On Feb. 26, the 5th Annual Medievalists and Early Modernists of North Texas and Oklahoma Conference in Medieval and Early Modern Studies took place at Austin College in Sherman, Texas, where undergraduates are selected from across North Texas and Oklahoma to read essays pertaining to the philosophy, history or culture of the Medieval/Early Modern period. The winner for Best Essay went to Holy Trinity seminarian John Cavanna.
Students were asked to submit abstracts for their essays, and then 20 essays were selected to be read aloud at the conference as finalists. Of the 20 that were selected, 4 were undergraduates at UD: Sammie Ronge, junior philosophy major; David Foust, senior philosophy major; Mark R. Garcia III, senior history major; and John Cavanna, a Pre-Theologian II seminarian in his last year at Holy Trinity studying philosophy.
The readers presented their essays aloud in front of two judges and several observers. Each essay was required to be read in roughly 15 minutes with about five minutes of question time. The presentations were divided by subject into different rooms on-site at Austin College and took place in two time slots.
Ronge adapted her term paper from Sister Elinor Gardner, O.P. ‘s Medieval to Modern for her submission, writing about Thomas Aquinas’ doctrine of analogy and comparing it with that of Pseudo-Dionysius. She argued that Aquinas, as a philosopher, gives credence to human reason and highlights the right balance between faith and reason. She recounted the benefit of learning his doctrines and how it aids in one’s own critical thinking.
“Within the Catholic tradition, Aquinas is such a good teacher,” she said. “Learning about how he reasons and goes through each argument, even if you’re not Catholic, gives you such a great foundation for critical thinking. Learning Aquinas’ precise and careful scientific process is so beneficial even to someone outside the faith.”
Ronge also cited the UD cultural love of learning, academic rigor and critical inquiry as key factors in allowing her writing to reach such a high caliber and compared it to some of the other essays that were read.
“We learn how to write so well and convey very philosophic ideas in a clear and coherent way,” she said. “UD cultivates in us a love of learning and analytical thinking that propels our critical inquiry to unique and special heights. You could definitely see it in our presentations; we, UD students, were presenting at a noticeably high academic caliber.”
Foust recalled how gratifying it was to experience such a wide range of topics and appreciated the chance to hear the perspectives of non-UD philosophers and historians.
“Everyone there demonstrated an exceptional passion for learning and for their studies,” he said. “It was refreshing to hear non-Catholic points of view and wonderful to see the diversity of beliefs and opinions presented in the other attendees’ work.”
Despite the wealth of knowledge and richness in thought on display, Foust affirmed the high quality of writing that his fellow UD undergraduate students espoused and was proud to be a part of the UD philosophic tradition.
“I loved being able to represent the University of Dallas at this conference,” he said. “I could tell right away from attending the other presentations that the high standards we have at UD produce more professional students and better scholarships.”
Cavanna’s winning essay explored the sermons of St. Bernard. With encouragement from Sr. Gardner and guidance from Fathers Joseph Van House and Roch Kereszty, O. Cist., Cavanna submitted his essay titled “Bernard of Clairvaux on the Reception of Wisdom.”
“In his sermons on ‘The Song of Songs,’ Bernard suggests that delight in goodness is not something you choose, but something you receive,” Cavanna said. “Bernard really speaks to the heart, and I wanted to write about that.”
Cavanna joined Ronge and Foust in celebrating the distinctly impressive brand of academics that UD fosters in its focused commitment towards the good, the true and the beautiful.
“Whether it’s through the medieval world or any other period, we study it because we think it tells us something about truth. It really is so different to study something because it is an interesting story and to study something because we believe that it helps us draw closer to the truth,” said Cavanna.