Teaching the Beauty of Faith

Professor Jem Sullivan at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land From EWTN’s The Beauty of Faith

Teaching the Beauty of Faith
Br. Barnabas McHenry, O.P.

This school year, professors at the PFIC collaborated with other prominent Catholics to produce The Beauty of Faith, an hour-long EWTN special written and produced by PFIC faculty member Dr. Jem Sullivan that was broadcast in mid- November. An initiative of the PFIC’s mission to present contemporary culture with the beauty of the Catholic faith, the documentary takes viewers on a spectacular sensory pilgrimage of beautiful sacred art, music, architecture, and literature.

“Beauty is the visible form of truth and goodness,” said Dr. Sullivan, who, in addition to teaching at the PFIC, has been a docent at the National Gallery of Art. “The PFIC endeavors to cultivate the beauty of the faith through its mission and dedication to the contemplation of truth within the Thomistic theological synthesis, and the pursuit of virtue in Dominican community life.” The documentary has been widely praised as a model for the New Evangelization: showcasing the inherent beauty and splendor of the Catholic faith through an innovative media project.

Joining Dr. Sullivan in the production are several of her PFIC colleagues. Fathers Basil Cole, O.P., and Thomas Joseph White, O.P., offer insightful reflections on the notion of beauty in the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas. PFIC alumnus and current director of the Schola Cantorum of the Dominican House of Studies, Fr. Vincent Ferrer Bagan, O.P., shares considerations on the vital place of Gregorian Chant in the Church. Fr. John Martin Ruiz, O.P., PFIC librarian, offers a glimpse at some rare books from the library’s rare book collection. Finally, the exquisite photography of current PFIC student Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P., lent a visual depth and beauty to the entire program.

Dr. Sullivan is pleased that the Dominican presence in the documentary does not escape notice. “Many viewers across the country noted their delight in seeing the many ways in which the Dominicans of the PFIC continue in the tradition of their renowned Dominican brother, the friar artist, Fra Angelico, through their dedicated service of the Church in extending the mission of evangelizing culture with the Gospel light of truth, goodness, and beauty.”

Other guests on the program include the PFIC’s 2016 Commencement speaker, Bishop Robert Barron. Bishop Barron speaks about the importance of preaching about beauty and the arts. Dana Gioia, award winning poet and former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, shares some of his own poetry in addition to his reflections. Entrepreneur Tim Busch talks about the beauty found in the business world. Sir James MacMillan, the internationally acclaimed composer, considers sacred music’s place in the Church and culture.

For Dr. Sullivan, producing this documentary was a way of raising questions that have come up in her time as a writer and teacher. “We live in the midst of a visual culture. Images dominate daily life today, for better or for worse. Over two thousand years, rich artistic traditions have developed in the Church’s history, and many of the world’s treasured artistic masterpieces are Christian in inspiration and theme. How does the Church’s artistic tradition, developed over centuries, speak to today’s visual culture? What is the place of sacred art in the new evangelization of culture, in preaching, and teaching the faith today? How is beauty understood in the Catholic tradition?”

An hour-long program can only start to address these multifaceted and profound questions. Your investment in the PFIC helps ensure that the voices heard in The Beauty of Faith will be part of this cultural conversation.