I had a wonderful few days in Chicago this weekend. Although it is difficult to take time out of a busy semester schedule, it was well worth making the necessary time adjustments to allot space to come to Chicago to give a lecture on the influence of John Duns Scotus on Thomas Merton. It was a weekend that was filled to the brim with a combination of scholarly and touristy experiences.
On Friday I visited two of the renown theological graduate programs in the city – one of which is the midwestern compatriot of one of my own alma maters, The Washington Theological Union. That is, I had the opportunity to visit the Catholic Theological Union, which was a nice, unexpected stop during my brief stay in Chicago.
Yesterday was a bit more of a “day in the life of Dan as tourist.” I took in several of the usual sites of the city. Such adventures included an early morning visit to the observation deck of the Sears Tower, including the newly renovated class enclosures that allow you to stand 103 stories above the street (see the photo of my feet above!). I also visited Millennium Park and spent several hours in the Art Institute of Chicago, admiring with great interest the new modern art wing – this is a must see. I then was able to visit friends north of the city. The newly weds treated me to a wonderful meal and fantastic conversation. It was indeed a gift to spend time with such great people and hospitable hosts.
This morning included Mass at St. Peter’s Church in the Loop (the Franciscan church where I have been staying during my visit). It reminded me a lot of our larger service churches run by my province in New York City and Boston. I was pleasantly surprised to see a reasonably large number of young adults (people in their 20s/30s) at Mass. It was nice.
I then met up with a wonderful woman, a nurse and an artist, who drove me and another friar (who is a member of the Chicago Merton Society) to the location where the presentation was to be held, the Passionist Monastery in Chicago. While I feel that I succumbed to one of my most vexing idiosyncratic traits and stereotypically “East Coast” traps — Speaking too quickly, I got the impression that the lecture was very well received. Many people came up to me during the break between the presentation and the Q/A portion of the event and offered some great questions and comments. During the formal portion of the Q/A there was a rich conversation that flowed from the observations and further questions posited by those in attendance, a diverse crowd that ranged from professors of theology at Loyola University of Chicago to the most casual reader of Thomas Merton, and everyone in-between.
After the lecture a small group of those who are the coordinators of the Chicago Merton Society took me out to a lovely dinner at a restaurant not that far away. There was a lively conversation over dinner that included Michael Brennen, the Chicago TMS president, Fr. Vaughn Fayle, OFM, a friar from the Sacred Heart Province, and Dr. Pauline Viviano, a professor of Hebrew Bible at Loyola University, for example. After dinner Mike and his wife drove Vaughn and I back to the Loop of Chicago (where the friary is located) with a lovely sight-seeing tour along the way. It was nice to be shown such welcome and hospitality, let alone have a first-rate tour of the city at night!
All in all, it was a wonderful trip and I have Mike Brennan and Vaughn Fayle to thank in particular for it. I’m delighted to have had the opportunity to speak to such a great group of people and share some ongoing research in one of my academic areas of interest. I have also been thankful to spend some time with my Midwestern Franciscan brothers here at St. Peter’s Church. I definitely look forward to my return to the windy city in June, if not before!