Dean Wysocki, head of the Honors College at Belmont Abbey, developed this small college-within-a-college with high aims, confident in God’s revelation and man’s ability to discover truth and contemplate universal questions. The students who have completed the program affirm this assertion, frequently graduating with less stubborn confidence in unjustified opinions and greater confidence in their ability to hold uncertainty and seek truth without presumption. Of course, this bleeds into class discussions and personal relationships, where they are slower to speak and quicker to listen, humbly allowing the possibility that they may be wrong.
In speaking with Dr. Wysocki, I saw clearly that he sought truth, growth, and fruition for himself and all of the students in the program. When discussing his goals for the program, both in creating it and envisioning the future, he consistently mentioned the students’ happiness and spiritual growth – the development of the whole person. While our conversation ranged from describing fun campus activities to the spiritual lives of the professors to excellent texts in the curriculum, it always returned to these fundamental principles of happiness and fruition. Clearly, he designed the program to honor both the Tradition and the contemporary child.
Dr. Wysocki opened the program at Belmont Abbey in 2018 after ten years teaching at the College in the Political Science department. He lives nearby with his wife and five kids, which advantageously allows him to host dinners for his co-workers and students or even invite students on fishing trips.
Many elements make the program unique: the inclusion of monks and monastic patterns, coherence within the curriculum, emphasis on the students’ happiness and fruition, and degrees to which the program can be done. All these compose the crux of the program’s beauty: offering a Catholic Classical Liberal Arts education within an intimate context.
Originally founded by monks, Belmont Abbey College has evolved around a monastery, blending the rigorous academic expectations of a Classical Liberal Arts education, the meditative spiritual life of a monastery, and the intimacy of a small, active community. The Catholic roots spread into the classrooms as well, where students discuss fundamental questions of faith and spirituality while reading great works of literature and philosophy. Despite this deep religious devotion, about half the students are not Catholic. Dr. Wysocki enjoys this and notes that the students all benefit from a wide array of viewpoints, for multiple views aid discussion and help all to better see truth. He also notes that the great books read and discussed in the program ask universal questions that every age and individual must ponder, regardless of religious affiliation.
Dr. Wysocki says education aims to help the students attain true happiness, noting that few can correctly identify what truly leads to happiness and how they might attain it themselves. For this reason, the curriculum and activities outside the classroom foster greater understanding of the world, God, and the self. They also intentionally incorporate contemplation of the True, Good, and Beautiful both inside and outside the classroom. Sometimes they even go to Charlotte to see performances like the symphony, ballet, or Shakespeare as a class. Wysocki notes this contemplation of truly human and excellent things in community also leads to friendship, one of the most important elements for education. He hopes that in college, the students can grow in virtue and friendship, leading toward a more truly fulfilled and “happy” life.
The texts within the curriculum focus as intentionally on the fruition of the human soul as the relationships and spiritual elements of the program. Should a student choose to complete the entire Great Books program, they will read widely within the Classical Tradition and encounter a broad array of ideas within a unified whole; all the books engage in the same discussion of human happiness and fulfillment. Dr. Wysocki mentions intentionally choosing the texts for the way they engage with each other and with the primary concerns of college students.
Visit Belmont Abbey College’s Website here.