With the support of Raleigh's Bishop Michael Burbidge, a project that seeks to contribute to Catholic intellectual life is underway in the Triangle area. The Thomas International Center (TIC) is an educational and scholarly institute that seeks to promote wisdom -- not just isolated, technical knowledge, but a vision of life that is unified by sound philosophy and Christian theology, the foundations of Western civilization and of America.
The Center has sponsored activities in various cities around the country, including Washington, D.C., St. Louis, and Los Angeles, and it is now focused on the Triangle area. Recently, it had the first meeting of a TIC Triangle Committee to take the necessary steps to begin permanent activities here this coming year.
Fulvio Di Blasi and Christopher Wolfe organize the program because their experience teaching in American universities has convinced them that students were receiving too narrow an education, which often promoted moral relativism and skepticism. What they needed was the "integrated vision" -- what George Weigel calls "a Catholic eye" -- found especially in the philosophy and theology of Thomas Aquinas.
Fulvio Di Blasi, an Italian natural law scholar studying at the Maritain Institute at the University of Notre Dame began the Thomas International project, with Notre Dame computer science-engineering professor Jesus Izaguirre, in late 2004. Professor Christopher Wolfe joined them in the early stages of the Center. Frank O'Brien, a St. Louis businessman, Father Robert Gahl of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, and Josh Hochschild of Mt. St. Mary's University were other early supporters. The Center benefitted from the support of a national advisory board that included noted Catholic intellectuals, such as Father Richard John Neuhaus, Mary Ann Glendon, and Janet Smith.
Bishop Burbidge has offered the Center strong support, writing: "I believe the Thomas Center will make a valuable contribution to the life and mission of the Church in our Diocese. It will serve as an important additional resource for Catholics, other Christians, and all those interested in studying Catholic thought and its vision for the human person and society." The project is not a diocesan entity, but its programs will certainly contribute to Catholic intellectual life in the Triangle area. The program is grateful for the bishop's support.
At the same time, as Bishop Burbidge indicated in his letter, the program very much wants to work with other Christians and people of good will in the Triangle area, with whom it shares important moral ideals.
The TIC has three target audiences. First, and foremost, are the students at the various universities in the Triangle area, such as Duke University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and North Carolina State University. These are highly regarded universities, and campus ministry tends to their spiritual needs, but students -- Catholic and non-Catholic -- will benefit from Center activities that promote the Catholic intellectual tradition. Second, the Center wants to promote scholarship that will have an impact on intellectual life in America and on the "opinion makers" who help to shape culture. Third, the Center will offer activities available to anyone who wishes to pursue lifelong education and to understand important contemporary issues, in the light of sound reason and the faith, and in light of traditional American principles.
The project has sponsored a series of lectures on campuses in the Triangle area in the last two years. Many students have had the opportunity to hear outstanding Catholic intellectuals, such as Robert George of Princeton University (on law and morality), Michael Novak of the American Enterprise Institute (on religion and politics), Jennifer Roback Morse of the Ruth Institute (on marriage), Michael Pakaluk of Ave Maria University (on friendship), and Fred Freddoso of the University of Notre Dame (on St. Augustine's faith odyssey and on faith and science).
Besides the topics mentioned above, the program has also discussed contemporary higher education (especially its refusal to confront serious questions about the meaning of life), religious liberty and American foreign policy, pornography, social justice, the common good, and personal freedom. The Center is planning fall activities that will include speakers at various universities, a series of public lectures on The Social Teachings of the Catholic Church by Christopher Wolfe, and a major public event with a nationally known speaker (the details of which are still being worked out). The TIC hopes that someday it may become the nucleus of a new independent, private university, rooted in the Catholic intellectual tradition.