Arthur Brooks to P.C. grads: Derive true happiness from the moral example of Christ

Isabella Fechter first P.C. student to graduate with a degree in Catholic Studies


PROVIDENCE — Providence College’s traditional emphasis on the intersection of faith and academic rigor was on display on Sunday, May 19 during the annual commencement ceremonies.
The graduating class of 2024 was comprised of over 932 undergraduates and 243 students in the college’s graduate program. Of the three students honored for occupying the highest academic rank in terms of G.P.A., one in particular, Isabella Fechter, is particularly noteworthy for being the first P.C. student to graduate with a degree in Catholic Studies. This new program centers on a more interdisciplinary approach to the study of the Catholic intellectual tradition, drawing on elements of theology, philosophy, literature, art and history.
What attracted Fechter to major in Catholic Studies was its specifically interdisciplinary approach to Catholic thought, which allowed her to contextualize the teachings and practices of the faith.
“I’m just curious. I love to learn. So, when I saw I could do all these different things and kind of put them together, I knew that was good for me,” Fechter said. “It’s so interesting when something you learned in a prior philosophy or civ class then comes up in a theology class and seeing how it’s all connected.”
Fechter points out that analyzing the connections between different areas of study brings about a broader perspective on the faith that has instilled in her a lifelong desire to learn. 

“The biggest lesson I learned is just how much more I need to learn,” Fechter said. “I thought to myself, ‘I went to Catholic school my whole life. I know this stuff. I’m good.’ … There was just so much I had never known, new ways of looking at things.”
The coming together of faith and reason was a major theme throughout the ceremony.
“Lord, we praise and thank you for gifts of faith and hope, family, friends and community. We give thanks for curiosity and the power of reason You have instilled in us,” Bishop Richard G. Henning said during the opening prayer.
The close relationship between faith and reason in pursuing a fulfilling existence was something also emphasized by the commencement speaker, Dr. Arthur Brooks. A writer, public speaker, professor at the Harvard Kennedy School, and the former president of the American Enterprise Institute, Brooks is known for writing on the nature of happiness from the perspective of psychology, philosophy and his own Catholic faith.
“It doesn’t mean anything, any of it, if we’re not doing it in the spirit of the Savior,” Brooks said in an interview with the Rhode Island Catholic. It is through doing our work in a manner that imitates the moral example of Christ that we derive happiness. Brooks continued by noting that happiness cannot be reduced to a mere emotion. “Happiness is not a feeling. Happiness has feelings associated with it. The biggest mistake that people make today is they think they’re chasing the feeling, but that’s like saying that their Thanksgiving dinner is the smell of your turkey. The smell of the turkey is evidence of Thanksgiving dinner; your feelings are evidence of happiness.”
Brooks continued by noting that happiness, as understood particularly by Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas, is derived from a sense of enjoyment of one’s work, a sense of fulfillment with one’s accomplishments, and being in tune with the meaning of life.
In his commencement speech, Brooks built on these points, noting that all people are called to pursue a meaningful life, which involves an adherence to objective truth, an awareness of the redemptive nature of suffering, and an openness to dialogue, all of which reaches its culmination in knowing the One, True God.
“The point is approaching the one truth, the Ultimate Truth, trying to find it,” Brooks said, going on to note that the attainment of truth is the result of open-mindedness and humility.