Friday, March 18, 2016

Remembering Dennis Quinn and the Integrated Humanities Program

Today is the fifth anniversary of the funeral of Dennis Quinn, one of the founders of the legendary Integrated Humanities Program, a short-lived experiment in education which had wide-ranging ripples, influencing the University of Dallas in various ways and richly blessing the Church.  The funeral homily, by James Conley (then auxiliary bishop of Denver, now the bishop of Lincoln), is not only a spiritual exhortation but also a fitting tribute to the man and a moving evocation of the program's vision.  Thanks to A Draught of Vintage for providing the text.


My name is Bishop James Conley, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Denver and a former student of Professor Dennis Quinn and the Integrated Humanities Program here at the University of Kansas. On behalf of Father Abbot Philip Anderson, the Abbot of the Abbey of Our Lady of the Annunciation of Clear Creek, the Prior, Father Francis Bethel, also former students of Dr. Quinn and the IHP, Father Steve Beseau, the current Director of the St. Lawrence Catholic Student Center, Msgr. Vince Krische, the long time former Director of the St. Lawrence Center and close friend of the IHP, I would like to extend our prayers and condolences to the Quinn family, especially to son Tim, daughters Monica and Alison, and to all the family on the death of your father, and grandfather, and our teacher and friend, Dennis B. Quinn.

In this penitential season of Lent, a season of prayer and penance, our thoughts and reflections are directed toward the Paschal Mystery of Christ, namely the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, which we will celebrate as the culmination of our Lenten Season in Holy Week, particularly during the Sacred Triduum.

The Paschal Mystery of Christ is the mystery of God’s love for us, the love which redeemed us from our sins, the love that was nailed to the cross, the love that rose from the dead on the third day.

And we are all called by God to live this mysterious love in our lives; to imitate this love, to manifest this love, to radiate this love, in our thoughts, words and actions every single day. This necessarily means that we must die to ourselves daily. That we must die to the selfishness, to the pride, to the ingratitude, to the vanity, to the self-indulgence, to the sin which is “too much with us late and soon,” a part of our human nature. This is what Lent is all about.

Through our rededication to prayer in Lent, through our fasting, mortification and sacrifices, through our almsgiving and renewed generosity toward others, we shake off the “old self” and put on the new man once again, we put on Christ in a new way.

The readings chosen for today’s Mass of Christian Burial remind us of this. They remind us that we are but mere pilgrims in this world. That we are making our way through this world as fellow pilgrims who seek a kingdom that is real, but that is ever elusive and about which we only get glimpses along our way. Glimpses which inspire hope and remind us of our destiny. In spite of adversity and set backs we forge ahead as happy pilgrims, as our first reading from the Book of Wisdom just reminded us: “For if before men, indeed they be punished, yet their hope is full of immortality; chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed.” And, “Those who trust in him shall understand truth, and the faithful shall abide with him in love.”

And when that hope reveals itself as we pass from this life to the next it will happen, as St. Paul tells us, “in an instant, in a blink of an eye” and “that which is corruptible will clothe itself with incorruptibility and that which is mortal will clothe itself with immortality.”

And then we shall say: “Where, O Death is your victory? Where, O Death, is your sting?” Or with the words of his beloved poet, John Donne: “Death, be not proud, though some have called thee mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so, for, those whom thou thinkest, thou dost overthrow, die not poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me!”

Dr. Quinn knew all of these truths and he taught them to his students. He taught us to see the world with the eyes of wonder. Nascantur in Admiratione: let them be born in wonder, the motto of IHP, that we might more easily see those glimpses, those manifestations of that kingdom, that invisible world, as Blessed John Henry Newman so often spoke about, so that this “invisible world becomes more real than the visible world which is constantly passing away before our eyes.”

In his forward to Dr. Quinn’s Magnus Opus, Iris Exiled: A Synoptic History of Wonder, the Jesuit, Father James Schall wrote these words: “To wonder about wonder is the vocation of Dennis Quinn.” This was his passion. Through the Integrated Humanities Program which he initiated and directed and fought to keep in existence, with the help of his two beloved colleagues, John Senior and Frank Nellick to be sure, but let it be known, the IHP would never have come into existence and would never have lasted as long as it did were it not for Professor Quinn who battled with the powers that be, to keep it going. Dr. Quinn taught us to have this same sense of wonder and love of learning, this same passion for truth, goodness and beauty, and this changed our lives forever! We were never the same! We were truly born again, as it were, in wonder. We saw the world in a different way.

