Through his classes, Father Kilian offers students a little more understanding of the material…and a little better understanding of themselves.
A magical thing happens when you are new to Saint Martin’s. Very quickly you’ll hear yourself saying—at the mention of religious studies professor, Father Kilian Malvey—“Oh, yes! I’ve heard about him. He sounds wonderful. I can’t wait to meet him!”
There’s a reason for this.
Father Kilian is warm and generous of spirit. His gentle demeanor is coupled with an expansive quality that belies a vast heart. With a twinkle in his eye and an infectious smile, Father Kilian is a cross between an ancient mystic and your cherished great-uncle. His openness and ability to hold many perspectives with care and compassion endear him to all who encounter him.
Former chair of the Religious Studies Program, Father Kilian entered Saint Martin’s in 1953 as a brother, intending to remain a brother. He was a teacher in the English department, but the need for priests — and a nudge from Abbot Gerald Desmond, O.S.B. — led then Brother Kilian to study theology. Studying first in Ottawa, then London, he was ordained at the new Saint Martin’s Abbey Church during his last year at Heythrop College, University of London, where theology would become his permanent focus.
Post-ordination, Father Kilian continued to teach English, but with Saint Martin’s religious studies program in need of theology teachers, he branched into moral theology, then the Scriptures.
Religious studies classes up to that point explored the teachings of the Catholic Church. He had four years of theology under his belt, but he hadn’t specialized in theology. In order to put the class together “I had to pull myself up by my bootstraps,” he quips.
It was then he began his studies for a doctoral degree in theology at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, Calif.
Having a degree in English, Father Kilian was intrigued by bringing a bit of literature to the religious studies classes. “A good part of the Bible is a book of poetry,” he says, “It lends itself to teaching literature.”
Most students come to Father Kilian’s religious studies classes in one of two ways: with either no background in the Bible or with fundamentalist perspectives. He teaches them that they are “not reading history, but a theological interpretation of history.” Respecting both non-religious and fundamentalist views, he encourages students to see the ‘mythopoetic’ dimensions of the stories in the Bible.
“Myth helps us to explain what is otherwise unexplainable,” offers Father Kilian. “There may be bits and pieces of history, but we’re putting on theological eyeglasses for seeing and understanding. If I can get the students to understand this, it makes their experience so much richer.”
His most satisfying experiences are when students comes to him after class or years later and say “I was kind of shocked when I took your class because what you said violated what I knew. Now I can see it makes so much sense.”
Through his classes, Father Kilian offers students a little more understanding of the material … and a little better understanding of themselves. “It is such a gift to be able to teach in the religious studies department,” says Father Kilian. “The Scriptures offer an abundance of wisdom. There is a rich, rich heritage in the Bible.”
His intention is to open the hearts and minds of students to that richness, to help students discover that they’re of value; that they are unique, special, and blessed.
For Father Kilian, the Bible offers us guidance on how to live our lives, how to treat each other. It touches who we are and who we can be, at the core of our being. And for those who know him, it is Father Kilian who leads the way. “We are all destined to become a part of this community,” he says. “We should be peacemakers and instruments of God’s justice and this peace.”