I am very grateful for the chance to share with you a few thoughts about my year at the Collegium of Anton Neuwirth. Let me start with a short story from last August. It was about the time of noon and I have just boarded a plane at the airport in Vienna heading for NYC. I took my seat, closed my eyes and as the plane was taking off I suddenly thought: Where in the world are you traveling again?! This thought did not leave me for the rest of the summer and in fact had been, deep down, with me for a few months at that point.
I came to the Collegium as a last-minute decision last autumn after six years of studying abroad. What I realized as I sat on that plane was that, while I had spent my past years studying between Cambridge, Krakow, Heidelberg and Princeton, I can’t help but feel that the place where I want to eventually work, live and settle is Slovakia. Coming to the Collegium then seemed to be – and now I can say it was – a good step in this direction.
My main academic interest lies with political philosophy and history. And a vocation to the Slovak public square is likely something I will not manage to stay away from in the future. In this respect, one of the many joys of this past year at the Collegium was to take classes on modern Slovak history. And while I assure you (and myself too) I plan on settling in Slovakia eventually, taking this course at the Collegium led me to go abroad soon again. With recommendations from our rector Martin and our history tutor Agata I was accepted for a one-year masters course in Modern History at Oxford University. My research project concerning Slovak Political Catholicism in the 1920s and 1930s should be supervised by Professor Martin Conway – someone whose work I first came across in my reading lists at the Collegium.
Colloquia with notable figures from Slovak public life also feature among the highlights of my year at the Collegium. At one such colloquium with an inspiring Christian mother, a local politician and a campaigner in one person, we discussed a civic campaign aimed at reducing gambling addiction in Bratislava. Within two weeks I found myself involved in the campaign with several other Collegium alumni and giving a speech at the full sitting of the Bratislava City Assembly. I guess that nicely illustrates how speedily the Collegium practically lets one get a taste of its vision: dozens of young men and women active in the Slovak public square working towards what is true, good and beautiful.
Yet the most valuable aspect of my year in Collegium is far less tangible than getting a place on a course or getting involved in a cause. Quite simply, it is the chance to spend one’s days in an academic community with people of faith.
It is about discussing Guardini over breakfast with your tutor, sharing one another’s hardships and joys over lunch with a fellow student and playing ice hockey with your tutor’s kids in the afternoon. And meeting all these people in the evening to celebrate Holy Mass.
As Cardinal Newman writes in The Idea of a University, if given a choice between the two, the mere experience of living in a community is so much more preferable to all lectures and seminars a grand university may offer. An experience of this sort is after all what colleges of grand universities were originally made for. Having studied at one such institution I can happily conclude that in this respect the Collegium outperforms some of these institutions decisively. Though I am heading to “the other place” this coming September, I doubt my opinion will change.
The Collegium offers a life in a Catholic community, intellectual life, sometimes even a taste of a life dedicated to public affairs. Collegium thus becomes first and foremost a home to its alumni. That is more so the case for someone who lived many years abroad. So my main thanks to you is for allowing me and my classmates feel all the more at home in our dear Slovakia. Undoubtedly this is the best foundation for any of CAN alumni to have an impact on the future of Slovak political and cultural life. Our time in the Collegium may work towards this end in curious and mysterious ways, as in my case when it is partly to blame for another of my travels abroad. But that is after all how our Lord works, too. So I take it that His blessings are with the important work of the Collegium. And my dear wish is that they may be with your endeavors too.
With kind regards,