David Livingston, the new president of Lourdes University, can sound scholarly, like the religion professor he continues to be when he has the opportunity to teach. Here is how he describes his work as a theologian:
“My area of specialization has been ethics coupled with 19th and 20th century philosophical theology and theological anthropology, so really the focus has been on understanding the human person in its relationship to the divine, especially based on contemporary interpretations of that in the 19th and 20th century. I have spent a lost of my focus in writing on issues of violence, so you take that more narrowly. So, theological anthropology writ large, but more narrowly how do we understand violence both as a community and then how do we understand violence in its relationship to the divine and its issues of forgiveness?”
There are plenty of multi-syllabic words there, but Mr. Livingston isn't settled in an ivory tower. He takes his research into the real world, “trying to understand domestic violence, especially domestic violence from the male side and as an ethical issue, and what does the church have to say about that?” He wonders if the church helps or harms, and how the sacrament of reconciliation or confession and forgiveness might affect violent practices. He looks at people's brokenness and their grace. In 2002 he wrote a book, Healing Violent Men: A Model for Christian Communities.
Though he says that being a theologian had less influence on his being considered for Lourdes's presidency than his broad liberal arts background, with an undergraduate major in chemistry and minor in math before earning his master's and Ph.D. in theology, he also gave a direct example of how his theological orientation can contribute to the student body and shape the university.
“We talk about [Lourdes] being a community of learning, reverence, and service,” he said. “Every student has to do service learning. Most of that is about the brokenness of the world,” which is central to religion. By their service—feeding the hungry, teaching the illiterate, and doing hospice work, he gave as examples, they see brokenness and help to try to heal. “We want you to see that the world is both a graced place but also a broken place and I think that that theological background speaks to people.” Mr. Livingston said that helping students “to make this world a better place is one of the most exciting parts of the job.”
Theology also informs the reverence aspect of the community. “We are all graced,” Mr. Livingston said, “so no matter what tradition you come from--we have many Muslim students attend Lourdes, we have of course Baptists and Lutherans and many Catholics, we have agnostics, we have atheists--I want everybody to know that we will hold strongly to our Catholic Franciscan character. We will respect their journey, that is, we will revere them as being a part of this. Each of them has the divine spark in them; we revere that in them, and we appreciate both sides of that. They are both graced and broken, and that, for me, is something that I believe speaks to young adults.”
Mr. Livingston is being formally installed as Lourdes's president tomorrow. There is an inauguration Mass at 11 a.m. in Our Lady Queen of Peace Chapel, at which Roman Catholic Diocese of Toledo Bishop Leonard Blair will preside, then the installation service at 1 p.m. in the university's Franciscan Center, and finally a reception at the Franciscan Center Commons at 2 p.m.
Mr. Livingston started at Lourdes on July 1; since 1997, he had been a faculty member at Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pa.; first as a tenured professor of religious studies and then, starting in 2007, in advancement or fund-raising roles for the university as a vice president. But he has continued to teach and be involved in theology until this academic year, which “will be the first year in, I don't know, 25, 26 years that I haven't taught,” Mr. Livingston said. He said he hopes to teach one course in fall 2014.