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Jerry Pattengale

Mind and Mind

Communities of learning.

Life has its moments when God seems to tickle our nostalgic funny bones with his feather of irony. After dining in the Domus Sanctae Marthea in Vatican City, David Lyle Jeffrey and I found ourselves in a deep discussion with Robert Moynihan about Walker Percy. The tickling began. I had just finished Andrew Delbanco's College: What It Was, Is and Should Be, and found one of his theses playing out before me; authors have transformative influences on students' lives.

Jeffrey, a Distinguished Professor at Baylor, had just spoken for our Green Scholars' lecture series at the Augustinianum, co-hosted by the Pontifical Biblical Institute. Moynihan, the editor-in-chief of Inside the Vatican, was in attendance since this event was attached to our Verbum Domini exhibit at the Braccio Carlos di Magno. Perhaps the largest scrims ever displayed in the Plaza di St. Pedro were those we draped above our exhibit's entrance adjacent to the basilica steps. But even after a very full day, Moynihan's veneration of Percy still proved riveting.

Moynihan saw an affinity between Percy and Baylor University via insightful work by Ralph Wood and Nathan Carson, and began summarizing Percy's essay "The Delta Factor," the first in his collection The Message in the Bottle. I'd received this book as a gift some time ago, but never got into that essay. Happily, Percy's brilliance wasn't lost on Moynihan and Jeffrey. Thirty minutes later, still standing, Moynihan continued his account of Percy's differentiation between signs and symbols. He ended with a re-enactment of Helen Keller's discovery of language, yet another Percy prompt. Moynihan would have made Carl Elliott and John Lantos proud—editors of the companion reader for Percy's complex discussions of language.[1]

Jeffrey and I later reflected on Moynihan's unbridled excitement about Percy, and how one person's articulate thoughts had changed the course of another's life.[2] David reminded me that it was such eureka moments through great literature ...

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