Pre-Conference Day

Thursday 9/19 was cosponsored by Commonweal Magazine

8:30 AM Welcome and Opening Remarks | Beane Hall, Lewis Towers 13th Floor (111 E Pearson St.)
8:45 AM-10:15 AM
Concurrent Session #1

A. The Catholic Imagination in Dystopian and Science Fiction | Beane Hall, Lewis Towers 13th Floor
Phillip Henderson
B. Women's Voices in Catholic Literary and Artistic Traditions | Regents Hall, Lewis Towers 16th Floor
10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Concurrent Session #2
A. CUA Contemporary Catholic Writers: One Reading Group's Search for the "Radical Center" in the Catholic Literary Landscape | Beane Hall, Lewis Towers 13th Floor
B. Art and Act: Performing the Catholic Imagination | Regents Hall, Lewis Towers 16th Floor
C. From "Parker's Back" to Fleabag: Modes of Self-Disclosure and Divine Encounter in Contemporary Narrative Art | Wintrust Hall, Schreiber Center 908 (16 E Pearson St)
12:00 PM-1:30 PM
Lunch | Wintrust Hall, Schreiber Center 908
Hosted by Commonweal Magazine
Commonweal Editors in Conversation with Dana Gioia, Jessica Hooten Wilson, Philip Metres, and the Assembled Crowd.
1:30 PM-1:50 PM Poetry Reading | Beane Hall, Lewis Towers 13th Floor
2:00 PM-3:30 PM
Concurrent Session #3
A. Searching for God in the Postmodern World: Fiction, Poetry, and Television | Beane Hall, Lewis Towers 13th Floor
B. Dynamics of Belief and Unbelief in Modern and Contemporary Fiction | Regents Hall, Lewis Towers 16th Floor

