By Craig Considine – In Houston, Father Donald Nasti arranged for us to stay near the University of St. Thomas campus. Middle Eastern Basilian monks founded St. Thomas in 1947. Today it stands as the only Catholic university in the Archdiocese of Houston.
While giving us a tour of the campus, Father Nesti explained the symbolism behind the placement of the universities main buildings. On one end of the quad on campus is the chapel, which has a Middle Eastern motif (according to Father Nesti), and on the opposite end is the library. The two buildings symbolize two major aspects of humanity – the relationship between faith and reason.
While listening to Father Nesti explain the history of the University, the chapel bells went off, much to the amazement of Dr. Ahmed. He proceeded to ask Father Nesti if there is any connection with their ringing and the Muslim call to prayer. Much to the team’s surprise, Father Nesti explained that the ringing of the chapel bells that calls Catholics to prayer was a religious implementation initiated by St. Francis of Assisi after his visit with Sultan al-Kamil in the 13th century. Dr. Ahmed went forth and noted that this link represents a synthesis between Christianity and Islam that is often forgotten.
No interview of this project is complete without asking our interviewee what he or she thinks of American identity. To Father Nesti, American identity is best understood by analyzing its philosophical, religious and institutional bases. The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were all greatly influenced by thinking that stems from Roman Republican thought, the Enlightenment era, and Protestant biblical tradition.
On a personal note, my mother’s family and the Nesti family both came from the same cities in Italy. With that connection, we spoke about our family heritage and our family values – we both come from a household that is family oriented. I told him how my grandmother Angie Tedesco was a devout Catholic and that I remember watching her sitting in her rocking chair reciting the Rosary. The link I felt with Father Nesti was not just a spiritual one, but also a personal one. His warmth, compassion, and outgoing demeanor would fit right in with my family.