Interruption Stories

A new episode of NetVUE’s podcast series, Callings, features a conversation with Fr. Dennis Holtschneider, president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU). Fr. Dennis served as the 11th president of DePaul University, from 2004-2017.

A wise leader with an infectious laugh, in our conversation with him Fr. Dennis shared stories about Chicago-style politics and his vision of the modern university. He elaborated upon his thoughts about the “ethics of re-opening” (articulated as a series of insights in this piece published in Inside HigherEd last July). And when asked what advice he would give to the new U.S. President, Fr. Dennis told a wonderful story about meeting Joe Biden in the cafeteria at the White House.

As with all of our guests in this podcast series, we asked Fr. Dennis about his own vocation. He turned to the life of Jesus and specifically what he described as the “interruption stories” in his answer:

There are so many interruption stories in the life of Jesus. Every gospel tells interruption stories, where he is doing one thing and suddenly he lets himself be stopped because human need presents itself, and then he gives himself to human need. I think a lot of vocation and a lot of our work comes out of watching the man. And his life becomes a pattern of sorts for ours, if we choose. . … You watch this man’s heart, and it’s the heart in the end that becomes the vocation. It’s a heart for the people. It’s the ability to see human need where other people choose not to see it, and to respond to it.

For many of us, Fr. Holtschneider mused, vocation comes from “watching how this guy did life.”

Describing the twists and turns of his vocational journey, Fr. Dennis spoke with vivid fondness for a teacher who listened attentively to him and then recommended that he read C.S. Lewis, a thinker who became a kind of “gateway drug” into the “heavier stuff.” He describes his encounter with that professor in an essay titled “All the Questions: Spirituality in the University,” which appeared in the Journal of College and Character in November 2006. There he wrote:

To have the chance during one’s college years to have these kinds of questions taken seriously; to raise and engage ALL of one’s questions about life, including questions of the sacred; to treat life as if it were a whole, rather than chopped into tight disciplinary pieces. That’s the potential of true higher learning.

The podcast can be accessed through Buzzsprout, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, and other podcast platforms.

Hannah Schell was a professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religion at Monmouth College in Illinois from 2001-2018. She is the author of “Commitment and Community: The Virtue of Loyalty and Vocational Discernment” in At this Time and In This Place: Vocation and Higher Education, ed. David S. Cunningham (Oxford University Press, 2015), and, more recently, “Loyalty in the Time of Catastrophe: Anthropocene Reflections” (co-written with Mark Larrimore). Currently the Online Community Coordinator and the editor of this blog, she is also a campus consultant for NetVUE. Click here to see other blog posts by Hannah.

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