Sixty-three countries were represented and over 900 people attended Acton University 2014 in Grand Rapids, Mich., from June 17-20. On his blog, Fr. John Zuhlsdorf commented on the cross cultural representation of the four-day conference, "I am always amazed by the diversity of the participants. The other day I was reading some bitter silliness about Acton University and how tribal and polarized it is. I was by a young Protestant pastor, black, with an earring and a Mohawk."
The assembled attended over 100 courses touching on everything from theology, history, policy, and economics. Gordon College economics professor Stephen Smith noted, "Acton is very good at moving from economic insight, marrying it and filtering it through Christian teaching."
Evening speakers this year included Rev. Robert Sirico, Andy Crouch of Christianity Today, artist Makoto Fujimura, and The New York Times columnist, Ross Douthat. An art exhibit at the Acton headquarters titled "Walking on Water" by Fujimura will be featured at the ArtPrize 2014 festival in Grand Rapids this fall. Judge Andrew Napolitano, a judicial analyst for Fox News, also spoke at a lunch session and taught a course titled "Freedom of Conscience and the Constitution." Fr. Hans Jacobse, a faculty member at Acton University and founder of the American Orthodox Institute said of Acton University:
If you're looking for something that will make your work in the world more certain and secure, you really need to go to these lectures. You will come out stronger than you were going in.
Acton University is a four-day exploration of the intellectual foundations of a free society. It is an opportunity to deepen your knowledge on philosophy, theology and sound economics.
If you missed Acton University this year, you can go online and download lectures for a small fee at http://sites.fastspring.com/acton/product/actonuniversity2014.
Traveling south from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, Gregory Schmidt returned to Grand Rapids for his second Acton University in June. Having just finished his medical degree from the University of Manitoba, Schmidt is most thankful for the opportunity to rehear Acton's message. It may be the "same message, but the words are different and the way it resonates with you at that particular time, that year, that date, I think is different every time." Having had more time to digest all he learned, he found the message to be more powerful the second time.
He first learned of Acton University through an ad on the Poverty Cure Facebook page. After being greatly intrigued by the course list, he knew he had to come. This is ultimately what also motivated him to return for a second year, wanting to reconnect with the speakers he had heard before, and to meet those he had yet to hear.
Most thankful for the effect Acton has had on his world view, particularly the diversity of thought which it brings together each year, Schmidt knows that what he has learned affects how he lives every day. Noting that everyone must approach their own particular jobs each day with their own world view, he believes that "being able to come at that with both a strong intellectual foundation and a stronger spiritual foundation is really crucial."
For him, Acton has provided a place to explore a cohesive world view and apply it to all avenues of life, enabling him to better transform the people he meets, his family and friends, and his community.
Traveling from Uganda for his second Acton University, Fr. Dominic Ndugwa is grateful for the effect his attendance has had on his priestly ministry. Currently finishing his final year of canon law school at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome, Fr. Ndugwa believes the message of Acton lines up nicely with his study of canon law.
"After all, the goal or aim of law is justice and the salvation of souls, my soul and the soul of others," he said. At Acton University he has learned simple ways to direct the possession of temporal goods towards justice. After his first time attending Acton University, Fr. Ndugwa had no question whether he would return to Acton, eventually returning in 2014 as both alumni, as well as a Dignitatis Humanae Fellow. He knew the value of his participation as soon as he began sharing all he had learned with his brother priests in Uganda. He observed a change in their own mindsets and had found that they were listening wholeheartedly. The principles and ideals he had learned at Acton University were being put into practice not only by him, but also by the people who had been told of his experience.
Fr. Ndugwa's most compelling reason to return was the attitude he witnessed at Acton. "Everyone is giving the best of themselves, and all of themselves." In his dialogue with others, Fr. Ndugwa found Acton to be the best place to find intellectual harmony, within a spirit of ecumenism. "This is a good use of my time," he said. Fr. Ndugwa plans to keep dedicating his life to the promotion of a free and virtuous society, teaching both his fellow priests and his congregation.
A few years after getting married in 1987, my husband, Sandy Harper, began serving as stewardship chairman at our church. During this time, he began to see how ill-informed some people were about finances, and especially how confused clergy were about free markets. We weren't experts either—we muddled through caring for our four children, saving for college, paying bills, and giving to church and charities. Perhaps because of this, Sandy and I became interested in the work of the Acton Institute. At this same time, with a good deal of planning and a little bit of luck from the market, Sandy also made some very wise investments. We decided we needed to create a plan to achieve three main goals: 1) Hold onto what we had and create a lifetime income; 2) Diversify our investments; and 3) Give to others.
In early 2000, Sandy read a small article about charitable trusts in the Wall Street Journal. After discussing the article with our financial advisor, Sandy and I agreed that a charitable remainder trust would be a good way for us to satisfy our goals: diversify some of our volatile dot.com investments without paying capital gains; receive a monthly lifetime income; and preserve the principle for charities and non-profits of our choice (including Acton).
We felt blessed to be able to give in this way. A few years later, we received noted philanthropist (and Acton Board Member) Frank Hanna's book, What Your Money Means: And How to Use it Well, which illustrates our perspective on wealth and charitable giving.
In 2012 Sandy passed away at the age of 75 and I was left alone to handle our finances. It was frightening to learn to balance prudent financial planning with God's charge to help those in need. It is a comfort to know that our legacy gift will support organizations like Acton, which work to promote the principles upon which our great country was founded: religious liberty, limited government, and free enterprise. It is my hope that this gift will help Acton continue to fill the educational gap in religious, business, and academic spheres so that our society will flourish after we are gone.
Sherry Harper lives in Tuscon, AZ., and authored this piece.