Professor Quinn called this kind of learning “education by the muses” or the “poetic mode” of education. He introduced us to reality through delight. This opened a whole new world to us. A world that was filled with mystery and beauty, but also a world that was very real and tangible. This was not mere fantasy or dreamy idealism, as he once wrote in an essay: “Mistake me not: wonder is no sugary sentimentality but, rather a mighty passion, a species of fear, an awful confrontation of the mystery of things.”

This kind of education, education by the muses or poetic education was a participatory kind of learning whether it was through the poetry we memorized and then recited, the songs we would sing before class, the stargazing at night west of Lawrence, the Yankee trade fairs, the magic of the spring waltzes, the banquets and parties at the Castle Tea Room, the trips to Italy and Greece and Ireland — we participated in the thing itself, we experienced the reality of what we were learning. Again, to refer to Newman, we moved from the mere notional assent to the truth, where we understand things in a notional way primarily through the intellect, we moved to a real assent, to real understanding which engages our whole being. “The muses present life fresh, as if seen and experienced for the first time.”

Dr. Quinn put it this way in that same essay: “Education by the Muses is participatory. To sing a love song is not identical to being in love, but it is to participate somehow in that experience. When a child sees the twinkle of the star he knows it directly; when he chants the rhyme he knows the twinkling indirectly by participating in it. Poetry and music and even astronomy at this level are not to be studied but to be done!”

For many of us this kind of education disposed us to the gift of faith for the first time in our lives, and many of us converted to the Catholic Church. And this got Dr. Quinn and his colleagues into a lot of trouble with the university! They were accused of being conspirators in corrupting the minds of unsuspecting youth much like Socrates was. But this is what happens when you open yourself to the mysteries; grace may take hold of you and never let you go.

Yesterday, Monica was telling me a story about her dad that took place at a Belloc Society meeting at the Castle Tea Room. He was relating the fact that he had very serious back surgery in high school and nearly died from the procedure, a kind of meningitis type illness. He had to wear a brace for years. He mused that night at the Castle Tea that if he had died then, he would never have met Eva, his beloved and devoted wife. You children would never have been born and the IHP would never have existed. None of us would probably be Catholics. Clear Creek would never have come into existence. I would not be a bishop, and on and on and on. And he said this in a very humble and grateful way. He, too, stood in awe in what had happened in and through the IHP – what he would often call “an experiment in tradition.”

And this humility and this gratitude for what God had done in his life was always very present to him even to the end.

I remember our last IHP reunion very well in 2006. It took place east of the city Lawrence in the country and it was blazing hot Kansas summer day. Dr. Quinn had his traditional black leather Irish cap on and his trademark dapper tweed coat. Scott Bloch was serving as the emcee and he asked if Dr. Quinn would like to say a few words. Professor Quinn never missed an opportunity to speak! I remember this very well because he took the microphone without hesitation. We all know he always liked to take the center stage and was never at a loss for words! But this time he struggled mightily to form a sentence. We were all very quiet and nervous for him because we knew that his dementia was beginning to take its toll. But all of a sudden he spoke two very clear and coherent sentences: “Thank you all for coming. I am so grateful to have had such good students to teach.”

Even in those last years at the nursing home in Eudora, where his dear Alison took such good care of him, visiting him nearly every day, as did many others, he was always so grateful to the staff for every thing they did for him.

Gratitude and thanksgiving to God: in the end, this must be our prayer to God for his goodness and his grace to us through the life of Dennis Quinn.

And it is through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass offered for the peaceful and eternal repose of this faithful servant and extraordinary teacher that we can best express our gratitude. The gospel from St. John reminds us: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.” Professor Quinn believed these words of Jesus and lived them in his life.

Dr. Quinn is no longer a pilgrim. His romantic quest for wonder has been completed. What were once mere glimpses and occasional insights are now seen clearly. He is face to face with the mysteries he taught.

And for those of us who are still on our pilgrim way we thank God for this great man and we pray for his soul. And we long for the day when we too might be reunited with those who have gone before us.

And, alas, for those who may still wonder what the IHP was all about, I leave you with the words of the man himself:

“Perhaps the mythology about the IHP is true after all. Perhaps we are conspirators. And our conspiracy may extend beyond the international to the celestial sphere; we are conspiring with the stars; we are conspiring with those spirits who inhabit the air not only in their books but in the living truths they caught less as doctrine and dogma than as a gleam of light. One could have far worse company. O co-conspirators of all the ages: Odysseus, great-improviser! Socrates, fellow corrupter of youth! Caesar and Aeneas, you Latin-lovers! Moses and St. Paul, God-struck! Roland, you chevalier! Chaucer, debonaire, and all our fellow pilgrims! Knight of woeful countenance! O sweet Prince! May all of you be with us yet!”
Requiescat in pace!
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