VPI in depth: An interview with Professor Carole Sargent

By Samantha Lin

Last fall, The Lay Centre hosted a six-part lecture series, titled “The Peripheries in Our Lives, ” which featured theologians and other experts in their respective fields, who spoke from a faith perspective on a range of “peripheries” in the human experience. The topics included death, astronomy, nuclear disarmament and the challenges of urban living.

Professor Carole Sargent, a literary historian and the director of the Office of Scholarly Publications at Georgetown University, co-presented the lecture on nuclear disarmament titled, “On the Peripheries: Exploring the Paths to Nuclear Zero.” Professor Sargent is a friend of The Lay Centre, having participated in its monthlong Italian language and culture program, “Buongiorno Roma!”

In a recent exchange, Professor Sargent shared her reflections on The Lay Centre and its contribution to her personal and professional life.

What first brought you to The Lay Centre?

The Sisters of Georgetown Visitation Monastery encouraged me to meet Dr. Donna Orsuto (the director of The Lay Centre) when I first told them I was coming to Rome for an academic conference. Stepping onto the grounds was like traveling back in time, but I never really believed that I’d one day be able to stay. We had tea and biscotti in the dining room, and I felt wistful upon leaving, wishing I could be a student again. Donna and I stayed in touch, and I saw her a second time there during an Ignatian pilgrimage to Spain and Italy with the College of the Holy Cross. When she launched the “Buongiorno Roma!” program, I signed up right away. Georgetown was happy to grant the leave, and I loved being a student of intermediate Italian. It felt like a continuation of my journey with the Jesuits, and also with the Italian language that I have studied off and on for several years.

How has the impact of The Lay Centre been for you?

The Lay Centre is my secret passageway to Rome. It provides elegant entry to the people, places and ideas I care about most, and it is a perfect spiritual and academic partner with my work at Georgetown University. Although I’m half Italian and my extended paternal family is mostly Italian and Catholic, my father left the church before I was born, and my upbringing was separate from most Italian relatives and experiences. I came to the church as an adult via (religious priests and sisters), but I still had so much to learn in order to engage fully with the Italian church, the Vatican and, ultimately, my heritage. The Lay Centre provides context and structure to experience Rome as an academic who walks a path of faith. It is one of the few places in the world I can think of — the India International Centre in New Delhi is another — that combines the academy and culture so beautifully.

What brought you back to The Lay Centre?

Perhaps in part because of The Lay Centre’s direct influence, especially Donna’s and Riekie’s history of living with Catholic sisters, I now live in an intentional community with two Sacred Heart sisters and several lay women in Washington, D.C.’s Brookland neighborhood, aka “Little Rome.” Through my community I became involved with Catholic sisters who are activists in nuclear disarmament and I am writing a book about them. Father Drew Christiansen, SJ, professor of ethics and human development at Georgetown University, welcomed my research as a complement to his own work with the Vatican in the conversation around nuclear weapons. When he said he was coming to Rome in November 2017, to speak at a Vatican conference on nuclear disarmament and to meet Pope Francis, we agreed that my work on the sisters would make an excellent complement to his larger project. Donna welcomed me back to The Lay Centre to stay while in Rome, and she invited Father Drew to give a talk on the issue. He was the main focus, but I was honoured to join him as part of The Lay Centre’s “Peripheries” series and to share my list of now almost 30 sisters active in the cause.

The Lay Centre is always grateful to welcome alumni, such as Professor Sargent, who give back to The Lay Centre in so many ways.

The Lay Centre’s spring lecture series will explore the theme, “Antidotes to a Throwaway Culture,” starting Feb. 15. For more information, go to www.laycentre.org or contact info@laycentre.org.

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