Fathers Borkenhagen, Reilley still hitting the books in Rome

In addition to meeting Bishop Carl A. Kemme during his ad limina visit to the Vatican Jan. 16, Pope Francis met Fathers Jason Borkenhagen and Patrick Reilley, at right, both of whom are studying in Rome. (CNS photo)


Father Borkenhagen digs into theology

Researching St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome in pursuit of a doctorate

Like the many archeological excavations around Rome, Father Jason Borkenhagen is digging deep – into theology.

Fr. Borkenhagen, one of two priests from the Diocese of Wichita studying in Rome, is researching St. Thomas Aquinas’ understanding of moral reasoning.

“I’m looking at St. Thomas’s way of moral reasoning and casuistry, a case-based way of doing moral theology which has been dominant in moral theology since the council of Trent up to modern times, some would argue even until today.”

The Jesuits have been known for that type of moral theology, he said.

“They wrote these big books for priests to read that began with a simple case, and then added different circumstances and details that tried to help confessors deal with moral conundrums.”

Fr. Borkenhagen explained that its two extremes are legalism (follow the rules and everything is okay), and laxism (everything is always okay). For Thomists, a common criticism of casuistry is that it doesn’t effect an interior transformation of the person, he said, adding that living the life of grace and developing the moral virtues does bring about this transformation.

Father Borkenhagen ready to write

Father Borkenhagen is proposing that they both missed the mark and that Aquinas’ moral reasoning is more on the mark because it is virtue-based and does not forget grace.

“In a nutshell, I’m saying this is casuistry, here’s how Aquinas does moral reasoning, here’s how a couple of Jesuits do moral reasoning…and then I’m going to explain what the effects of the moral reasoning are for the priests and the penitents.”

If his proposal is approved by his director and others involved in his studies, the real digging will begin.

“At that point (faculty approval), you formally become a candidate for a doctorate and you start the dissertation,” he said.

The other priest studying in Rome, Father Patrick Reilley, lives in the same residence as Fr. Borkenhagen’s, the Pontifical North American College’s Casa Santa Maria, which is for American priests (a few Australians, too).

“He was my deacon 11 years ago,” Fr. Borkenhagen said. “He and I get together every Sunday and go out for coffee and visit several times a week. It’s nice having somebody from the diocese here, too.”

Fr. Patrick Reilley enjoying his studies in Canon Law

Studying at Santa Croce, living at the Casa

When Father Patrick Reilley was conversing with some Spanish-speaking women last month while in Wichita during a Christmas break, he inadvertently used some Italian words in place of Spanish. It was just the reverse of his situation last summer when he was a student in an intensive Italian course. At that time, Spanish words were creeping into his Italian.

Father Reilley, who was most recently pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Arkansas City, is studying Canon Law at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome – courses taught entirely in Italian.

“My comprehension is fine,” he said. “All my texts are in Italian and my spoken Italian has improved dramatically. I was mixing Spanish with my spoken Italian, but now it’s the other way around.”

Although he was been in Italy for over six months, he hasn’t been able to “play tourist” very much, he said. “Everyday is filled with work.”

He has lectures at his school, also known as Santa Croce, from 8:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. with lunch at 1 o’clock. “Then there’s a lot of reading. I spend a lot of time in the library reading.”

Has a little time to see Rome

Saturday mornings are dedicated to visiting one place in Rome, Fr. Reilley said.

He is staying at the Casa Santa Maria, on a floor above a brother-priest, Father Jason Borkenhagen, who is studying for a doctorate in theology. Fr. Borkenhagen was most recently pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Parsons. The Casa is about a block south of the Trevi Fountain.

Father Reilley said he is enjoying his schooling. “I didn’t know how easy it would be to slip back into the student mode,” he said. “I really enjoy the process of learning. Each day I learn something new – then another door opens and I go through that door and I find there are all these other doors and possibilities to learn new things.”

Father Reilley was sent to Rome to study canon law because a canon lawyer fluent in Spanish was needed for the diocesan Tribunal Office. The Tribunal Office oversees canon law matters, including the marriage tribunal.

When Father Reilley’s studies are complete and he returns in the summer of 2022, he’ll not only be able to assist petitioners whose main language is Spanish, he’ll be ready for Italian speakers as well.