A $3.65 million grant will fund a network of institutes of Catholic thought

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CHICAGO — A national network of institutes of Catholic thought will soon be established as part of a new $3.65 million grant presented Feb. 1 by the John Templeton Foundation.

The In Lumine network will initially include six Catholic institutes located on prime university campuses across the country.

These include the Lumen Christi Institute at the University of Chicago; the Nova Forum at the University of Southern California; the Collegium Institute at the University of Pennsylvania; the St. Anselm Institute at the University of Virginia; COLLIS at Cornell University; and the Harvard Catholic Forum at Harvard University.

Each of these institutes operates independently of the university but serves the faculty, students and staff of the secular university with programs that bring a range of disciplines into dialogue with and form participants in the Catholic intellectual tradition.

The entire grant was awarded to the Lumen Christi Institute for administration over three years. In addition to establishing the network, funding is supported for academic and religious programs – some of which are open to the public – at each of these institutes.

In Lumine Network members also receive training and workshops on sustainable nonprofit management, including strategy development, fundraising, marketing, program management and evaluation, event planning, and campus engagement.

Michael Le Chevallier, associate executive director of the Lumen Christi Institute, said the network will expand after its first year to welcome new members from the United States, including ecumenical partners.

“The founders of these institutes often found themselves on parallel learning curves, treading the same ground, with limited budgets and little outside guidance,” explained Le Chevallier. “A support network was needed so everyone could promote their programs more efficiently and effectively, share ideas, build on the successes of others and amplify impact.”

“The network will also enable collaboration between these institutes to advance their common mission,” added Le Chevallier.

All six institutes were inspired by the same vision of lay Catholic Thomas Levergood and Catholic scholar at the University of Chicago – to bring the Catholic intellectual tradition to the secular university.

Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago endorsed the vision that led to the founding of the Lumen Christi Institute in 1997.

For 25 years, Lumen Christi’s mission has been to engage students and faculty at the University of Chicago in an ongoing and thoughtful dialogue between the sciences and Catholic thought.

This mission is realized through conferences and seminars with top scholars from the University, such as Bernard McGinn, Father David Tracy and Jean-Luc Marion, and from around the world.

The idea caught on quickly. In 2000, Levergood helped found the St. Anselm Institute at the University of Virginia. He offered advice on the formation of the Collegium Institute in 2013 and introduced its founding board to key funders.

He also advised the Nova Forum and Harvard Catholic Forum on their formation in 2020, and COLLIS at Cornell University in 2021.

As executive director of the Lumen Christi Institute for 24 years, Levergood also supported the founding of several Catholic think tanks and professional organizations dedicated to issues in the fields of science, business, and criminal justice.

Levergood died last August at the age of 58 after a brief battle with cancer. This year’s Templeton Foundation grant cements his vision and secures his legacy, said Le Chevallier, who has worked with Levergood for 10 years.

Le Chevallier explained that the In Lumine network’s focus on science and religion is a response to the “enthusiasm” among students and faculty “to explore deeper questions arising from the application of new technologies and the university’s growing technology-oriented programs result .”

As part of the grant, Lumen Christi will also organize a national science and religion summit in the second year of the project.

Stephen Barr, president of the Society of Catholic Scientists, says the new Templeton-funded projects will help dispel the myth among Catholics and non-Catholics alike that there is a divide between science and religion.

The Society of Catholic Scientists is an international organization that has grown to 1,600 members in 50 countries since its inception in 2016. Their mission, according to their website, is “to promote fellowship among Catholic scientists and to witness to the harmony of faith and reason.”

Barr had worked with Levergood and the Lumen Christi Institute, which helped organize and fund the Society’s first annual conference in 2017.

“A lot of people think they have to choose between the Catholic faith and science,” said Barr, professor emeritus of physics at the University of Delaware. “That’s because of myths and confusion that far too often go unanswered.”

“Fortunately, this is beginning to change as Catholic scientists, scholars and a variety of new Catholic organizations such as Lumen Christi and others have taken up the challenge” to fill the gap, he said.

David Albertson is the founding director of the Nova Forum and an associate professor of religion at the University of Southern California. He received his PhD from the University of Chicago, where he says his attendance at Lumen Christi events had a lasting impact on his Catholic faith life and vision for the Nova Forum.

“The Catholic intellectual tradition has an enormous amount that it can and should offer as a gift to leading, private, secular universities,” he said. “As today’s universities struggle to connect teaching and research, ethics and the market, culture and the common good, Catholic intellectuals bring new resources, perspective and energy to their schools.”

Albertson said affiliation with the In Lumine Network will enable his institute to organize new programs with science students and faculty on campus.

“So far, the Nova Forum has engaged the liberal arts and law schools at USC,” he said.

“I hope that our longer Catholic perspective will provide a platform for all disciplines to focus on the inseparable moral and religious center of all humanistic endeavors, which is to be and remain human,” he added.

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