NEW YORK — When John Garvey arrived at the Catholic University of America 12 years ago and needed a theme for his inaugural address as university president, he chose “intellect and virtue,” assuming that the work of a Catholic university was more than teaching a course. It was also about forming students into “good Catholics and good citizens during their stay”.

Virtue doubled as his inaugural year’s theme (something the public affairs office told him he needed), and it stuck. He continued to talk about virtues throughout his tenure, and for the past six or seven years he even taught an undergraduate course on the subject.


Now that his term at the AUC is coming to an end, Garvey has published a new book, Virtues, which he likens to a farewell statement that summarizes the past 12 years at the AUC and nearly four decades in higher education. Talk with Node about the book and the theme, he said that he chose the virtues because he liked them as a way of thinking about the moral life of young people.

“Virtues are actually a set of principles, guidelines, or examples of what we consider a good way to live and the book is an argument for why those are good things,” Garvey said. “Why is generosity something we should admire and emulate, or why is charity the greatest of all virtues? You can’t make logical arguments about it. You can only discuss it by pointing to examples and saying, “See? Wouldn’t you like to be like that? »

“It’s a different kind of education, but I think that’s the discussion we want to have with young people,” he continued. “We want to point them in a particular direction and show them why it’s something they should hope to emulate or achieve in their own lives.”

Each chapter of the 190-page book is a different set of virtues:

  1. Theological virtues: faith, hope, charity
  2. The Cardinal Virtues: Prudence, Justice, Courage, Temperance
  3. The small virtues: youth, humility, honesty, docility, silence, modesty, studious, diligence
  4. Middle Ages: Truth, Patience, Generosity, Gentleness, Constancy, Hospitality
  5. Old age: Repentance, Gratitude, Mercy, Magnanimity, Gentleness, Benevolence
  6. The virtues of the Crown: Wisdom, Peace, Joy

Without hesitation, Garvey explains that charity is the most important virtue “because the central fact of Christian belief is that God is love and that God created us out of love and Jesus redeemed us from our feelings out of love for us. and that is how Christians should behave.

One of the themes of the book is the need for universities to integrate the teaching of virtues into the curriculum. He argues in the introduction to the book that the intellectual life depends on the moral life, going so far as to say, “Without virtue it is difficult to see what the purpose of the university is.

“Undergraduates who start college as teenagers graduate four years later with adult responsibilities,” Garvey writes. “A marketing major could soon become a mother. A philosophy student will have the responsibilities of a citizen…Universities also have an obligation to prepare students for these roles.

When asked if universities fulfilled this obligation, Garvey first reflected on university culture when he began his career in the mid-1990s. He said the prevailing theory of the time that he observed in talking to other professors was the belief that college is a way of inviting people to look at a number of possible paths and choose one, but not necessarily to steer them in any particular direction.

Garvey said he’s seen this change over the years, and now he said he believes more people are open to the idea that “part of the business of higher education is to train people in certain ways”, and his argument is that the best way to train people is through the virtues. Garvey, however, also acknowledged that universities could better execute moral education, citing the culture of closure that exists.

“Getting people to question if there are actually good ways to behave is the right thing to do,” Garvey said. “Making them think that way is not a good way to educate them.”

The other purpose of the book is for students. Garvey and his wife Jeanne live on campus, as do the undergraduates, and have enjoyed meals and activities with them over the years. He said it made them feel like “parents or grandparents”, in that they care about both the students’ academics and the kind of people they become during their four years on the job. campus.

“You grow so much while you’re here and being a part of that has been a great privilege for us,” Garvey said. “And this book, Virtues, it is advice for them in this phase of their life.

Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg



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