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SVC Alum Writes Dissertation on Friendship, Jansenism

Fr. Brian Boosel, O.S.B, instructor in the history department and Saint Vincent alumnus of ‘96, is currently completing his doctoral thesis from The Catholic University of America.

Past executive board president of the Student Government Association and campus lifeguard, Fr. Brian has been at Saint Vincent for 25 years. After graduating, he entered the Saint Vincent seminary and joined the Benedictine community, but he did not begin teaching right away.

“I’ve had a number of jobs here,” Fr. Brian said. “In the monastery I was the sacristan of the basilica, the master of ceremonies for the archabbot. I was the archivist of Saint Vincent, and I was the director of campus ministry.”

But history, and teaching history, were never far from his mind.

“It was something I had always wanted to do. But in a monastery, sometimes there are other things that need to be done. We all have a number of jobs, and I did what the needs were at the time,” Fr. Brian said. “And then, at one point the abbot said ‘We can send you away to school now to study.’”

Fr. Brian obtained his masters degree in medieval and renaissance history at Slippery Rock University. While there, he was also exposed to gender history for the first time, one of the areas he now teaches.

“Gender history is an attempt to bring everyone’s voice to the table,” he said.

Unfortunately, he explained, history is often taught and recorded from the perspective of the winners.

“There’s this whole other perspective of history that we don’t get, the perspective of women, the perspective of children and minorities as well,” Fr. Brian said.

Fr. Brian believes that the concept of gender history deserves to be approached without politicization, and he thinks that his related courses at Saint Vincent have been welcomed.

After completing his M.A., Fr. Brian began the process of obtaining his doctorate from The Catholic University of America. The reading list for the doctoral exams consisted of 250 books that he had nine months to read.

“All these books, believe it or not, are from my doctoral studies,” he said, gesturing at the crowded shelves in his office.

Those books continue to serve him as he finishes his dissertation. Fr. Brian is researching and writing on the effects of the 17th-century Jansenist movement on friendship.

In particular, he’s interested in the effect of the Jansenist movement on the friendship between two famous Frenchmen: Saint Vincent de Paul, the college’s namesake and a fervent Catholic; and his friend Jean de Vergier de Hauranne, Abbot of Saint-Cyran and a convinced Jansenist — “the apostle of Jansenism,” as Fr. Brian calls him.

“I look at the destructive nature of Jansenism in that friendship, because it’s very public,” Fr. Brian said.

He considers this friendship a good example of early modern male friendship.

Fr. Brian said, “But Vincent de Paul, because of the bonds of friendship, doesn’t give up on his friend, he still loves his friend.”

This kind of friendship doesn’t exist as much in the modern context, Fr. Brian thinks. But Fr. Brian, who speaks French, himself noticed some of its after effects while researching in France.

“It’s very hard to become friends with a European. But once you are, it’s forever,” Fr. Brian said. “I was able to live in Paris for eighteen months to do my research. It took many, many months to make friends, but I have several now and I know that they’ll be my friends always.”

Fr. Brian made extensive use of his French in researching the dissertation.

“All my sources are in French. I was able to obtain certification from the Bibliotheque Nationale [National Library of France] through a series of interviews. I can use all collections there in France.” Fr. Brian said. “And the interviews were very intense, and in French, and hours long.”

Fr. Brian hopes to finish his dissertation this academic year. In the meantime, he’s passing on his love of history in the classroom.

“I welcome any students to engage in historical discussion,” he said.

Photos: John Wojtechko

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