A Welshman finds a brand new house in Guelph > Information > USC Dornsife
The new director of the USC Dornsife Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies discusses the future of the institute, LA and the cruel fate of the last Welsh Jesuit priest. [4½ min read]
Dorian Llywelyn is Welsh. As Welsh as the poet Dylan Thomas (with whom he shares a hometown), coal mines (where his grandfather worked) and sheep (which his other grandfather raised for a living). He is from Swansea and was the first to speak the native language of Cymraeg. He is the first to admit that he is “almost a clichéd version of a Welsh person”.
But Llywelyn, the newly appointed president of the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies (IACS) at USC Dornsife College of the Letters, Arts and Sciences, has led a life that is far from a trope. He has lived in Indonesia, Egypt and Spain, worked as an administrator for an avant-garde theater company in Wales, and studied at Cambridge University, the Pontifical University of Salamanca, Spain, and the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, California before enrolling settled in Guelph until an academic life. Now he hopes to use his worldly experiences to shape IACS into a modern, outward-looking institute.
“Overall, I believe that the Catholic intellectual tradition has a lot to offer, but contemporary thinking and experiencing also has a lot to offer,” he said.
From Swansea to Indonesia
Llywelyn was born into a working-class family in Swansea. Although several family members were teachers and he grew up understanding the importance of education in life, transitioning from home to college at Cambridge challenged him.
“It was a big leap from a working class background to an elite university,” Llywelyn said. The biggest shock? “Height,” he replied. Although Llywelyn is of average height for a Welshman, he was much shorter than his English counterparts.
The first in his family to graduate from college, Llywelyn then embarked on a six-year stint in the Voluntary Service Overseas, which he described as the British version of the Peace Corps. He spent two years in Egypt and four years in Indonesia. During this time the idea of a priesthood calling was taking shape.
“I felt kind of itchy in both places. But when you are that old you still envision many different versions of yourself, ”he said. So he stayed in the secular world a little longer and returned to Wales to work as administrator of an avant-garde theater company for two years.
But the “daydream” of the priesthood was still there, and at the age of 30 Llywelyn entered seminary and became the first Welsh Jesuit since the late 17th century. The previous one, David Lewis, was hung, dragged and quartered for treason, he said. Lewis ran an underground college for the education of Catholic priests at a time when it was an “offense against the state” to be a Catholic priest and a Jesuit, Llywelyn said.
“Fortunately, he died at the point where he was hanged so he wasn’t gutted alive like some people who went through this,” noted Llywelyn.
A transcontinental religious education
After entering the priesthood, Llywelyn first served as a pastor in a ward in Wales, but soon decided to study at Berkeley. Llywelyn was about to make his second major transition from the United Kingdom to the United States.
“I’ve lived in nine countries now, but I think moving to the US was one of the most difficult,” said Llywelyn. Since the two nations more or less share one language, Llywelyn had thought their cultures would be quite similar too. However, the United States was more multicultural than he had thought. After completing a fellowship at Stanford University, Llywelyn accepted a position at Loyola Marymount University in LA and has lived in California ever since.
As a speaker of seven languages - Welsh, English, French, Spanish, slang Arabic, Indonesian, Italian and Javanese, with Latin and Greek also in his toolkit – Llywelyn has found the multicultural nature of LA to suit him, especially for a part For IACS, this means more interaction with local communities.
“I’ve always liked the hybrid version, one foot in science and one outside,” he said. “Science is best when it involves the local community.” He noted the example of Lewis who, in the early days of the Industrial Revolution, attended to the needs of poor workers in addition to training priests.
In 21st century LA, such community engagement could mean more contact with diverse cultural groups and producing more content in languages other than English, he added.
Within the USC itself, Llywelyn hopes the IACS will interact more with different departments and disciplines across the university, especially in areas such as the sciences, which have traditionally been less engaged.
“Because of the secular nature of a large institution like USC, it’s a great place to do all kinds of work. I am particularly interested in the dialogues between faith and science or faith and reason that are part of the Catholic intellectual tradition, ”he said.
While his roots will always be in Wales, Llywelyn said he has found a true home in LA, especially in terms of the beaches, walking trails and classical music performances that he hopes will return in person once the COVID pandemic ends can visit.
“LA is like no other. Silicon Valley and London are fascinating, but in my opinion, I’m an Angeleno by adoption, ”he said.
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