Purpose is what makes it all worthwhile

A message from Executive Dean of Theology and Philosophy Professor Dermot Nestor: Purpose is what defines a Catholic university and galvanises the people who work within it.

פְּרָאִ֨ים בַּֽמִּדְבָּ֗ר יָצְא֣וּ בְּ֭פָעֳלָם

Job 24:5

April, declared TS Elliot, is the cruellest month. Though it heralds new beginnings (especially in the northern hemisphere), those beginnings inevitably revive and renew the very patterns that have passed: pain, failure and sorrow. Blossoming lilacs provide a superficial pallor, a veiling patina behind which resides real and uncompromising spiritual and social decay. Yet while mechanisation and technological advancement may have foreshadowed the degradation of human dignity and possibility, the emphasis of The Wasteland is ultimately on fecundity and future, not monotony and malaise.

April witnessed a significant milestone in my own life, a half-century of emergence, of experience, and of emotion. It marked the loss of family for faculty colleagues and heralded the departure of colleagues across the faculties and organisational units of ACU. We mourn loss. We celebrate contribution. We affirm legacy. We sustain ourselves with the consolations of memory yet torment ourselves with the fantasies of imagination. We search for ourselves, and for connection.

As an institution we face familiar challenges. We are also confronted by new frames, emergent frontiers and yet unknown futures. The seeming inexorability of Nietzsche’s eternal return haunts us, clouding trajectories and obscuring strategies. The prospect of always beginning incites fear. Equally, it provokes fortitude. This is the challenge that Elliot affirms and which The Wasteland confronts: the quest for redemption in the midst of emotional, spiritual, ecological, and even intellectual demise. To prosecute this diagnosis and to interrogate potential remedies, Elliot had recourse to an expansive body of literature and myth. Amidst that diversity and within the seeming chaos of his own society, the poet’s prose attempts order. It suggests unity, centred on the underlying collectivity of the human condition.

Orientation towards and an abiding concern for the human is what defines the work of ACU. It grounds our mission, informs our research and learning designs and determines our strategic outlook. That human is in part the isolated, tragic and flawed creature of myth. It is also one defined by interdependency, and by hope. It is a humanity centered on and in search of relationships, with natural objects, not artificial things. It is a humanity defined by a quest for meaning, sustained by a determination that it must always be for someone, and something.

Purpose is what The Wasteland mourns. Purpose is what defines a Catholic university. Purpose is what galvanises the people who work within it. Purpose is what makes it all worthwhile.

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