The Lumen Christi Institute has assisted in developing the West Coast’s Catholic institutional landscape by inspiring and providing mentoring for a new university-based initiative, located in the largest archdiocese in the country.

The American Southwest boasts a growing Catholic population but, unlike the East Coast, lacks the considerable Catholic infrastructure to root it, said David Albertson, a Catholic intellectual and a professor of religion at the University of Southern California (USC) for the past 14 years.

Albertson founded the Nova Forum at USC earlier this year, inspired by his experience at the Lumen Christi Institute during his graduate studies at the University of Chicago Divinity School. 

He was moved to action in part after attending a conference two years ago on the East Coast, where “you’re just hitting Catholic college after Catholic college after Catholic institute,” and he was struck by the “deficit of these sorts of Catholic institutions” out west. He considered the “weak Catholic infrastructure” in southern California as “an opportunity to build something.” 

Albertson approached the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies at USC, primarily a sabbatical research center for Catholic scholars outside the university, and the Caruso Catholic Center, the Catholic ministry on campus, with his idea for a new and complementary entity at USC, aimed at offering scholars within the university opportunities to study the Catholic intellectual tradition in a community setting. After much discussion, the two organizations decided to fund the Nova Forum jointly. 

Albertson said Thomas Levergood, Lumen Christi’s executive director, was an important dialogue partner in the creation of the Nova Forum.

“We had a couple of pivotal conversations that helped us to decide what shape our endeavor might take institutionally and how to make the most of our resources at USC,” Albertson said.  

Like Lumen Christi, the objective of the Nova Forum is to introduce students to the Catholic intellectual tradition and to share its resources with the secular university. As well, just as Lumen Christi seeks to be of service to the Archdiocese of Chicago, the Nova Forum intends to find ways to be of service to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, which serves four million Catholics in a sprawling city. He said the Nova Forum intends to provide opportunities for conversation, as Pope Francis says, “not occupying space but opening up…dialogue between people.”

Albertson said his participation in Lumen Christi’s events and master classes during his time in Chicago had a lasting impact on his faith life, as well as on his vision for the Nova Forum. 

“At a very simple level, (Lumen Christi) was a place for Catholic students and scholars to be together and to associate,” he said.  

The opportunity to gather at Gavin House, along with his professors and members of his dissertation committee, including David Tracy, Bernard McGinn, and Jean-Luc Marion, gave him confidence as an emerging Catholic scholar, he said.

“Some of my most important intellectual formation experiences...(included) the example of scholars with an active and public Christian life,” he said.