Done with school

Well, I am finished.

For those of you keeping score at home, I can now sign my correspondence as “Aldean Hendrickson, JCL” (if the occasion warrants it, at least). After three and a half years as a full-time student, uprooting my young family and migrating back and forth between Minnesota and Canada eight times, we are on our way home to our home to stay and make it a home. And I will, in a few short days, begin again to build a career, this time in service to the Church as an expert in Canon Law.

Thank you for all your prayers along the way to this point, and please continue to pray for me, and for more clergy, religious, and laity who will answer the call to be ministers of justice in the Church.

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“Goody goody gumdrops!”

It was Dr. Michael Mikolajczak, the professor with whom I took three of my eleven courses in my undergraduate major (English, if you are just joining us), who first inspired me to don a bow tie, for which I will always thank him, as I am sure does the general public. A colorful and dynamic instructor, he is also memorable for his peculiar views on final examinations.

Literature courses in a liberal arts institution are not, in my limited experience, generally seen as conducive to evaluation in written exam form. These are the sort of things we write essays for, texts spread out on our crowded dorm desks while we fiddle with the margin and line-spacing settings and try to avoid spilling either coffee or beer on any of he library books. But Dr. M. had his own approach to pedagogy, and he was very fond of the final exam.

On the morning of a final exam, you should leap out of bed and say, “Goody, goody, gumdrops!”

“I want you to think of the final exam as an occasion of joy,” he would explain to the class, and in each of the three semesters I heard this speech, the students seemed pretty uniformly skeptical on this point. “The final exam gives you an opportunity to revisit all that you have learned this semester. On the morning of a final exam, you should leap out of bed and say, ‘Goody, goody, gumdrops!'” The class would pretty much just be staring at him at this point, wondering what he was on.

I won’t pretend I was any fan of those final exams at the time, but I have never forgotten Dr. Mikolajczak’s words. And now, in the ultimate days of my graduate studies, I think I can say I finally say that I share and embrace his enthusiasm. It is only in these long hours of panicked review that I am truly seeing the extent of what I have (theoretically) learned these past three years of work toward my Licentiate in Canon Law. It is almost not too strong to say that it is only in this review that I am learning what before I had only heard, which is not meant as a judgment on my professors’ pedagogy but rather as a telling comment on my own lackadaisical learning style.

Let’s dispel any illusions you may be harboring about me. I don’t take notes. I don’t make flash cards. I don’t ask questions. I don’t raise my hand during lectures. I don’t get around to reading a lot of the ‘recommended’ texts, or even many of the ‘required’ ones. What do I do, then, to have made it this far in academic pursuits? Two things: I listen in class, as actively as I can manage, and I care. Most days, that is enough. Which is fortuitous, since that is all I can manage.

Now, three days before I must stand before a panel of my professors and answer on the spot whatever questions they choose to throw at me, I am doing some of those studenty things I just said I don’t do. I am poring over canons and commentaries, laboriously creating a heap of index cards during the day which my loving wife will use to quiz me in the evenings. I am, in a word, actually working at this, which feels foreign to me (because it is), and also feels downright thrilling.

Should I have felt this sort of agency regarding my own learning before now? Absolutely. I am embarrassed and ashamed that I have largely slouched through my academic degrees, because I could, rather than muster the energy and courage to really try. Who knows what I might have become? At the least, probably a better man. But it is too late to change what is past; what I can do is change the game, even at this late hour, and I am uncharacteristically confident that I might be able, not only to make this work in this critical moment, but to make a lasting change of it that will open new possibilities of productive learning and knowledge retention for me in the future.

Almost Done

I have now entered the final month of my course of study in Canon Law. By lunchtime on December 11th, I will be on the far side of an hour of examination covering the full range of the Church’s law, and (hopefully) with the satisfied relief of a job well done.

Am I nervous? More terrified, really. Yet I am also largely calm, almost disinterested in the remainder of this long process. I know I should be frantically and systematically reviewing copious notes, commentaries, and sundry documents, cramming my head with concepts and connections that I have been content to let wash over me for most of my time as a student here. Yet more than anything these days I just want to hold my children as they fall asleep at night, to watch a television program with my wife, to sit alone and stare into the future I cannot see.

So please, pray for me, that I can find the perseverance to study well and hard these next few weeks, that I can make my family and my diocese proud, and that I can prove myself adequately prepared to serve the Church as a minister of justice and an expert in the law.

Getting Serious

I have set myself to embrace an entirely new discipline — canon law — and in so doing I find I must challenge myself on a lifetime of academic complacency. I coasted all through college, with sufficient success, and there has been little in my life since that has pushed me to apply myself any more intently (in an academic mode, that is). But not only is it clearly insufficient for me to just soak up what I can and skate through this process, but the notion is antithetical to my purpose in being here. I intend to become a trained canonist, I am here as the result of my own volition, and to do anything less than embrace this course of studies with all the passion I can muster, coupled with my not-inconsiderable intellectual gifts, would be a grave betrayal of all that has brought me here.

Some after a bit of a slow start, I am rolling up my sleeves (figuratively and literally) and reinventing myself as a student. I am not going to allow myself to live from class to class, just keeping up with the flow of lectures and assignments. I intend, rather, to devote my energies to a systematic understanding of the law as it is presented to me by my professors, and to then make that understanding my own.

To this end, I have a growing document (in Pages, which I am increasingly embracing) with a heading for each canon number followed by a two-cell table. Working with two .pdf files of the Code — one in Latin, the other in English — I am individually pasting the text of each canon into its respective cell (Latin on the left, English on the right).

Once this massively-tedious setup phase is complete, then the fun/work can really begin. I plan to add my own commentary to each canon on an ongoing basis, as I study them, or read anything pertaining to them, or think randomly about them, or (just to cover all my options) anything is revealed to me by a thundering voice speaking from the midst of a fiery cloud that has some bearing on them. This is not a project that can ever have an end, obviously, save one (my own), but I believe it will prove (for me) the best way to organize my own learning and research, and if it someday develops into a full-fledged canonical commentary of my very own, well, then, I will go shopping for a publisher. Until then, I have a lot of work to do.