VILLANOVA, Pa. – Summer means many things for college professors and graduate students. Writing, research, travel, preparing for the fall semester and much needed time for relaxation fill their summer days. But for a small group of theologians and philosophers, summer includes an annual five-day immersion into the influential works of medieval priest and scholar St. Thomas Aquinas.
For the first time since this group began meeting 10 years ago, Villanova University hosted this year’s Aquinas Studium July 30 to August 2. “Studium” refers to the cycle of prayer, study and conversation in which Aquinas’ contemporary Dominican friars would have learned. The studium is a chance for the top Aquinas scholars in the United States and Canada to discuss and contemplate Aquinas’ thought and study his difficult texts.
Villanova’s Anna Moreland, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Humanities, organized this year’s studium, which she says has become the intellectual highlight of her year.
“The ethos of the studium is studying and learning together,” Dr. Moreland says. “We share deep insights that we would not have come to alone, and over the years we have grown in friendship. It is a unique experience that is hard to put into words.”
Each day of the studium begins with morning prayer before the group joins in conversation around an essential question of that day’s readings. Aquinas’ texts are read aloud together, and the group may also read and discuss supporting scholarship of Aquinas’ thought. Each day includes noon mass and concludes with an evening dinner.
“The studium is very intense,” Dr. Moreland says. “The caliber of scholarship is incredible and is something we can’t get anywhere else.”
In fact, the studium grew from the group’s dissatisfaction with the incongruent nature of most academic conferences. The group wanted to create a learning experience that allowed them to fully immerse themselves in one theme related to Aquinas’ thought and ensure a communal experience.
The initial idea for the studium came from Gilles Mongeau, SJ, associate professor of systematic theology at Regis College of the University of Toronto, and Holly Taylor Coolman, assistant professor of theology at Providence College. The group has grown to a core of 15 faculty members, and while the faculty group is invite-only, graduate students of the host university are invited to attend each year.
Theology master’s student John Cacchione was one of the four Villanova students to attend, and while he says that Dr. Moreland was completely transparent about the nature of the studium, he was not sure what to expect.
“It took me a day to become fully acclimated,” he says. “As I got to know the other participants better, I must say I really enjoyed it! If it were possible to participate in future years, I would jump at the opportunity.”
“The participating faculty, all expert in their field, do this each year simply because they want to. It is a group who wholeheartedly enjoy both St. Thomas’ thought and each other’s company. There was a true spirit of camaraderie and friendship, and we graduate students were truly welcomed into the group.”
Cacchione chose to attend the studium because he wanted to include intense study of at least one aspect of Aquinas’ thought into his graduate work, and he was particularly interested in this year’s theme of the Trinity. He also felt that the format, which approximated how Aquinas and his students would have studied, “would offer an experience unlike any other graduate course, and I did not want to miss the opportunity to participate.”
Cacchione also relished the spirit of community within the group, and their commitment to learning together.
“The participating faculty, all expert in their field, do this each year simply because they want to,” he said. “It is a group who wholeheartedly enjoy both St. Thomas’ thought and each other’s company. There was a true spirit of camaraderie and friendship, and we graduate students were truly welcomed into the group.”
Without saying it outright, Dr. Moreland describes a very Augustinian—a very Villanovan—learning experience in which the search for knowledge is best done together.
“Aquinas is a challenging figure,” she says. “It is easier to approach his difficult texts together than alone. The studium offers a chance for me to learn with people I intellectually trust and love, quite frankly. We are making lifelong connections—both professional and personal."