Speaker Bios

David Baird graduated with a BA in English literature from Wheaton College, IL, an MA in Theology and Philosophy from the University of Oxford, and an MLitt and PhD in Theology, Imagination, and the Arts from University of St. Andrews. His research explores the intersections of theology and culture, with particular attention to story and film. Current projects examine the early writings of G.K. Chesterton, the theology of Holy Saturday, and the theological significance of postapocalyptic zombie fiction. While at Oxford he served as president of the C.S. Lewis Society, and he is currently assistant subject editor for the Journal of Inklings Studies. He has published poetry with Sehnsucht and The Christendom Review, film reviews with Thinking Faith and The B.C. Catholic, and is currently working on his first novel.
Lauren Barbato is a fiction writer, journalist, and first-year doctoral student in Religion at Temple University. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Rutgers University-Newark, and has received scholarships from the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for Creative Arts, Virginia Center for Creative Arts, and the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. Her fiction has appeared in The Hopkins Review, Blackbird, and Cosmonauts Avenue. As a journalist, she recently completed the book Faithful Providers: Stories and Reflections from the Frontlines of Abortion Care for Catholics for Choice. Both her writing and doctoral studies focus on the Catholic Church and reproductive justice.
Bethany Besteman is completing a PhD in English Literature with a focus on the Renaissance at the Catholic University of America where she completed her MA in English language and literature. At Catholic she has served as the the Graduate Assistant Director of the Writing Center and has taught undergraduate courses in writing and literature and collaborated on curriculum design as the Assistant Director of the Writing Program. She currently serves as the secretary of the Contemporary Catholic Writers (CCW) reading and discussion group. Bethany also works as a tutor at the United States Naval Academy Writing Center. She received a BA in English and History with honors from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Colin Cutler is a banjo-slinging wanderer currently studying for an MA in Creative Writing at York St John University.  He has a BA (Literature) from Patrick Henry College, an MA (English) from UNC-Greensboro, and will be teaching English at Universitatea Lucian Blaga (Romania) on a 2019 Fulbright.  He has had articles published in Mythlore, Seabee Magazine, and The Military Engineer, poetry published in Beyond the Walls, and his three albums can be found on He has been active in several community arts projects, is an Army veteran, and is working on his next album as his MA dissertation: American Inferno will be a re-setting of Dante’s Inferno to the American heartland in a musical and dramatic implosion of past and future.
Kimberly Dennis is a graduate student at Boston College in the School of Theology and Ministry, working toward a Master of Theological Studies degree. Her degrees in English (BA), and Education (MA), along with years of experience working in ministry and educational settings contribute to her interest in the intersectionality of theology, literature, and education as they coalesce in the faith formation process. Before moving to the East Coast, she taught English and served as Director of Campus Ministry at a Catholic high school in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, where she was born and raised. 
Julianne Dolan Mitchell is a doctoral candidate in systematic theology and a Presidential Fellow at the University of Notre Dame. Her research focuses on philosophical theology and the intersection of theology and the arts. Her dissertation project seeks to construct a theology of human creativity building on the philosophy of Jacques Maritain. Prior to joining the doctoral program at Notre Dame she was a speechwriter in Washington, D.C.
Tim Dulle is a doctoral candidate in the Theology Department at Fordham University, studying the History of Christianity. His work focuses on the cultural history of Roman Catholics in the United States since World War II. His dissertation will consider how the life, teaching, and work of pop-artist nun Corita Kent (active 1951-1986) intersect with and illuminate narratives about the experience of Roman Catholics in U.S. culture. His areas of interest include U.S. religious history, the sociology of religion, Catholic Social Teaching, and more specifically, individuals such as Corita, Dorothy Day, John Muir, Andrew Greeley, and (of course) Flannery O’Connor.
Stephen A. Gregg is a monk of the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas, in Texas. After undergraduate studies in classics and in medieval studies at the University of the South, in Sewanee, Tennessee, he entered the Cistercian monastery in 2006. He completed a licentiate in patristic theology at the Patristic Institute Augustinianum in Rome and is now a doctoral candidate in the Institute of Philosophic Studies at the University of Dallas, where he is writing a dissertation on divine love and beauty in the poetry of Edmund Spenser. At both the University of Dallas and the Cistercian Preparatory School, he has taught courses in English literature and grammar, music, Latin, philosophy, and theology.
Brent Little is a Lecturer in the Department of Catholic Studies at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, CT, and holds a Ph.D. from Loyola University Chicago and a M.T.S. from the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. He is the co-editor (along with Mark Bosco, S.J.) of Revelation and Convergence: Flannery O’Connor and the Catholic Intellectual Tradition (Catholic University of America Press, 2017). His most recent articles have appeared in Religion and Literature, Logos, and Philosophy and Theology.
Emma McDonald is currently a doctoral candidate in Theological Ethics at Boston College. Her areas of interest include sexual ethics, the conscience, and the role of narrative in ethics. She received her Master of Arts in Religion from Yale Divinity School in 2019, where she studied ethics and literature. While at Yale, she explored how short stories and poetry could contribute to moral discourse and imagination, especially in medical ethics. Emma also spent a semester interning at Commonweal and served as a Fiction Editor for the Yale Institute of Sacred Music’s literary arts journal Letters. She received a B.A. from Middlebury College in Religious Studies in 2016. 
Michael O’Connell is Associate Professor of Humanities at Siena Heights University in Adrian, Michigan. His scholarship focuses primarily on the intersections of religion, particularly Catholicism, and contemporary literature. His essays - on Flannery O'Connor, Alice McDermott, J.F. Powers, and David Foster Wallace - have appeared in Renascence, Religion and the Arts, American Catholic Studies, and Christianity and Literature,  and he has a chapter on acedia in The Pale King in the forthcoming "David Foster Wallace and Religion: Essays on Faith and Fiction." He is currently working on a study of violence in contemporary American Catholic fiction.
Renée Darline Roden is a New York City-based writer and playwright. Renée has a B.A. in theatre and theology from the University of Notre Dame, where she also received her M.T.S. in systematic theology in 2018. Renée’s theatre career began by writing her first play at age 10: a single page with no dialogue, written on a 1985 IBM Actionwriter 1 Typewriter. As a performer, she has appeared with the Tony Award-winning Minneapolis Children’s Theatre Company, The Playwright’s Center, Upright Egg Theatre Company, and the egg theatre at the Theatre Royal Bath. As a playwright, her work has appeared at the University of Notre Dame, Open Booth Theatre, the Bushwick Starr, Dixon Place, and Triskelion Arts. Her writing has also appeared in America, Commonweal, Howlround, Church Life Journal, and Veritas Journal. She has taught theatre to children and young adults at Stages Theatre Company, Providence Academy and Cristo Rey New York High School. She logs sightings of grace at Sweet Unrest, which one reader praised: “looks like it was designed by a grandma.”
Jessica Schnepp is a PhD candidate at The Catholic University of America where she is writing a dissertation on grotesque narrative structure in the novels of Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, Anthony Burgess, and Evelyn Waugh. Her article, “The Catholic Grotesque: Antoni Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia and Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood,” was recently published in English Studies. At Catholic University, she has served as Graduate Assistant Director of the Writing Program and in the Intensive English Program and has taught undergraduate writing, literature, and ESL. Jessica founded the CUA Contemporary Catholic Writers Group (CCW) after attending the first Catholic Imagination conference, hosting 40+ book discussions and public events featuring 20+ writers, scholars, and filmmakers at Catholic University between 2015-2019. She currently lives in New York where, in between conferences, she hibernates with her dissertation-in-progress and stays involved with CCW in an advisory capacity. 
Joseph Simmons, SJ, is a priest of the Midwest province of the Society of Jesus, currently studying in England. Joe completed an MA in Philosophy at Loyola University Chicago, focusing his thesis on Charles Taylor's “buffered self” and the verifiability of religious experience. Later Joe studied theology at Boston College. His licentiate thesis, Via Litteraria: Marilynne Robinson's Theology Through a Literary Imagination, drew on William Lynch to articulate a theology of the Christian imagination. Joe is currently pursuing a doctorate in modern theology at the University of Oxford, under the supervision of Professor Graham Ward (Christ Church). Joe is exploring the fertile place where belief and unbelief touch in the writing of Virginia Woolf, Julian Barnes, Marilynne Robinson, and Graham Greene.
Robert Sherron is a PhD student at the Catholic University of America. His research focuses on 20th and 21st century religious literature.
Emily Stoddard is a poet and writer in Michigan. Her writing appears in Ruminate, Tupelo Quarterly, Radar, Dark Mountain, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Pilgrimage, Cold Mountain Review, New Poetry from the Midwest, Whitefish Review, and elsewhere. As a leader of the Amherst Writers & Artists Method, she founded Voice & Vessel, a studio that supports fellow writers through workshops and coaching. More at

