Scott Hahn and Dana Gioia will add to the impressive lineup of speakers on campus this semester, following other high-profile speakers such as Anthony Doerr, Peter Kreeft and Ryan Anderson.
Both Hahn and Gioia are sought out to speak nationally and internationally; Hahn for his theological works and personal conversion story, and Gioia as an acclaimed Catholic poet and essayist.
Hahn is a renowned Catholic theologian and author of the best-selling “The Lamb’s Supper,” “The Fourth Cup” and “Rome Sweet Home,” coauthored with his wife Kimberly. He is the founder and president of the Saint Paul Center for Biblical Study and serves as a professor at the Franciscan University of Steubenville.
Hahn’s conversion from a Protestant minister to the Catholic faith draws attention from Protestants as well as Catholics.
In his lecture, which will address “Catholic Higher Education and the New Evangelization,” Hahn will explain the relationship between education and evangelization, according to UD politics professor Dr. Christopher Wolfe, who along with Provost Dr. Jonathan Sanford, spearheaded Hahn’s lecture at UD.
“I’m sure [Hahn] will have a sense that UD is one of those colleges where people get a good, Catholic, liberal education and thus are equipped to be effective evangelizers in America,” Wolfe said. “Ill-educated Catholics are not going to be very effective at evangelizing.”
Gioia is another internationally-acclaimed speaker soon to appear on campus. Besides his writings, Gioia is a former chairman of the National Endowments for the Arts, a role in which he succeeded in gaining bipartisan support for the Endowment. In 2015, Gioia was appointed poet laureate of California.
“[Gioia] is … an evangelist for poetry,” said English professor Dr. Andrew Osborn. According to Osborn, Gioia is just as renowned for his writing about poetry as for his poetry itself. Gioia gained fame in 1991 with the publication of his essay “Can Poetry Matter?” in The Atlantic Monthly.
As a poet, Gioia is a New Formalist, representing a school of poetry that “embrac[es] what had worked so well in the old,” Osborn said. “By playing largely by the rules, [Gioia makes poetry] more legible, more readily available … so people don’t have to come up with new understandings of understanding.”
Gioia’s Catholic faith is a major influence on his work and his understanding of the arts.
“I am a Catholic, and I am a writer; I don’t think you can separate the two identities,” Gioia was quoted as saying in an interview with the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies at the University of Southern California.
In the interview, Gioia cited St. Augustine and Thomas Merton as being among his greatest influences. Gioia’s subject matter, however, has never been explicitly Catholic.
Gioia told the Institute that “What makes my poetry Catholic is the worldview, the sacramental use of symbols, the redemptive role of suffering, the interpenetration of the sacred and the mundane, and — crucially perhaps — the conviction that truth and beauty are interdependent.”
UD will provide Gioia’s most recent book, “The Catholic Writer Today and Other Essays,” to students free of charge at the lecture, Osborn said.
Although both Hahn and Gioia are highly-regarded intellectuals, they are also renowned for their speaking abilities, according to Wolfe and Osborn.
“They don’t always go together,” Wolfe said of the public speaking abilities of famous academics. But Wolfe added that “[Hahn] combines both of them.”
Due to the widespread reputation of these speakers, both Wolfe and Osborn said that they anticipate an audience of both UD students and people from off campus. The audience anticipated to attend Hahn’s lecture is so big that Maher Athletic Center is the only space available to accommodate it on the UD campus, Wolfe said.
Hahn and Gioia add to a recent plethora of big-name speakers on campus.
“The difficulty at UD is that we just have too much of a wealth of wonderful lectures and programs to go to, to be able to hear them all or see them all,” said Associate Provost Dr. John Norris. Norris encouraged students to attend lectures both inside and outside their fields of study.
But “don’t stretch yourself too thin,” Norris warned. “You can’t go to every wonderful talk.”
“We want students to be exposed to culture shapers,” Provost Jr. Jonathan Sanford said. Sanford highlighted the connections of UD faculty and staff with these speakers that have facilitated these lectures. Sanford added that it is not new for prominent speakers to visit UD, citing past McDermott speakers as examples.
Lecturers are often attracted to speaking at UD, according to Sanford, and even agree to speak at UD “on the cheap,” compared to other engagements.
Yet, while some of the recent speakers on campus have been high-profile figures, UD does not seek out speakers for their fame alone, according to Wolfe.
“UD is good about avoiding going into the celebrity trap,” Wolfe said. “The speakers we have at UD are not just celebrities, they are thoughtful people who have important things to say about important public issues.”
“Some of it, I think, is accidental,” Norris said, referring to the clustering of recent speakers. Doerr was on campus due to the McDermont Lecture, according to Norris. Similarly, Gioia’s talk is part of the Galbraith lecture series. Hahn is able to speak at UD because he will be in the area for a Father’s Day conference sponsored by a local Dallas businessman, according to Wolfe.
Regardless of the circumstances that facilitated the university hosting these speakers, the fact that they are coming to UD indicates something about the university’s reputation, according to Clare Slattery, the UD student body president.
“It really does reflect well on our school that we have such big name speakers coming in,” Slattery said. “We’re gaining more confidence at putting ourselves out there as a university.”
Hahn will deliver his lecture, entitled “Catholic Higher Education and the New Evangelization,” on Friday, April 5 at 4 p.m. in Maher Athletic Center and Gioia will present on Sunday, April 7 at 3 p.m. The location and title of Gioia’s lecture have yet to be announced.