Local Artist Delivers Annual UIW Bernadette E. O’Connor Lecture

February 23, 2024

On Monday, Feb. 19, the annual Bernadette E. O’Connor Lecture on the Catholic Intellectual Tradition (CIT), sponsored by UIW’s College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (CHASS) took place. The annual lecture, which originated in 2016, was created to engage some facet of the Catholic Intellectual Tradition (CIT), most broadly understood as the dynamic and mutually illuminating conversation between the Catholic faith and human culture.

This year’s guest speaker was local artist William Rerick, who spoke about how Catholicism influences his art. In his presentation, he explored how sensuality is portrayed within Catholic art and navigated the complex history of the Church's stance on the human body. Rerick, who was raised within the Catholic church, shared that he sometimes found it challenging to navigate the body and spirit dichotomy within the Catholic faith as he grew up. It was this challenge that inspired his topic and art.

Aware of the sensitivity of his research topic, he attentively gave a brief history of how the human body is portrayed within historic Catholic art. Within his discussion he touched on aspects such as censorship, the body’s representation of humanity and mortality and how the human body connects us to God’s divine love.

He and many other Catholics acknowledge that God taking on the experiences of human beings in the incarnation is a display of his pure love for us. To erase the body would be a disservice in his eyes.

Dr. John Kainer, department chair and assistant professor of Sociology at CHASS, who is a longtime friend of Rerick, nominated him to serve as this year’s lecturer.

“It was extremely exciting and deeply gratifying to see William give a talk on the Catholic Intellectual Tradition, something that is very near and dear to my heart,” shared Kainer. “I knew that he would be a great candidate but having him be the candidate that my peers felt would also give a great talk was deeply affirming.”

Kainer has a great appreciation for how the CIT lecture gives a speaker the opportunity to say how their work is grounded in the overarching lessons of Catholicism, allowing for exploration on how tradition is not monolithic in the way it approaches any topic.

“Rerick’s work clearly demonstrated how people growing up Catholic, himself included, could have learned the wrong lesson even when the Church thought it was being clear,” explained Kainer. “It was only later when he spent time with Catholics who were well-catechized and open-minded that he was able to slowly revisit his perceptions to sort the wheat from the chaff. In other words, it was not only the topic, but the way that community played a role in his own story that I feel made his talk well-suited for a series on the CIT.”

By the end of Rerick’s presentation, Kainer hoped that audience members walked away with two things: an appreciation for the depth and breadth of discourse within the Catholic Intellectual Tradition, and respect and admiration for those who have the courage to ask difficult questions and then listen and think about the answers they receive.

Learn more about William Rerick and his work.