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Christian Union: The Magazine
December 13, 2019

Institute for Catholic Life Fosters Religious Discourse

By Jon Garaffa, Princeton ’20


The Aquinas Institute for Catholic Life is a new initiative that will focus on the faith formation of Princeton students. Directed by married couple Alexi Sargeant and Leah Libresco Sargeant, and coordinated by Dr. R.J. Snell, the initiative comes out of the Aquinas Institute, the Catholic campus ministry at Princeton. Focusing on members of the undergraduate community, the Institute for Catholic Life offers a variety of seminars and guest speakers and hopes to create new conversations on campus related to faith and religious scholarship. 


“As we develop, the vision is to provide a full range of formation,” explained Dr. Snell. “This includes liturgy and sacraments, small groups, Bible study, mentoring and spiritual direction, prayer, and also solid intellectual offerings in theology, philosophy, arts, and literature dealing with perennial Christian themes, as well as responding to contemporary questions and topics.”


FaithFormationThe holistic approach is evident in the myriad of seminars taught by Dr. Snell or the Sargeants. “Fasting and Feasting with the Church” approaches how Catholics can embrace the tradition of fasting celebrated throughout church history, and how this spiritual practice fosters a greater appreciation for God’s creation. Earlier in the fall semester, the offerings included: “Disproving Zeus: How the New Atheists Get God Wrong” and “The Garden of Saint Thérèse: The Little Flower & Her Influences.” A fourth seminar, focusing on Saint Athanasius’ “On the Incarnation,” will be offered late in the fall semester.

Once members of the Catholic community at Yale, Alexi and Leah Sargeant have had a strong faith formation that they love to share with others. “Putting together the seminars has been an exercise in thinking back through what themes and what spiritual authors we are familiar with and should include in our course packets,” stated Alexi. “It has been a trip back through some of our formative spiritual reading.”

The Institute for Catholic Life has also boasted an impressive selection of guest speakers. In September, the program brought to campus Meg Hunter-Kilmer, the “hobo missionary” who quit her job to evangelize, living out of her car and relying on God’s providence. Her talk focused on developing a radical trust in God. Additionally, in mid-October, Father Michael Ward, a priest and expert on C.S. Lewis, discussed the Christian imagination of Lewis and his fellow Inklings.

As the Institute for Catholic Life develops, there is a hope that the greater campus community will take a closer look at the Christian intellectual sphere.

“We’re reading David Bentley Hart, who is very good at challenging the ‘Enlightenment Myths’ which treat Christianity as an interlude between the advances of the ancients and the recovery and advances of modernity,” stated Dr. Snell. “Turns out, of course, that the Christian community was hardly as benighted and anti-intellectual as the ‘Myth’ pretends.”

All in all, the program hopes to offer students a Christian formation that stays with them for life. “Formation isn’t a one and done sort of thing,” stated Dr. Snell. “We convert daily, maybe multiple times a day, as we respond to grace and come back, again and again, to the way of the Lord Jesus. Certainly we’re hoping to provide resources and models of a life of ongoing conversion. That doesn’t end at graduation, not even close.”