Building leadership skills by bringing history, literature and philosophy to life

When Saint Vincent College launched the Benedictine Leadership Studies (BLS) program, one of the hopes was that students would develop a critical eye and perspective for interpreting history, literature, philosophy and more.

A virtue-based, ethical structure for the study of leadership, the BLS program is grounded in the Benedictine Wisdom Tradition, with the 10 hallmarks distilled from the 1,500-year-old Rule of Saint Benedict serving as the cornerstone leadership model for the program. 

Over the course of their four-year tenure at Saint Vincent College, BLS Fellows will attend leadership seminars, embark on annual trips focused on Benedictine leadership, take part in unique internships for academic credit and have the opportunity to participate in numerous service projects, while their senior year will include a capstone trip to Rome over spring break.

BLS Fellows will also enroll in courses spanning theology, political science, philosophy, history and business, covering such themes as ethics, leadership, Catholic political thought, Benedictine heritage and the history of ancient Greece and Rome. This cross-disciplinary curriculum enables students to gain valuable background and perspective on the Benedictine Wisdom Tradition, while the analytical and critical thinking skills that it fosters benefits students’ classwork beyond the BLS curriculum, a point to which recent graduate Paul Weisser can attest.

paul weisser benedictine leadership alumA four-year BLS fellow and 2020 Saint Vincent graduate, the philosophy and politics major was a perennial Dean’s List honoree and was named a finalist for the 2020 Saint Vincent College President’s Award. Among the host of additional accolades earned over his four-year tenure at Saint Vincent College, Weisser was named the recipient of the 2019 Lamb Prize in Political Science for his essay entitled “I Believe We are Lost: The Worst Casualties of the Great War.” Established in 2013, the national award aims to encourage, recognize and reward undergraduate innovation and good writing – traits that Weisser feels were enhanced thanks to his involvement in the BLS program.

“The BLS coursework made the topics I was thinking and writing about more personal,” he stated, “bringing history and philosophy into conversation with my own life. In studying the leaders of Rome, for instance, the focus was less on the names, dates and events than on what those events meant for us as leaders. For me, at least, the question was always, ‘What can I learn from the stories of Romulus, Caesar, St. Benedict, or Pope John Paul II?’”

“Paul’s fulfillment of the requirements for the BLS program is evidence of his hard work and dedication to a challenging – though highly rewarding – set of classes and workshops,” said Dr. Jerome Foss, associate professor of politics and director of the Saint Vincent College Center for Catholic Thought and Culture. “BLS is designed to enrich students’ college formation at Saint Vincent. It includes courses in the spirit of Benedictine education, workshops geared toward growth in self-knowledge and a senior capstone trip to Rome.

“As students of leadership,” Foss continued, “BLS students reflect on the principles such as stewardship, discipline and stability – virtues ably demonstrated by Paul. BLS is the flagship program of the Center for Catholic Thought and Culture, and Paul is an excellent example of the type of student who thrives in the program.”

While his experience as a BLS fellow certainly benefited his academic work, Weisser feels that it had just as much of a positive impact on his day-to-day life.

“I had heard many presentations on all of the Benedictine Hallmarks,” he said, “and could easily give a definition of each. But through my BLS coursework, the information in my head took on more of a personal, heartfelt meaning. The hallmarks were no longer an abstract list of virtues or a set of possible actions, but active and concrete parts of my life and studies.”