Dr. Ben Howard will be the speaker for the fourth annual Spirit of Assisi interfaith gathering at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 22, in the University Chapel in Doyle Hall. Howard is an emeritus professor of English at Alfred University. He is a poet, essayist, guitarist and longtime lay practitioner of Zen meditation.
The Spirit of Assisi gathering originally started at St. Bonaventure to celebrate the anniversary of Pope John Paul II, inviting spiritual leaders to Assisi, known as the city of peace, to pray for peace. This first World Day of Prayer for Peace took place Oct. 27, 1986.
This year, according to Sr. Suzanne Kush, C.S.S.F., director of the Franciscan Center for Social Concern at St. Bonaventure, the Spirit of Assisi gathering is focusing on kinship as well as praying for peace because of the upcoming 35th anniversary of when Pope John Paul II declared that Francis of Assisi was the patron saint of ecology. The date was Nov. 29, 1979.
“It’s an opportunity for us to have an interfaith gathering here on campus, not only recognizing the diversity of different religious traditions of our students, but also to gather various individuals from around the area and from different faith traditions to join together using their own traditions to pray for peace,” Sr. Suzanne said.
Dr. Richard Reilly, professor emeritus, had previously invited Howard to speak in Olean on four occasions. Reilly has attended Howard’s poetry reading in Olean and has read two books of Buddhist essays Howard has published. According to Reilly, when he was asked by Fr. Francis Di Spigno, O.F.M., executive director of University Ministries, for a speaker who could speak on kinship from a Buddhist perspective, he thought of Howard.
“Howard is a marvelous speaker who will offer profound insight on the nature of kinship (e.g., among humans and between humans and the natural world), integrating thoughts from Buddhism, Francis and Thomas Merton,” Reilly said.
Howard holds a doctorate in English Literature from Syracuse University and taught literature, writing, classical guitar and Buddhist meditation at Alfred University before his retirement in 2006. After authoring nine books, he received numerous awards, including the Milton Dorfman Prize in Poetry and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.
“I have been a meditative practitioner for the past 25 years, Howard said. “Broadly speaking, my practice has been guided by the principles of the Zen master and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh. The general aims of meditative practice — inner peace, insight and compassionate wisdom — are in accord with those of the Assisi service. I was honored by the invitation to participate, and I'm happy to contribute whatever insights I can.”
Fr. Francis encourages all people to participate.
“We live in a world that is increasingly polarized, whether it’s between faith, economic stratums or political parties,” Fr. Francis said. “Dialogue is becoming less and fewer opportunities are found. This is an opportunity to pray as brothers and sisters as a community who live and occupy the same globe – to be concerned about one another, to meet one another and to try and understand one another.
"The only way I know to cross barriers is a bridge. This is another opportunity to build a bridge, to build with brothers and sisters who see world differently than we do.”
About the University: The nation’s first Franciscan university, St. Bonaventure University cultivates graduates who are confident and creative communicators, collaborative leaders and team members, and innovative problem solvers who are respectful of themselves, others, and the diverse world around them. We are establishing pathways to internships, graduate schools and careers in the context of our renowned liberal arts tradition. Our students are becoming extraordinary.
Application forms, procedures and additional information
There are many ways to experience
St. Bonaventure for yourself
Learn more about the programs that interest you