Pontifex Minimus: Presidential Reflections on the Catholic Intellectual Tradition

By Dr. Michael W. Higgins, President and Vice-Chancellor of Corpus Christi-St. Mark's at UBC

Emma Donoghue, the Irish novelist now resident in London, Ontario, has just published her latest novel, The Pull of the Stars, in the midst of a plague.  The timing couldn’t be better and the marketing people have maximized the opportunity presented to them on the proverbial golden platter.

The reason is simple: her novel is about the 1918 Spanish flu, set in a Dublin hospital, on a maternity ward.  The stakes couldn’t be higher for the men and women dealing both with the ravages of a devastating pandemic and the turmoil of a deeply unsettled Ireland post the 1916  Easter Uprising.

There is a particular passage that is strikingly apposite given our own global reality of 2020:

We all live in an unwalled city, that was it.  I saw lines
scored across the map of Ireland; carved all over the globe.
Train tracks, roads, shipping channels, a web of human traffic
that connected all nations into one great suffering body. . . .
Across the world, one last state of noise and terror under the
bone man’s reign.

The “bone man” is death, hovering over an agonized and uncertain world, looking to his daily tally, eager to increase his count.

Well, to some degree, this is our world too—“unwalled”, precarious, “one great suffering body.”  And indifference is not a moral option; universal compassion is the only antidote to the aching seclusion and crippling anxiety that describe our “new world.”

In the Catholic tradition, being “unwalled” is not just about vulnerability; it is more positively about shared humanity and the power of the Gospel.



Strange title, I know, but it is the revival of an earlier iteration—the small bridge returned.

In this space, on a weekly basis, my intention is to reflect on some aspect of ecclesial and academic life that speaks to our mission as a post-secondary institution within the Catholic Intellectual Tradition.  These reflections, or pensées (pardon the presumption), are neither magisterial nor oracular.  They are open to contestation, refutation and even decimation, if they irritate you that much.  They are designed to be nothing more than teasers, probes, bold, and sometimes tentative, forays into intellectual and spiritual pastures.

And they will be brief—somewhere between a soundbite and an essay.

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