Jacques Maritain and Raissa Oumansov were two disenchanted university students who contemplated suicide. They had met in Paris at the Sorbonne in 1901.

The small-minded intellectual culture of positivism and reductionism they encountered around them was depressing. They couldn’t see the point of living.

But then, at last, they got a taste of the excitement philosophy can offer anyone who is looking for a deeper meaning beyond scientism’s stunted study of the natural world.

Charles Peguy invited Jacques and Raissa to hear the lectures of Henri Bergson, who offered a lucid critique of scientism. His refreshing philosophical perspective gave the two young people a sense of a real truth transcending the limited competence of modern scientific method.

Jacques and Raissa were secretly engaged in 1902. They married in 1904. In 1905, they encountered Leon Bloy, who introduced them to a love for the poor and the mystical spirituality of Catholicism. In 1906, the two were baptized in the Catholic Church, along with Raissa’s sister Vera.

Jacques called Bloy “the greatest of our benefactors, he who engendered us to faith.” The eventful year of 1907 included their novena to Our Lady at La Salette and a miraculous healing for Raissa on Jan. 17h.

They made a consecration to Mary through Blessed Louis de Montfort

On March 25 they made a consecration to Jesus through Mary by St. Louis de Montfort, the French priest who died in 1716 and was canonized a saint in 1947 by Pope Pius XII.

Dr. John Hittinger of the University of St. Thomas is researching and writing a book on the Maritains as a spiritual family. On April 14, he delivered a special lecture on the Maritains at the Benedictine monastery of Saint Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Penn.

Hittinger’s lecture, “Maritain and Deely on the Renewal of Intellectual Life in the Modern World,” is freely available on YouTube for anyone interested in the topic.

As Hittinger explains in his lecture, it is thanks to a visit by Jacques to the Isle of Wight, at the instigation of Peguy, that Jacques and Raissa had their lives changed by Benedictine spirituality.

The ensuing series of events, set in motion by their meeting with Dom Delatte of the exiled Solesmes Benedictine community on the Isle of Wight, eventually brought them to a deep encounter with the thought of Thomas Aquinas.

Raissa described their discovery of what the writings of Aquinas had to offer them as being “like a luminous flood.” It wasn’t until four years after he was baptized that Jacques started studying Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae, but in the designs of providence Jacques and Raissa were now underway to renewing Thomism for the 20th century, beginning with their Thomistic Study Circles in 1919.

Jacques would explain Aquinas for a modern world intoxicated with modern science

Jacques was destined to write books that would explain Aquinas for a modern world intoxicated with modern science. He saw the need for a Thomistic cure for the modern world’s toxic individualism, naturalism, and agnosticism. Anyone who has studied Maritain in depth will recognize him as one of the greatest minds of the 20th century.

Similar to Jacques (1882-1973) and Raissa (1883-1960), my great friend John Deely (1942-2017) also encountered the thought of Thomas Aquinas at a crucial young age, being thereby commissioned by providence, no less, to set off on a life-changing path of philosophical inquiry.

Just as the Benedictines provided the distinctive spirituality nourishing the mission of the Maritains, so too with John Deely, who met Maritain as a young man, and was later embraced by the Benedictines as a professor of philosophy at Saint Vincent College and Seminary in Latrobe.

Deely’s life’s work was able to recover the sapiential dimension for philosophy    

In his lecture, Hittinger explains how Deely’s life’s work was able to recover the sapiential dimension for philosophy, affirming Thomist realism and recovering a full engagement of philosophy with metaphysical issues, just as Pope Saint John Paul II called for in his monumental encyclical Fides et Ratio.

Hittinger’s lecture was the inaugural event in Saint Vincent College’s newly established John Deely/Jacques Maritain Lecture Series. The annual event heralds the current process of establishing the Deely/Maritain Chair in Philosophy at Saint Vincent.

“The chair, as grounded in Benedictine tradition, will provide a setting internationally for further developing the Catholic tradition in ways that meet the needs of our current age in the shaping of future culture. As a philosophical framework and direction, a forward-looking Thomism and the contemporary transdisciplinary field of semiotics have joined together in this development, thanks to the work of Maritain and Deely,” according to Saint Vincent College.

Hittinger, currently a member of the Center for Thomistic Studies, holds the Rudman Chair of Philosophy at the University of St. Thomas, Houston, Texas, and is an expert on John Paul II.