As part of the new strategic plan for Benedictine College, President Stephen Minnis and Dean Kim Shankman, developed a new program focused on the importance of beauty in everyday life. Dr. Denis McNamara was hired as executive director for the program.
The Center for Beauty and Culture is the latest installment in the college’s new vision, “Transforming Culture.” With the Center of Constitutional Liberty and Thompson Center for Integrity in Finance and Economics.
McNamara previously taught courses on liturgical art, music, culture, history and theology at the Liturgical Institute in Mundelein, Illinois.
“The idea is to use the Center as a platform for outreach to communicate to the general public an understanding of the importance of beauty, the centrality of the experience of beauty to the Catholic worldview and the significance of beauty for contemporary life and worship,” Shankman said. “The hope is that this will make the arts at Benedictine College more impactful in the culture at large.”
McNamara received his undergraduate in the History of Art at Yale University. Then advanced his education at the University of Virginia with a masters and doctorate degree in Architectural History.
This semester, McNamara is teaching a course called “Liturgical Art and Architecture.”
“It’s not just an art history class,” McNamara said. “It’s a theology of art and architecture class, which is different.”
McNamara explained how the course is focused on understanding the comparison between Christ’s Body and the temple in scripture; along with St. Paul’s phrase regarding people as the ‘living stones in the Temple of God.’
“At the end of the day, everything in the creative world is about salvation,” McNamara said. “If the church building is an image of the Body of Christ, Christ is compared to the temple. You can say how does encountering liturgical art and architecture help you perceive the face of God? The building doesn’t look like the face of God, but it’s the way architecture reveals Christ to us.”
McNamara’s hope for his students is that they learn to delight in the beautiful things God has created in order to know Him better.
So far, the students have exceeded McNamara’s expectations in terms of vigor and enthusiasm about the subject.
“Every place I’ve taught there’s motivated students, and less motivated students, but Benedictine is a special place,” McNamara said. “So many of the students come here, just thirsting to know about their faith and they respond really well to it.”
McNamara will teach other courses outside the world of architecture as well. He will also act as a freelance professor and work among other departments.
“I hope that this Center will be a way to foster greater recognition not only of the talent and skill of our students and faculty, but of the importance of the arts in demonstrating the value of a deep understanding of the role of beauty in transforming culture,” Shankman said.