Since His Holiness Pope John Paul II first introduced the Prize of the Pontifical Academies in 1997, only five scholars worldwide have received the honor. Of those, only two have come from North America — and both are alumni of Thomas Aquinas College.
At a January 27, 2010, conference of the Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas and the Pontifical Theological Academy, His Eminence Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone, S.D.B., Secretary of the Vatican Secretariat of State, presented this prestigious award to Dr. John R. Mortensen, a graduate of the Thomas Aquinas College Class of 1997.
The following day, the Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI granted an audience to the Pontifical Academies in the Sala Clementina, which Dr. Mortensen and his family were invited to attend. After the Holy Father delivered an address about St. Thomas, he greeted the Mortensens and blessed their four children.
Significant Contribution to Religious Studies
According to the Vatican, “the Prize of the Pontifical Academies is awarded periodically to a person — a young artist or academic — or an institution whose research, work, or activity contributes significantly to the development of religious studies, Christian humanism, and its artistic expressions.” In Dr. Mortensen’s case, he received the honor “in recognition of his outstanding work” on his doctoral dissertation, Understanding St. Thomas on Analogy.
Dr. Mortensen describes his work as beginning with “taking a very small part of the question of analogy in Aquinas: Does Aquinas treat analogy as a thing of logic or a thing of metaphysics? Is Thomas talking about the analogy of being or the analogy of names?” The research, he adds, consisted of “going through all of the texts where St. Thomas uses the word ‘analogy’ and analyzing them to show that most of the time he uses the word to speak about the analogy of names.” From there, the dissertation examines “how we think about God using analogy; how God can be somehow first in the mind as well as first in reality. “
An associate professor of theology and philosophy at Wyoming Catholic College, Dr. Mortensen was previously an assistant professor at the International Theological Institute in Gaming, Austria. For five years, he taught philosophy and theology at the ITI, during which time he also served as director of finance and then as vice president of administration. He earned his doctorate in philosophy at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross.
As a Pontifical Academies Prize winner, Dr. Mortensen joins a select group that includes fellow Thomas Aquinas College graduate Dr. Pia de Solenni (‘93). In 2001, Dr. de Solenni was the first-ever recipient of the honor for her study of various feminist theories in light of St. Thomas’ anthropology and theology.
Signs of the New Springtime
Upon receiving the award, Dr. Mortensen gave a brief speech in which he extolled the resurgence of Thomistic scholarship, evident at Thomas Aquinas College as well as at the various new colleges following its lead, including Wyoming Catholic. “At the end of the 20th century, John Paul II promised a new springtime would visit the Church,” Dr. Mortensen said. “The effects of this springtime are increasingly visible in the United States, in many new schools that aim to teach faithful Catholic theology and philosophy. It is a mark of the new springtime that students and researchers are drawn to return to the original writings of St. Thomas Aquinas in order to lay a solid foundation for their work.”
“In our classroom discussions, we are responsible for our own education. We have to get our hands dirty, to figure out the material, to let it become part of us and make us better people. That is real learning.”
– Isabella Hsu (’18)
Redondo Beach, California