Sr. Carol Dempsey
Sr. Carol Dempsey

The history of Christianity — including Roman persecutions, the medieval thinker Julian of Norwich and the shame of Kristallnacht — is among the offerings at this season's faith formation sessions, slated for 7 p.m. Tuesdays at St. Mary Cathedral.

Each year, from fall through spring, the cathedral invites some of the best local Catholic minds to explore the faith, including history, theology and literature. The public is welcome to the free classes, held in the Cathedral lower center unless specified.

The series begins Sept. 3 with "Journeying in Faith with our Biblical Ancestors," the first of three interactive sessions focusing on people in the Old and New Testaments. Topic is “Faith as a Gift” and includes Abraham, the women of Exodus, the prayer of Habakkuk, the Centurion, the Canaanite Woman and Bartimaeus.

The stories show that faith is not only a gift but also a call and a challenge, says Dominican Sister Carol Dempsey, professor of biblical studies at the University of Portland and leader of the three biblical sessions.   

On Sept. 10, the Confessions of St. Augustine is the topic led by Brad Franco, history professor at the University of Portland. The fourth century work by one of the greatest Doctors of the Church is an account of the search for truth by a sinner who become a great saint. Scholars have lauded the Confessions as a masterpiece of intellectual biography written with emotional intensity honest self-analysis.

The discussion of the Confessions of St. Augustine continues Sept. 17.

On Oct. 1, Sister Dempsey takes up “Faith as a Call” exploring the stories of Moses, Samuel, Jeremiah and St. Paul.

How was the conflict between Christians and pagans affected by the Roman understanding of religion? That question is the subject Oct. 8 as Father Jon Buffington gives a presentation the meaning and cult of Roman religion. The study can give insight into the Roman persecution of Christians. Father Buffington is a chaplain at Portland Providence Medical Center.

On Oct. 15, Father Buffington continues the discussion of the Christian persecutions, which he says are best understood as a reaction of the conservative impulses and meaning of the official Roman worship of the gods and the imperial cult of the divine emperors.

The journey with biblical ancestors continues Nov. 5 as Sister Dempsey examines "Faith as a Challenge," using Jesus' stories of the lilies of the field, a father’s plea for his son, the fig tree, the storm at sea and a widow’s faith.

On Nov. 12, Rabbi Michael Cahana of Congregation Beth Israel gives a presentation on Kristallnacht, the "Night of the Broken Glass." On Nov. 9-10, 1938, Nazi paramilitary units and German civilians carried out a series of coordinated attacks and arrests of Jews throughout Germany and parts of Austria. Authorities looked on without intervening.  

The Second Vatican Council's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the topic for Dec. 3, was promulgated Dec. 4, 1963. From the perspective of this 50th anniversary, the first document to emerge from Vatican II perhaps has touched Catholics more than any other of the Council's offerings. Father John Tuohey, director of Providence Center for Healthcare Ethics, will explore the history behind the Constitution, its significance for the Church and some of the controversy it has engendered.

After Christmas break, the series returns Feb. 4, 7 p.m. in Kempton Hall at nearby Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. That's the night of the fourth annual presentation by a Jewish, Episcopalian and Catholic leader. The topic this year is "Shabbat/Sabbath Worship: What, How and Why?" Presenters will be Msgr. Patrick Brennan, Pastor St. Mary Cathedral Parish; Rabbi Cahana; and Very Rev. William Lupfer, dean of Trinity Cathedral.

One of the best known quotes of Julian of Norwich (ca. 1342- 1428) is “All shall be well.” What underlies this affirmation of hope? Simple optimism? A rose-colored, polly-anna view of life? On Feb. 11, Holy Cross Father Jeff Cooper of the U.P. theology department will make the case that what underlies Julian’s words is an "audacious and radical experience" of the virtue of Christian hope, a "harrowed and harrowing understanding of hope that is perhaps needful in our world today."

Just this month, Pope Francis issued his first encyclical, written in cooperation with Pope Benedict XVI. The subject of the Feb. 18 session, the encyclical opens with a chapter on Abraham, father of faith, and concludes with a chapter on the church, mother of faith. Presenter is Holy Cross Father Charles Gordon co-director of the Garaventa Center for Catholic Intellectual Life and American Culture.

On March 4, Dr. Marian Hodges discusses Alzheimer's disease, what it is and is not and what families can do about it. Dr. Hodges has been developing educational tools for families and healthcare providers who have loved ones and patients who suffer from Alzheimer’s. She will discuss what family members can look for if they suspect their loved one has Alzheimer’s and how the disease differs from other forms of dementia. Dr. Hodges is director of Palliative Medicine & Education at Providence Center for Health Care Ethics.

Father Tuohey continues her discussion of caregiving March 11 with a session called "What Are Catholics Saying About Healthcare Ethics?" Why do I have to purchase insurance? What is the teaching on feeding tubes? Is it OK to complete an advance directive? Father Tuohey will cover some of the basic and most often misunderstood precepts of Catholic healthcare ethics, leaving time for questions.

On March 18, Father Gordon gives a presentation on C.S. Lewis' "Letter to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer." Posthumously published in 1964, Lewis' letters to an imaginary friend open with a discussion of “corporate prayer” and the liturgical service and goes on to consider practical and metaphysical aspects of private prayer.

Films about faith and sacrifice are the center of the April 1 session, led by Father Francis Chun. Up for presentations and discussion are "Diary of Country Priest," based on a classic novel by Georges Bernanos; "Monsieur Vincent," about St. Vincent de Paul; "Romero," about a martyr of our times; "The Mission," covering faith and sacrifices of missionaries; "Of God and Men," the 2010 French film about seven Trappist monks at the monastery of Tibhirine in Algeria who were kidnapped and assassinated in 1996.

On April 8, an outsider will give his view of Catholicism in Vietnam. Michael Reardon is co-president of Eastern International University in Binh Doung province and former provost and professor at Portland State University.

In 1993, Tom Stoppard penned Arcadia, a play concerning the relationship between past and present, order and disorder and the certainty of knowledge. The play is the topic of the session set for April 15. Father Gordon will lead discussion.