Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 8, 2003
Brogue flavours prof's resume
Newman teacher authored history of Israel's kings.
By BILL GLEN
WCR Staff Writer
Finding the new theology professor at Newman College in the bustling opening-day stairwell Sept. 2 was not easy because Caroline Nolan blends in seamlessly.
Dr. Caroline Nolan, that is.
A dozen people scurried about the main floor reception area while the youngest looking of them all remained standing in a white blouse and dark slacks three steps up toward her office.
"Yes, I think I'm the youngest instructor here," the amiable 30-year-old said, with a restful smile and a lilt of a brogue reminiscent of her native Cork, Ireland.
"There is a wonderful feel-right factor here at the college. It's a bit suspicious that the students all like to be here. It's very rare, but it's very attractive. Newman is such a pivotal point, a focus for all of Canada. The fact that the college is serving all of Western Canada is both astonishing and fantastic."
Now fully enraptured with the positive atmosphere and the students' willingness to learn, Nolan admits she had never heard of Edmonton, nor Alberta, prior to arriving in May for the job interview, having seen the position advertised on the Internet.
It might seem a bit odd considering the biblical scholar has lived in Italy, Israel, Austria, Mexico and the United States.
"I like Edmonton and St. Albert very much," she said. "It's lovely and quite large, while still being small.
"People have said to me, 'Is going to teach in Canada not a scary thing?' But I feel at home here because of the Catholic connection. It's a risk, just like driving on the other (right) side of the road. But if your risk equals your commitment then you have nothing to lose."
Commitment is something Nolan takes seriously, especially when the promises she keeps stem from a struggle she wrestled with for several years, deep inside her heart.
As a 14-year-old, Nolan developed a passion for theology when a local priest gave her a book he had written entitled The History of Salvation, dealing with Israel leading up to the New Testament. She was immediately impressed with the book and encouraged to eventually take a journey to Rome as the only lay person, the only woman and the only native English speaker in her course at the Pontifical Biblical Institute.
But it was during her days as an employee of the Irish government in finance and corporate affairs - her duties that included paying the coroner on a per-body basis - that an irrepressible urge to consider a meaningful life apart from a secular career became too much to bear.
She enrolled in a religious studies course run by her diocese and it opened her heart to the world.
"I was taking the course at night and then I considered taking a career break. Initially, I think it was just the realization of, 'Why not? Life's too short.' But there was hope. It then became something that I felt I should do.
"There was something drawing me, and I couldn't do anything else. For better or worse, I have chosen this. I do think it has something to do with God."
Practicality, financial security and a wealth of nay-sayers did not deter Nolan from proceeding. Encouraged by Irish Cardinal Desmond Connell to study in Israel, Nolan did so, later pursuing her doctoral studies in Ireland, specializing in the Old Testament. She was subsequently awarded a post-doctoral fellowship by the Dominicans to teach and research at the University of Limerick.
Nolan well remembers sitting in numerous classrooms as a student listening to the instructors, thinking they were motivating role models. Now that she is the professor in front of the students, her life has come full circle.
"It's a bit scary," she said with a laugh.
Nolan has recently become a published author, writing her own book on the history of Israel. Humbly, she was quite reluctant to discuss it.
"It's a great door stopper," she laughed. Entitled A Critical Appraisal of the Origin and Nature of the Institution of the Monarchy in Israel in Light of Eric Voegelin's Theory of Symbolic Forms, Nolan describes it as a work about the ambivalence of the monarchy of Israel.
"They wanted me to tell what the book was about on the cover," she said. "I guess my fascination with the history of historical literature has remained since I read the first book as a teenager. The stories about the prophets and the kings are so colourful and full of action. And yet, there is a lot of meaning there. There is spirituality. They are all contained in very vivid stories."
Nourishment for a fertile mind.
Perhaps Nolan's own work will help inspire a young person to choose a career similar to her own.