ST. PAUL, MINN. — When St. Paul Seminary professor Chris Thompson recently went searching for the top agriculture programs at U.S. Catholic universities, what he found — or, rather, what he didn’t find — shocked him: There aren’t any.
He made the discovery after receiving an invitation to present a paper on developments in American agriculture over the past 50 years at a conference in Rome in May.
“There seems to be no presence of [agriculture] as a focused discipline or professional formation in [any of the 244] Catholic universities across the board,” he said in an interview at the seminary, where he is academic dean. “That’s how I became the expert.”
Thompson serves on the board of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference and has lectured and participated in conferences on Catholic social thought regarding the environment. He is slated to teach a seminary course on the topic in the fall.
“How can it be that the single largest economic force in the country has no presence or standing in the modern Catholic university?” he asked. And, he added, what impact does that have, not only on Catholics interested in farming as a career, but also on society at large?
“We really need a generation of thoughtful men and women, well-informed in Catholic social thought, entering into conversations on food production, food security, human dignity, rural life — all these things that have been on the margins of the typical Catholic university experience,” Thompson said.
“I think we have to draw from our Catholic heritage,” he added, “and in my mind, [St. Thomas] Aquinas has supplied for centuries the philosophical architecture to help us navigate those questions. I think he can still do that, but it’s going to take some work on the part of educators to build that bridge.”
Thompson said Catholic universities need to introduce a “green Thomism,” or a philosophy of creation as divinely ordered and a vision of stewardship that guides our participation in God’s creation.
“There’s no longer a philosophical discussion of what it means to be a human being in relationship to other creatures.”
This lack of reflection on nature and rural life has led in part to the modern disconnect between people and the land, he said.
—Catholic News Service