SCC partners with The Berry Center

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By Jesse Osbourne

It’s not every day that a legacy is made.

The words ‘legacy’ and ‘historic’ were used often at St. Catharine Hall on the campus of St. Catharine College on Monday.
Trustees, college faculty, students and community members filled the room, as St. Catharine College President William D. Huston announced a partnership between The Berry Center and the college.
The Berry Center focuses on issues small- farming families in Kentucky and around the country face, according to a press release from St. Catharine College.
The vision of The Berry Center comes from the Berry family; John M. Berry, Sr., a lawyer and farmer, and his sons, John M. Berry, Jr., a farmer and lawyer, and Wendell Berry, a farmer and writer.
Wendell Berry is an internationally-known author who has written several books and essays on sustainable agriculture, among other things.
The National Endowment for the Arts recently announced that Berry would give the 41st Jefferson Lecture in Humanities at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
James Spragens, of Lebanon, came to hear the announcement because he is a Berry follower.
“I think that he asks a lot of really good questions that most people don’t take the time to ask, like, ‘Are the things we’re doing good for us?’” Spragens said.
Spragens said he also came because he thought it was a very historic occasion.
Huston described a courtship that occurred between St. Catharine College and The Berry Center, which ended in the beginning of a program, and, he said, a legacy.
The president referred to an old adage during his address, ‘Many are interested, many are called and few are chosen.’
“Well, we feel like the chosen one today,” Huston said. “The one that’s going to have the opportunity to take the dreams and the vision of Wendell Berry, the philosophy of The Berry Center, the guiding principles, and to incorporate that into the principles that are taught every day at St. Catharine College.”
Mary Berry-Smith, the daughter of Wendell Berry, represented The Berry Center during the press conference.
“From the moment I first came here, I thought, ‘This is where we need to be,’” she said. “I think Dr. Huston thought I needed more convincing than I did.”
She spent the summer, she said, talking to schools across the state and the country.
Berry-Smith said someone asked her earlier in the day, ‘Why St. Catharine?’
For one, she said, it’s in ‘God’s country.’
“It is exquisitely beautiful here,” she said. “You’re close to the geographical center of the state, which seemed fitting to me.”
The size of the school was fitting, as well, she said.
“My father says, ‘Education in this country depends on small schools like this one,’” she said.
“He feels the big ones have abdicated their responsibility to students,” she said. “So, this is the perfect place.”
Trying to implement the program at a larger school would be like “trying to turn a battleship in the Kentucky River.”
As far as the Berry family can tell, she said, “what we’re doing here does not exist anywhere else.”
“My father says, ‘If we can do what we have in mind here, the world will beat a path to the door of St. Catharine, because it hasn’t been done anywhere else,’” she said. “I think he’s right. I almost always think he’s right.”
Huston said he thinks having an operational farm didn’t hurt, either.
Dr. Don Giles, the vice president for academic affairs at St. Catharine College, agreed.
“It’s a doozy,” he said about the farm.
Giles said the new program would contain two or three tracks.
One, he said, would be a degree in small farming.
Huston described it as a degree in sustainable agriculture with Wendell Berry’s philosophy woven through it.
The other possibility for potential students is a track that examines Wendell Berry’s philosophy of coexisting with farmers in the community.
“Let’s say I want to be on the city council,” Giles said. “I might not even be interested in farming, but I want to understand farmers and the role the farm plays, and how that works with the town, and how we support some sort of relationship between the local farms and the town.”
Giles said down the road there could be a track for literature and philosophy.
“Kind of the larger perspective and understanding of what the implications of this are, or what Berry’s philosophy is, for the human race and the world itself, the earth, the people and the planet, the populations of animals, everything that’s living here,” Giles said.
The possibilities of a graduate degree or doctorate program aren’t out of the realm of possibility, he said.
Giles said the program could bring more buildings to campus, as well.
“We might end up with another building or two,” he said. “A barn for the Berry program, maybe another building that is a Berry program center. It could have it’s own library, perhaps, as a result.”
Giles said students could possibly begin classes in the program as early as August of 2013.
Joe Kelly, the chairman of the board of trustees at St. Catharine College, reflected on the occasion during the press conference.
“We will not know, most of us here, I don’t think, will ever know, the importance of this occasion and what this relationship is going to mean to hundreds and thousands, and who knows how many more, who will benefit from this partnership,” he said.
In an interview last week, Huston said the new program could elevate St. Catharine College.
“This could be the legacy that really establishes St. Catharine College,” he said.
Giles said the partnership is a good fit because of shared beliefs.
“When we started talking to Wendell and his family, The Berry Center, it’s like, ‘This is kind of who we are already,’” Giles said. “We have embedded some of the Dominican pillars into programs and how we operate, but this can be, again, kind of a centerpiece and a way to pull all it together in a way that it enhances what we’re doing already, but can make it more vital.”
The real work, Huston said, was about to begin.
“The easy part is behind us, and we have to now develop and implement the dreams of Wendell Berry and The Berry Center,” he said.