They drew it up on the napkin of a tavern where they had met weekly for several years, holding a breakfast seminar.
From that vision, Augustine College was born, to provide a rigourous one-year university level program highlighting the foundations of Western Civilization through teaching the history of the Church, as well as of art, science and philosophy, along with Latin — all within the context of a committed faith community. Though ecumenical, Augustine College requires both students and faculty be faithful Christians.
Last month, Augustine College held its 20th commencement ceremony.
Augustine College president Dr. John Patrick, a retired pediatrician and medical school professor, is one of the founding fathers of the college. He told the new 2016-17 class of 11 students that modern universities have become “one of the most toxic environments for faith.”
Of those who start out as Christians in university, only about 20-30 per cent remain Christian by the end, Patrick warned. “This college is different. It was founded from a discussion of why this happened and what can be done.”
The professors who used to gather for those discussions in the tavern — Catholics, Presbyterians, Anglicans, Eastern Catholics and others — knew “history needs to be taught,” Patrick said. “You don’t know who your heroes ought to be.”
Patrick spoke of how he didn’t lose his faith when he attended university and medical school, but he ceased to practice it. He encountered several challenges that undermined his faith. One was scientific reductionism. Another was moral relativism. Another was the realization “my views were considered intolerant,” he said.
“I couldn’t defend the sanctity of life,” he said. “I couldn’t defend Judeo-Christian morality.”
He told the students when they leave Augustine College they will be able to defend what is true.
“You will be able to stand up and make an impact.”
Patrick stressed the role of Jesus Christ in underpinning any search for knowledge or education.
He said all his best work as a pediatrician specializing in treating malnutrition in developing countries came after he returned to practising his Christian faith. He said his faith has made him a better husband, father and scientist.
About one-third of the Augustine College faculty is Catholic, including former Religious Freedom Ambassador Andrew Bennett, who has served as the college’s dean and will teach a Christian history course this fall.
Ottawa Catholics John and Lara Pacheco’s eldest daughter Clarissa is part of this year’s new class.
Lara said she found out about Augustine College a few years ago through a homeschooling friend whose daughter was studying Latin. Clarissa studied Latin for one year, and the following year took four courses at the college. This year, she finishes the remaining five course to graduate.
John said he was surprised to discover students coming from Europe, the United States and Western Canada but no one from Ottawa, so he became involved with the college to help get the word out. This year, there are three Ottawa students at the college and another six homeschoolers who are studying Latin as part of new outreach efforts.
Though Augustine College does not have the Catholic brand, John said it is more catholic than many Catholic institutions.
“This is ecumenism practised in way ecumenism should be practised,” said John. “It’s not a watering down of our differences.” It’s an opportunity to discover the beauty in other traditions, he said.
“The students that arrive here are quite extraordinary,” said John. They are Christians who “want to get at the truth of things.”
The experience at Augustine has “opened Clarissa up to the true beauty of our Western culture,” said Lara. “She’s enjoying seeing that with new eyes. We see an even deeper jump in her self-learning.”
“For our culture to turn around, we need our children to think outside of the box,” said John. “We have to get them to learn the great traditions that made Western culture what it is. We have to be unafraid to go down educational avenues that are not conventional in hopes our children will evangelize the culture through what has come from our past.”