Andrew Summerson
is pastor of St. Mary Byzantine Catholic Church in Whiting, Indiana, where he is lecturer in theology and philosophy at nearby Calumet College of St. Joseph. He holds a doctorate in Patristic Theology from the Pontifical Patristic Institute "Augustinianum" in Rome. He has also been a guest commentator for papal events for Vatican Radio and has published widely on the Fathers of the Church and the Christian East.
Stephen Tardif is an Assistant Professor at the University of St. Michael's College in the University of Toronto where he teaches in the Christianity & Culture Program. He has been a fellow at the Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard University and a visiting scholar at the Academy of Arts and Sciences. His publications include articles and essays on Gerard Manley Hopkins, Thomas Hardy, and James Joyce, and his current book project explores the connection between literary form and self-formation in Victorian England. He also serves as the co-editor of The Hopkins Quarterly.
Eve Tushnet is the author of Gay and Catholic: Accepting My Sexuality, Finding Community, Living My Faith (Ave Maria Press, 2014), Amends: A Novel (CreateSpace, 2015), and Voluntary Compliance (Clickworks Press, forthcoming). She also edited the anthology Christ’s Body, Christ’s Wounds: Staying Catholic When You’ve Been Hurt in the Church (Wipf & Stock, 2018). She writes and speaks on topics ranging from men’s figure skating to the Eucharistic devotion of people on the margins, and from friendship as kinship to authority in horror films. Eve lives in her hometown of Washington, DC. Hobbies include sin, confession, and ecstasy.
Jane Wageman is a teacher and writer living in South Bend, Indiana. She received an MA in English from the University of Notre Dame, where she completed a thesis on the role of sympathy and 19th-century plot structures in Zadie Smith’s work. Her current research focuses on family narrative and identity formation in contemporary fiction. She is also completing a novel about post-college adults, rootedness, and the challenges of forming community.
Cynthia R. Wallace is Associate Professor of English at St. Thomas More College, University of Saskatchewan, where she specializes in Catholic writers, researching and teaching on the intersections of religion, ethics, gender, and race in contemporary literature and theory. Her work has appeared in the journals Literature and Theology, Religion and Literature, Christianity and Literature, Contemporary Literature, and African American Review and in collections on Vatican II and Denise Levertov.  Her book Of Women Borne: A Literary Ethics of Suffering was published in 2016 by Columbia University Press.  
Jonathan Wanner is a doctoral candidate of Renaissance literature at the Catholic University of America.  His chief academic interests involve Shakespeare and the Metaphysical Poets, especially their ties to prayer and mysticism; other topics of consideration include theories of poetic knowledge, ironic logic, and pedagogy of rhetoric and composition. When he is not teaching, he enjoys writing poetry and plays.
Trevor B. Williams currently pursues a Ph.D. in Theology at Villanova University and is interested in Christian anthropology and symbols of spiritual death. He finds inspiration in comparative projects that illuminate sources from the Catholic tradition, particularly as they can relate to Pope Francis’ call for an “authentic humanism.” Trevor recently published an article on David Burrell’s critique of theodicy (New Blackfriars), completed a book chapter on the in-game cosmology of the Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and is working on another chapter that treats The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy as a postmodern danse macabre. Last year, his essay “Peace and Joy in Augustine” placed as a runner-up in the Joy and Adolescent Faith & Flourishing Essay Competition (Yale Center for Faith & Culture). He comes to this conference with a paper that touches on literary expressions of unbelief and how they can help liturgy to narrate our secularity.