Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The World of the Saga: The Ambrosian

I am very close to having the next volume ready for release, but as today is the feast of St. Joseph the Worker, I would like to give you something "worky"...

Last week I talked with a good friend of mine and he mentioned how my name came up in a conversation with one of his friends, and how he knew one of my fondest wishes is to found a university.

I've read Newman's works - I know the struggles and pitfalls and challenges, even when one has backing from the Vatican. I don't expect that I will get to do such a thing. There are money issues, licensing issues, personnel issues... gosh, issues I can't even guess at.

Besides, in my subcreated world, I have already founded four different institutes of higher learning, (at least!) and in some cases I have even provided some details about them. This is far easier, and presents less complications - though here too we have pitfalls and challenges and struggles.
But in my case, I can do something for these wonderful schools which I could by no means achieve, not even if I had the full and whole-hearted backing of every bank and every country and every scholar (and every scholarly group) on the planet.

I can give them history besides giving them everything else.

Yes - and here I (as a computer scientist) have recourse to one of the master-references of the literature: the glorious volume called The Neverending Story by Michael Ende. From the moment Bastian Bux wishes something into existence, it has always been... Oh, if only philosophers and theologians would try writing something of this sort! What insights it provides into the Divine Work of Creation... Ahem. But this is not the proper place for me to do as Dorothy Sayers did in her The Mind of the Maker and explore the linkage between the Creator and the Trinity - and the sub-creation of literature.

No; I will not go so far. I will only note that my work is most like the building of a very large and complex model train layout - or any non-trivial System of computing. One must do a large amount of design - what Sir Henry Merrivale called "sittin' and thinkin'" - if one wants one's System to work properly.

In this case, these schools - Howell College, Collins University, Franklin University, and the Ambrosian University - all play various parts in the Saga. It would be hard to give much details about Howell, since such a large portion of the story occurs there, and involves many strange and long-hidden details about its history. Collins and Franklin are lesser creatures, though they both have their own importance, and may deserve some future study. But the Ambrosian, even more than Howell, is very special, and does represent some of my own REAL desires and plans, and I hope to explore it more fully in future writing, both here (in the real world) and in companion stories to the Saga.

So, let us open a new thread of contemplation, and consider:

What is the Ambrosian University?

The Ambrosian is located in Milan, Pennsylvania, a small town in the north west mountainous region of the state. (But don't go looking for Milan on YOUR map; you might as well look for Stirling, where Howell is located or Harley, the site of Collins, both of which are also in Pennsylvania...)

The Ambrosian is one of the so-called "Newman Universities" as it was founded according to the designs of Blessed Cardinal Newman. (You can see his Idea of a University and University Sketches for more information.) It offers the full range of degrees in all subjects, and is accredited to levels beyond those understood by the typical "accreditation bureaus" prevalent in the rest of Higher Education. You can always recognize their course catalog as its cover displays a greatly reduced image of a modern version of the famous "Tree of Virtues" from the old Salmanticensis Cursus Theologicus...

(Image courtesy of A. Poole at Loome Books. Note this is NOT from the catalog.)

...the diagram which unites all human activities, fields of work and study as organized by the virtues - and both its web site and courses are keyed to that diagram. Those who encounter it for the first time have their breath taken away, it is so intense - few people of our day ever attempt to relate each and every field to each other, and they are overwhelmed by the glorious sense of unity of human endeavors, to the glory of God and the service of neighbor - which is the only justification of a university that makes sense. But if you want more on their philosophy, you will have to refer to that catalog. Ahem.

At some future point I hope to make more specific information available, but this school plays an important role in our Saga, underscored by the number of important people who have degrees from there:
  1. Joe Outis (2004)
  2. the Weaver triplets (2008)
  3. Steve Brown (BS 2012; PhD 2016)
  4. Malc Jones, Chuck Weller, Tony Jackson, Chris Reynolds (2013)

Also consider these brief excerpts from the Saga:
[The Ambrosian] was a Newman school, and kept to the highest possible standards by every measure – they had a detachment of Cistercian monks on campus, some of whom were the most sought-after faculty on earth – and just outside of town, a team of cloistered nuns as backup. [From Darkness Into Light part 1]
The Ambrosian University, nestled in the hills of north western Pennsylvania, was one of those very strangely attractive "Newman Universities" – these were what [some scholars] would call "Augustinian" as they were very old as well as very new, sound and well-respected academically, labelled "catholic Catholic" and "Catholic catholic" in brochures, admired for robust and well-rounded scholarship by believers and non-believers alike. People of every sort of faith recognized and respected those who held a diploma from the Ambrosian, and it attracted good students of all faiths.
It was nearing three in the afternoon when they got off the train in Milan. The town was nestled on the side of a mountain, just above a rushing white-capped river. The first thing they saw when they came out of the station was a flatbed truck loaded with huge logs, rumbling down the road paralleling the tracks and the river. Another passed as they walked down to the parking lot where Bo Reynolds had ordered a rental van – and when they came to the end of the block they saw how the intersecting street ran up the steep side of the mountain to end at a massive stone gate. Beyond the gate they could see a steeple poking through the pines – and then its bells rang out the hour.
"There it is!" Chuck exclaimed. "Right up that hill."
The street was steep, and Steve imagined how it would be to lug his gear up that hill. There were lots of little homes along the way, some with side yards of daffodils and tulips. As they went up they could see more and more of the river valley. "It's gonna be some view up that steeple," Malcolm puffed.
"Matt told me they have a race up this hill," Steve said, also breathing hard, though he was in excellent condition.
Finally they went in through the stone gate which marked the beginning of the Ambrosian campus. The road was less steep here as they passed beneath tall murmuring pines. They could see various buildings beyond the trees. Finally, as if by unconscious agreement, they continued up the steps and entered the church.
Inside, they paused to look around, keeping silent as there were a number of people scattered around in the pews. It reminded the Quayment four of St. Ambrose's, but it was somewhat narrower, and it had internal pillars supporting a very high ceiling. Everything seemed even more ornate than their own church. The main altar was of carven marble, oriented in the traditional way. The stained glass windows were brilliantly colored, and Chuck gasped as he saw the pipe organ in the choir loft – but Steve found his attention drawn to those who were praying. He noted at least three professors and a monk in a white habit, and there were students of every kind – some with fat prayer books, some with rosaries, others just sitting with their eyes fixed on the tabernacle or closed in contemplation. One of the girls looked to be about his age – she looked so lovely – he wondered whether she would go on to marry or to the convent or to some major professional career – but he could tell wherever she went, she would be taking God with her. He knew this was the right place for him, and he began to understand why Matt didn't want to tell him anything about the place. He genuflected and followed the others back out. [Ibid.]
Finally, if you are trying to choose a college, you should heed Dr. Mary Mortimer's instructions to Steve Brown:
"You don't choose a college because it's got a nice campus – or because of who is there. Sure, Howell is small and pretty if somewhat limited, and they have Dr. Weitzmann. Collins is huge and quite sound in its coverage, and they have Dr. Grosjean. But! You need someone competent to advise you. You need a real master to steer you right. ... You have the capacity to reach very far – that means you need authentic intellectual training. Go to the Ambrosian. You won't regret it." [Tree of Virtues part 1]

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