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A Speech By Michelle Wilband, given at the 2024 Halifax Book Launch

So here we are at the end of this so-called “book launch” – end in the sense of
terminal point, maybe also in the sense of final purpose – a banquet in honour of the
speakers who’ve been gathered here these last two days. The talks have been truly
extraordinary. Everything I might have liked to say now, and more, has already been
said, and more truthfully and beautifully than I could have said it. Still, I’m here and I
have to speak. So I’ll begin just by noticing that this event has made for a rather
unusual book launch. For one thing, this is the third location in the city that’s hosted
our event. In fact, it seems to me that it’s not been simply an event, but many events
in one – it’s been an academic conference, also a kind of devotional retreat, a
reunion of old friends, even a shared musical aesthetic experience – all unified and
integrated into this single event that we’ve been calling “the book launch.” I do think I
detect an almost Trinitarian diversity in unity and unity in diversity lurking in the very
structure of this event. And if I’m right, this would be a fitting form for the launch of
these volumes, reflecting, as it does, the coherent integration of distinct elements in
Father Crouse’s thinking, and the Trinitarian focus of his remarkable life’s labours.
Adding to this Trinitarian theme, now we’re banqueting the event’s speakers, who,
themselves diverse and distinct, have come together in this event, as a community,
in the unity of conversation, and in a shared debt to Father Crouse and his legacy.

One thing that the event’s speakers – taken all together – have demonstrated, is that
Father Crouse was an exceptional teacher. As we’ve seen over these last two days,
his gifts as a teacher continue to be proven and realized in the ongoing work of his
many students. Crouse, as we all know, exercised his rare and fruitful talent for
teaching both in the church and in the academy, apparently finding no conflict
between these two spheres of his work, no discord between the operations of faith
and intellect. From my perspective as a teacher in the secular classroom, this
integration and interpenetration of faith and intellect has seemed one of the most
striking, and (perhaps oddly) relevant, features of Father Crouse’s work. It certainly
struck and surprised me when I first encountered him as a student, and left a
permanent mark on my own understanding of what a genuine education consists in.

I first became aware of Father Crouse, and came into the sphere of his influence,
more than 20 years ago now, when I was in my first year of studies at St. Thomas
University in New Brunswick. Outside of class, a professor at St Thomas – himself a
student of Father Crouse – had given to me and my then-boyfriend Dan Wilband a
short paper to read called “Heavenly Avarice: The Theology of Prayer,” which
Crouse had delivered at a conference a few years earlier. That jewel of a paper was
our introduction to Father Crouse and to the ascetic simplicity and translucid clarity
of his writing – which I’ve heard many remark upon during this event – and it was the
beginning of a long term encounter for us, and appreciation of his work. After this
followed a tall stack of photocopied sermons, and eventually scholarly theological
papers – and in this way, without ever having met him in the flesh, Father Crouse
had become one of the formative teachers of our undergraduate years.

After this, Dan and I – by now married – made our way to study in the Classics
Department at Dalhousie, too late to take any classes with Father Crouse, but still in
time to hear him deliver papers, to attend services and talks with him on the South
Shore, to hear him play the organ, and to visit him in his beautiful home. We never
came to know Father Crouse nearly as well as so many others here, but we did
treasure our interactions with him, however few.

It was no doubt a great gain for both Dan and me to have had the direct contact with
Father Crouse that we did, but still I think it’s worth emphasising the impact he’d
already had on us before this, indirectly, through his writing. His writings by
themselves had already helped to inform the course of our educations, and they can
still do this for others who’ll encounter these volumes, with the added advantage that
their aesthetic appeal is far higher than the Xeroxed copies of the old days. But in
actual fact, it was not Father’s Crouse’s writings on their own that affected us. My
and Dan’s early encounter with Father Crouse’s work as students didn’t take place in
a vacuum, but in a context, in relationship –both with each other, and with teachers
and friends who had themselves been shaped by Father Crouse’s work. Crouse’s
influence became stitched into the fabric of our lives because of the conversations
and the friendships that drew us into a wider intellectual and spiritual community.
Not to say that this was at all points a smooth and agreeable process, or without
strife, and some of the best learning surely came through an experience of trial and
failure. Nevertheless, this context of living friendship and conversation, of
community, – for all its frailty and fallibility – was, I think, indispensable for us, and I
think it embodied something essential about both the methods and the purpose of
true education.

Not that I learned from Father Crouse to confuse the classroom with the church, or to
conflate a liberal education with catechism –a conflation that in practice would surely
suppress the intellect and impoverish faith. And without question even the most
secularised classrooms can suffer from just such a conflation and impoverishment
and suppression, though their dogmas be of another order. Father Crouse often had
recourse to the Thomistic maxim that grace does not destroy nature. Neither, then,
does faith destroy the freedom and integrity of the intellect. [Nor is it threatened by
it.] The harmony of intellect with faith in Father Crouse’s teaching and writing, along
with the leitmotif of friendship in his work, helped to make visible, for me, a fully
human vision of education – one that embraces the intellect in earnest, in its natural
integrity, and that addresses the student in their complete relational personhood, and
in their highest end.

I recently returned to that very first Crouse paper I’d read, “Heavenly Avarice: The
Theology of Prayer,” and I was struck again by the quiet power of Father Crouse’s
writing, and I could easily see why it moved a couple of ordinary university students,
like Dan and I were. We were entirely typical undergrad students – newly free of
parental restraints on our desires and encountering new intellectual worlds – and

that paper spoke directly to the stirring of desire and intellect in which we found
ourselves. The paper spoke of desires – our desires –in a way that took them
seriously, without belittling or moralising them, and at the same time it spoke with a
startling intelligence and intellectual credibility about God and about prayer. Quote:
“All human desire, all human longing and aspiration, expressed in a thousand
different forms, at a thousand different levels, is ultimately desire for God,” So we
read in the first paragraph. My soul is athirst for God. The paper goes on to distil the
apparent chaos and variety of the heart’s desires into an intelligible threefold longing
for the truth, goodness, and beauty of God in all things. These three are then
resolved into one fundamental (if hidden) human longing – the deep-rooted desire for
the transfiguring intimacy of divine friendship. Citing philosophers and poets
alongside scripture, the paper was able to tie the intellectual content of our
classroom studies to the movement of the heart’s deep desires, and it pointed to the
fulfilment of both in a living reciprocal encounter it was calling “prayer.” “Prayer is the
activity of love’s conversion,” it said. “[...] Prayer is the conversation between intimate
friends.” That paper gently overturned a host of confused assumptions about
Christianity, about tradition. It also hinted at the full promise, and also the limits of a
humanities education. And it did this without gimmick, without manipulation, or
coercion. Crouse’s words had the simple, clear, and humble ring of truth.

May the humble truth ring out in these volumes, and in the conversations and
friendships that will give them life. It’s my sincere pleasure to toast the event’s
outstanding speakers, who have so admirably launched them these last two days.
And I hope we all enjoy this end of the book launch– this banquet in their honour– as
a community of friends, knit together, however imperfectly, in that “supernal triune
love” that Father Crouse steadfastly preached and adored.

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