Tuesday, January 17, 2012

What's it all about, anyway 7?

Starting Out on Life

Self upon graduation, October, 1980
I was eighteen years of age when I entered college to study to be a teacher of English and Religion.  A four year course stretched out ahead of me as I entered the hallowed gates of Mater Dei Institute of Education in 1976.  I remember remarking to myself that I had a long way to go until I would graduate.  When one is young the years always appear to drag, but now that I'm older they appear to fly.  A friend of mine remarked at a recent gathering for the New Year that this was quite logical because after all when one is four years of age a year is a quarter of your life, but at fifty a mere fiftieth.  This was not a surprising comment for Joe to make as he is a mathematician of distinction and an engineer by profession.  On reflection, this was a singularly good observation.

During my first month or so at College I got offered a job as an Executive Officer in The Irish Civil Service, having attained the marvellous distinction of coming 32nd place in that exam in the country.  I remember my father encouraging me to take this job as it was paid well and had great promotional prospects.  However, as I had always dreamed of being a teacher and as I really loved the college where I was, I decided to stay put and study.  I felt that a third level degree would give me a better, or at least a more personally satisfying start in life.

Range of Subjects

Mater Dei at the time was very broadminded, and really did not push the orthodoxy of the Roman Catholic Church too much.  The then Director of Studies was Rev. Dr. Patrick Wallace, just recently returned from C.U.A. with his doctorate.  This man was a visionary in the true sense of the word, a sort of mystic to boot, who always maintained that asking questions was better than offering simplistic answers.  He maintained that even if one did not get a good answer, one often ended up with a better question.  The hierarchical church did not impinge too much on his intellect, his spirit or his sensibilities.  We studied many different subjects at the time, though not all to degree level of course.  We did Philosophy, Moral Theology, Systematic/Dogmatic Theology, Scripture, Education, Religious Education, Liturgy, English Literature, Drama, Creative Writing, and Rhetorical Composition (Rhetoric and Composition).  The range of subjects and lecturers was broad which led this student to appreciate Newman's idea of a liberal education.  Indeed, I believe I truly learnt how to think in Mater Dei.  Our ultimate degree after four years was called a Bachelor of Religious Science and was awarded from NUI Maynooth, the University with which Mater Dei was linked at the time.  The subjects I majored in were Religious Education, Education and English Literature.  The above list of subjects were subsets if you like of Religious Education.  Indeed one Scripture scholar Rev Dr. Michael Maher gave us an introductory course to Hebrew.  Years later I also studied Biblical Greek in Milltown Institute. Being introduced to such a diversity of subjects not alone made us think, but also made us very broadminded, I believe.

High Points, Low Points and Peak Experiences

There were several high points during my time at college.  One was being elected student representative in fourth year college when the recognition for our new degree was coming through.  We were the first class through Mater Dei to have been conferred with a degree - before that there was a diploma only.  Another was being chosen to reply to the Archbishop's commencement speech.  Again meeting various inspirational lecturers and speakers like Michael Paul Gallagher, S.J. were also high points, or even being "moved" on a spiritual retreat.  Another was being published in several theological journals under the guiding hand of our Rhetorical Composition lecturer Fr. Bernard Kelly, CSSP, D.D., D.Litt.  It was he who truly gave me the writing bug that led to my eventually publishing many articles in various journals over the last thirty or more years.  These were all high points, but there were low points too.  Other highs were the many supportive relationships we had with one another, given that the college was so small.

One of the lowest points was the suicide of one of my classmates - a lovely girl named Paulene in her 21st year.  She was quite a gifted student.  Another low was the death by traffic accident of two college students returning from a badminton match.

Some (or all) of these experiences enumerated above could be called "peak experiences" (depending of course on the depth of the person's apprehension of the experience, or religious/spiritual outlook) which is a term coined by the great psychologist Abraham Maslow in his 1964 work Religions, Values, and Peak Experiences"Peak experience" is a term used to describe certain transpersonal and ecstatic states, particularly ones tinged with themes of euphoria, harmonization and interconnectedness. Participants characterize these experiences, and the revelations imparted therein, as possessing an ineffably mystical and spiritual (or overtly religious) quality or essence.

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