If you want to grow, if you want to do great things, you need mentors to lead the way. Just as Jesus mentored His disciples, we need guides to point us in the right direction and show us how to progress toward it. I’ve been reflecting on mentorship a lot recently after having lost two of my professors, Fr. Matthew Lamb and Dr. Don Briel. Dr. Briel, the founder of the first Catholic Studies program at the University of St. Thomas, died on February 15th, giving witness to his faith with a beautiful death commemorated here by George Weigel.
Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska recently spoke at our gala for Our Lady of Lourdes Classical School in Denver. He concluded his remarks by reflecting on the impact we can have when we embrace the mission God has given us. He drew upon the last interview of Dr. Briel as the culmination of the talk. The whole interview is worth reading, but Bishop Conley quoted the following paragraph:
The Catholic Spirit: You’ve talked about reconnecting with students that you haven’t seen in years. For those whom you haven’t been able to see, what do you want them to know at this time or about your hopes for them and Catholic Studies?
Don Briel: I’ve been asked by many former students about what advice I have for them at this stage of life. I would go back to what Newman tells us about this: that God is inviting us to take a role in the plan of salvation. I think the modern problem for Christians is not that they have an exalted sense of their importance, but they don’t have a deep enough sense of their importance. I mean, if this is true that each of us as persons is responsible for the achievement of the plan of salvation, then I hope that Catholic Studies has inspired its students to realize that greatness in the lives they’re leading as well as the work they’re doing.
As he read this quote, it was an emotional moment as we reflected upon the remarkable growth of Our Lady of Lourdes School the last seven years, the mentorship that Bishop Conley has exercised in renewing the school through the classical model, and the role we all have in fulfilling the mission God has given us.
Dr. Briel provided a poignant witness during Bishop Conley’s talk, because he was a pivotal mentor in so many lives, not only at St. Thomas, but for so many educators throughout the world. Dr. Briel invited faculty and students to enter more deeply into the Catholic tradition and to live out the faith in a holistic and integrated way. The Catholic Studies program has produced a large number of religious vocations, teachers, and marriages (such as my own). Dr. Briel told me the key to success for Catholic Studies consisted in a simple factor: integrating faith and life (see this Cardinal Newman Society article I wrote on this point).
Mentors help us to think differently and inspire us to live out the vision they share with us. I’m very grateful to Dr. Briel for his mentorship as he prepared me to serve the Church. Everything I do has been shaped by the goal of integrating faith and life. I now aspire to share this same vision and to mentor others as he did. To learn more about Dr. Briel and the Catholic Studies program he founded, see the Renewal of Catholic Higher Education, which friends and former students put together in honor of the twentieth anniversary of the program.
Dr. Briel, may you rest in peace! In your mercy, please say a prayer for his repose and for his family.