Much is made of what monasticism has contributed to Western civilization; but better than the cloister is the college.
The cloister serves the purposes of a community whose ascetic life, especially its celibacy, not all can take up; the college, though its core community may live under a rule and even be celibate, exists to teach the larger society it lives in. The college, then, does the best of what a monastery does, but brings this to the service of the ordinary people living around it, not in votive masses but in sound faith and learning and manners.
Today, driving around Dublin, California, a fast-growing city next to the edge city of Pleasanton, I see large vacant lots zoned for residential use, just across Tassajara Road from an array of shops. If this land were acquired for mixed residential use, with a Christian college in its midst, this college would stand in the centre of the East Dublin district, right at the meeting of home and business. ‘The 2010 United States Census’, says Wikipedia, ‘reported that Dublin had a population of 46,036, which grew to 49,890 in 2013. It has been one of the fastest-growing cities in California, as its population nearly doubled during the past decade. Once the building of homes is finished in East Dublin, the city will have a capacity for over 75,000 citizens.’
(Funnily enough, because it is Dublin, you can see to the east a street called Finnian Way, as if to suggest the founders of the Irish monasteries of Clonard and Movilla.)
Imagine what the city stood to gain from a Christian college where Tassajara intersected with Dublin Boulevard. Met by a great steeple, it could have in the college what the southern suburbs of Paris had in Port-Royal, and more. Placed where it was, the college could give instruction that supplied the defects of the state schools, tutoring students not only to do well on standardized tests but also to read and write well in mastery of grammar, logic, and rhetoric. It could send chaplains to the Federal Correction Institution to serve the prison’s female inmates. It could house many persons without the monotony of unbroken lines of house after house – for comparison, King’s College, Cambridge, houses 700 students, but more could live on the grounds of this college. It could be a quiet place for people working in Dublin to pray or seek counsel, and then return to work or go home. In many ways, the dean and the provost and all the canons could – Dublin’s bad-tasting water notwithstanding – make East Dublin a good, humane place to live and work as they sought the good of their city.
We might call this place St Patrick’s College. Such a college not only would not be a school for scandal (though I should be very happy if it put on Sheridan’s play of that name), but would be a school for virtuous living under Christ. And maybe, just maybe, someone at the college could even devise a good system to filter Dublin’s bad water.