Written by Fr. Michael Sweeney, OP, on May 2011 at the Induction in the College of Fellows
Ronald Austin, husband and father, author, Hollywood screenwriter and director, teacher, faithful son of the Church, the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology salutes you.
“It is no longer enough to use the media simply to spread the Christian message and the Church's authentic teaching”, but, Blessed John Paul II insisted, “…it is also necessary to integrate that message into the new culture created by modern communications” (Message to 39th World Communications Day, May 8, 2005).
You have reflected in your life and work the project that Blessed John Paul commended to us. Born and raised in Hollywood, you began your career as a child actor, initially working under the direction of Charlie Chaplin and the noted teacher Viola Spolin. You studied film at the University of California, Los Angeles, and went on to a distinguished career in the film industry as a screenwriter, director and producer of films, documentaries and television series. A member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and of the Directors Guild, you have been honored by your peers with two life-time achievement awards from the Writers Guild of America for your service to writers and the Hollywood community.
As a teacher, lecturer, and author of film criticism and history, you have taught and mentored young actors and writers at the University of Southern California School of Cinema, the American Film Institute, the Writers Guild of America Open Door workshop, and the Act One: Writing for Hollywood program.
An adult convert to the Catholic faith, you were a founding member of Catholics in Media, and the Windhover Forum, a Catholic educational non-profit corporation. Your service to the Church has reached beyond Hollywood as the director of a Catholic Charities program for homeless men, as a volunteer prison chaplain and as an active friend of Focolare. You have contributed numerous articles reflecting upon the film industry in the light of the faith in such publications as Catholic World Today, the French edition of Communio, Citta Nuova (Rome), and the Image Quarterly, a Journal of Arts and Religion, on whose editorial board you have served since its inception. Most recently you have published two books, In a New Light: Spirituality and the Media Arts (2006) and Peregrino: A Pilgrim Journey into Catholic Mexico (2010). At present you are working on an autobiographical reflection upon the relationship of the Jewish and Catholic faiths.
You have been in the very best sense a critic of the film industry, as one who appreciates what is best in that culture – its possibilities and openness to the foment of the Spirit– but also its potential to betray what is truly human. You prefer dialog to polemic and always you invite others to listen, to consider, to reflect and to consult even as you model these approaches. You have taught us that we must be hospitable to the “new culture” that Blessed John Paul spoke of, and we are deeply grateful that you have generously offered to instruct us in that hospitality as a Fellow of the School.
Therefore, as an expression of our esteem and gratitude, and in virtue of the authority invested in me by the Board of Trustees of the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology, I am privileged to bestow upon you, Ronald Austin, the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters honoris causa, and to name you as a Fellow of the School.