below for the link to RSVP and the full schedule of events. 

*Due to the coronavirus outbreak and restrictions, this event is being postponed until November 14th 2020. More details will be announced when available.