Eighty high school students and a handful of eager eighth graders gathered at Swift Hall of the University of Chicago Divinity School to participate in the Newman Forum’s third daylong conference Feb. 15. 

Lumen Christi’s Newman Forum is designed to introduce, familiarize, and enthrall Chicagoland teens with the Catholic intellectual tradition, supplementing and supporting their religious and theological formation. Hailing from public, private, and home schools, students alongside their teachers and parents were greeted warmly by Lumen Christi’s eight graduate student leaders, all current students or affiliates of the University of Chicago.

The conference, titled “Creation: Artistic & Divine,” featured two presentations from premiere scholars in the fields of science and aesthetics.

Professor Stephen M. Barr of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Delaware and president of the Society of Catholic Scientists spoke to the teens on the order of creation and about how this order—much like a well-crafted story—denotes a Creator/Author. Professor Barr did not shy away from the complexities of physics, guiding students through the history of scientific theory, from Kepler’s Laws to Superstring Theory. 

Student William S. of St. John Cantius Parish summarized Professor Barr’s presentation: “You can’t find God through an experiment. You can’t detect him in a particle accelerator or what have you, because he is outside of all of that. He created it all.” 

Professor Jennifer Newsome Martin is assistant professor in the Program of Liberal Studies at the University of Notre Dame. She spoke of the encounter people have with what is beautiful, and how its contemplation can leave people in flux, somewhere between the subjective and the objective. She encouraged students to consider their own experiences with beauty, how it struck them, and how those feelings can lead to God, who is Beauty, and who invites us to sit in that in-between space. Immediately following both talks, the teens asked the speakers questions. 

Students then gathered in small groups for lunch. Each group was guided by a graduate student leader in a seminar-style discussion, the hallmark of a comprehensive liberal arts education in the Catholic tradition. Some teens expressed appreciation for this discussion style, which they do not commonly experience at school.

“Giving an open space for students, rather than asking specific questions, can feel (like) more of a collaboration than something that’s set up,” said Harlem H. from Gary Comer College Prep.

Grace L. of Father Gabriel Richard High School said the Newman Forum events have led her to “realize that there are opportunities for a pretty high level of intellectual discussion among younger people.” 

Eucharistic Adoration in the Bond Chapel followed after lunch. Father Tim Anastos, associate pastor at Mary, Seat of Wisdom Parish, gave a brief instruction on Adoration and encouraged the teens to bring everything they had learned during the day to God in prayer. 

“What a gift it is that we can know the Lord not just with our hearts, but with our minds,” he said. 

Following Adoration, students had another opportunity to dialogue with our presenters during the concluding 45-minute Q&A. However, more than twenty students lingered far past the conference’s designated ending time to discuss their ideas with Professors Barr and Martin.

Preparations are underway for the Newman Forum’s Summer Institute for high school students at Mundelein Seminary, July 28-Aug. 1. 

The Newman Forum’s essay-writing context is also underway. Get details here.

For more information, visit the Newman Forum page.