Academy will be offered this summer at the Spiritual Life Center
By Dusty Gates
“Why would anyone want to get together and talk about these old books with us?” I asked Howard Clark and Matthew Umbarger as we huddled around my office table, littered with copies of Bible commentaries, epic poems, and classic novels.
“Well, that’s a good question,” said Howard. After a short pause, followed by a hearty laugh, we realized that the answer to this question might not be easily articulated, but was an important one nonetheless.
Starting last summer, I’ve had the privilege to begin working on a new program of study with Howard Clark and Mathew Umbarger, Ph.D., two fascinating and talented teachers in the Diocese of Wichita. Clark is the former headmaster of the nationally-known St. Gregory’s Academy, and currently teaches English at Blessed Sacrament Catholic School. Umbarger teaches theology at Newman University, and lived almost a decade in Israel studying and teaching scripture.
Together we’ve been reading and re-reading some of the books that make up our cultural patrimony, and discussing the ways in which those books have shaped our understanding of ourselves, our fellow man, and our Lord.
These books aren’t always easy to get through, and are not for the faint of heart. They require perseverance, honest consideration, and sober reflection. They demand our attention, and a healthy reverence as we recognize the presence of something greater than ourselves, which calls us out of our particular time and place. They make us move outwards from our own situations, our own sins, our own minds – in search of that which is finally good, true, and beautiful.
“We live in a ‘meme’ culture,” Umbarger said, adding that we tend to want information only in small pieces which pertain exclusively to the here and now. “Reading these books connects me to the past, which is part of my past too, from which I’ve been disconnected.”
Clark agreed, lamenting that “we are bombarded with superficial information,” and “spend so much time on ephemeral things.” Reading the important books of the past, Clark said, is different, both in the way we consume it and the way it changes us. A classic story, for example, “doesn’t give up its pleasures or insights easily.”
While mass entertainment desires and creates passive consumers who want things quickly and easily, he said, good books are “nourishing, and provide something necessary. There is a different way of dealing with things, slowly, reflectively.
When we give that up, we are diminished human beings,” he said.
Clark said the extra effort needed to read the best literature is well worth it. “When I’m reading, I think about how great it is and how glad I am to be doing this. I never feel that way when I’m listening to the radio or watching TV.”
Mr. Clark, Dr. Umbarger, and I are thrilled to announce the launching of Christendom Academy, a new study program for adults beginning in the summer of 2018 at the Spiritual Life Center.
This program will highlight the unique contributions Western Civilization has made to our understanding of philosophy, theology, spirituality, morality, and citizenship. Students will be invited to learn new ways to answer perennial questions like who am I? Where have I come from and where am I going? What contribution am I called to make for my own salvation, for the good of my family, and the good of the world?

Details about Christendom Academy
Christendom Academy will meet once a week for eight weeks from June 19 through Aug. 7, focusing on one cultural epoch, a module, each week.
Course content will be drawn from a handful of writings essential to the development of Christian culture. The modules in succession will be: The Greeks, The Romans, The Hebrews, The Evangelists, The Fathers, The Early Medievals, The Late Medievals, and The Moderns.
The class will meet from 9 a.m. to noon, and will include lunch.