[New City Magazine – July 2020 page 7-9]
Original title: Face2Face with Daniel Scullion
Paul Gateshill catches up with Daniel Scullion who is studying at the new Sophia University in Loppiano, Italy.
Tell me a bit about your family background. How has your upbringing influenced you?
I had the one in a billion privilege to be born to two (thus far) unofficial saints, and I spent much of my childhood and teenage years trying my best to rebel against them and prove that I was better off without their help and guidance. Luckily however, a tiny part of the patient and loving example of my parents managed to get through to me, despite my best efforts. It is only with hindsight that I’m able to recognise the profound impact that my upbringing has made on who I am today. I went to a very good school and never wanted for anything, but above all my upbringing encouraged me to see, as my mum would say, ‘The most important things in life aren’t things at all!’
You have been involved with the young people of the Focolare for many years. How has that been?
I went along reluctantly to Focolare gatherings and meetings with the youth, and despite having a great time with friends I made through the Focolare, I always treated it with more than an ounce of scepticism. Who is this God character? Why are they all looking for ‘Jesus in the mist’? How on earth could someone smile so much?
Despite my sizeable doubts however, the Focolare spirituality of unity definitely rubbed off on me, by learning through play and the sheer fun which broke through the barriers I was intent on maintaining. I am aware now, that the friendships the Focolare environment encourages, and the adults and models it put me into contact with, made a big impact. I knew instinctively that peace and friendship were true, though this didn’t click as something for which I needed to take personal and active responsibility for some time. It wasn’t until my final years in University around 2017 that I moved from just allowing Focolare to be an incidental part of my life, and instead, to actively seek to understand what it was all about.
What were your dreams when you went to university?
I would say that aged 18 I felt an inclination for social justice, so I went to study law, though it never was, or became a passion. However, it did give me the opportunity to study legal philosophy and theories of justice in my final year. This launched me into a deeper line of philosophical enquiry on more fundamental questions: Who is man? What is his place in the universe? What does it mean to know God? I read once that each person has a vocation either towards the good, the beautiful or the true. I’ve discovered that mine is the latter. I feel this was already evident in my doubts towards Focolare as a young person.
How did you end up in Loppiano?
Finishing University, I was fortunate to have so many opportunities ahead of me, but none of these ‘conventional’ paths excited me. I wanted something different for my life. Rather than enter the legal profession, or study a Master’s degree or take a gap year travelling the world, I consciously wanted to do something that would be difficult to explain, even to myself! Only this would be a truly different decision that could give my life something new. The Focolare was my closest contact with that something which was different to the normality I had come to accept. It was something which gave me glimpses of joy and hope which didn’t fit in with how I was coming to understand life, and so it was this that I followed. It was the joy and quirkiness of the people I knew through Focolare that inclined me to have a go at immersing myself in it.
How has your experience been at Sophia University?
I decided to study at Sophia for two main reasons. On the one hand I felt I needed a philosophical education to give me the background to the existential questions which interest me so much. Though of course I could have had this at many universities. I chose Sophia in particular because I believe Sophia is unique. It was founded recently in 2008 as the final wish of Chiara Lubich for the Focolare Movement. She saw it as a place for young people in particular to study how the spirituality of the Focolare can give a substantive contribution to a whole range of academic disciplines: economics, politics, philosophy, theology… At Sophia it is not only the subject matter which is guided by the ideal of unity, but the methodology and life of the institute as well. It was the first-hand experience of love which brought me to Sophia and it’s that same experience which sustains and informs it. The first task of everyone – students, teachers alike – isn’t just to give lessons and pass exams, but to share an educational and formative experience that is based on the pact of unity to live for one another. This is realised in a number of ways – through sharing lunch together, scheduled moments for sharing, living together in the residences, parties to celebrate milestones and achievements – but above all in the personal daily decision to recommit to love our neighbour.
What are you studying and what do you want to do next?
The course I study is called ‘Trinitarian Ontology’ and my focus in on philosophy. Very gradually I am getting an idea of what this means. Essentially it is a study of the diversity–unity dynamic in terms of numerous philosophical directions, including mathematics, anthropology, epistemology (the study of knowledge) and metaphysics (the study of being). It is philosophy always in dialogue with theology. However, as it is based on the inspiring principle of the Trinity, so the whole project is at the same time a radical rediscovery of the central orthodoxy of Christianity.
In terms of the future, I think of teaching philosophy or religion in schools, maybe doing a PhD if I really find my niche.
What are your dreams now?
I hope to have the courage to take more decisions like the one which brought me to Loppiano in the first place! Instead of what I want or what might make immediate sense to me, I am finding that there is a greater will than my own which wants to make himself known to me, and alongside whom I can hopefully bring to the world, a little of that truth I have had the privilege of discovering.