APPLETON — The life and lessons of Gilbert Keith “G.K.” Chesterton, the outspoken and forewarning English writer and Catholic convert — whose arguments for the faith won over C.S. Lewis and influenced J.R.R. Tolkien and other notables of the early 20th Century — will be the focus of a talk at 7 p.m. on Monday, March 21.
Dale Ahlquist of St. Paul/Minneapolis, co-founder and president of The Society of G.K. Chesterton and an internationally recognized expert on the prolific author, will present “G.K. Chesterton: Heavyweight Champion of the Faith” at Xavier’s Fine Arts Theatre, 1600 W. Prospect Ave.
The public is invited to this free event sponsored by CIA-Faith Mission Operatives, a volunteer lay ministry recognized by the Diocese of Green Bay. No tickets or reservations are required.
An agnostic who joined the Catholic church in 1922, Chesterton (1874-1936) earned great respect — even from his rivals — for his ability to speak to the truths of the church, despite pressure to conform to the modernism of the day. Pope Pius XI called him a “defender of the faith,” and Venerable Fulton J. Sheen and Servant of God Dorothy Day both admired him.
Often cited by contemporaries for his influence on them, Chesterton remains a relative unknown today. Ahlquist has spent a lifetime answering the question, “Who was this great apologist named G.K. Chesterton?”
In his Appleton talk, Ahlquist will explain why he calls him “the Apostle of Common Sense” and why he considers Chesterton a saint.
“How is it that a 300-pound, cigar-smoking London journalist could be a saint?” is what people might ask, said Ahlquist. “He doesn’t fit the image of a saint because of his amazing size and that halo of smoke around his head.”
While the famed debater might not look like saints of the past, Chesterton exhibited heroic humility and never flaunted his great genius, Ahlquist said. He embodied the Catholic faith through his wit, clarity, kindness and an ability to love people with whom he disagreed, all while sharing the faith in Christian charity.
“Catholics should rejoice that Chesterton is being rediscovered. He is a timeless writer, in many ways more relevant today than when he first wrote a century ago. He has a lot to teach us,” Ahlquist said.
Today, Chesterton’s greatest impact may be felt in places like St. Ignatius Chesterton Academy in Kaukauna. Part of a growing network of parent-led high schools across America and beyond, a Chesterton school offers an educational experience described by the organization as “classical and joyfully Catholic.”
Nathan Vande Hey, St. Ignatius headmaster, senses that what is happening within the new school’s community is powerful and transformative. He is thrilled that Ahlquist, founder and president of the Chesterton Schools Network, will visit the school and meet with students on Tuesday, March 22. Families and supporters of the school will be invited to attend a 10 a.m. assembly.
“I’ve spent time with Dale and am so impressed with his energy and optimism. I want him to give our students a deeper understanding of why (Chesterton’s) name is part of who we are,” said Vande Hey, “But, more importantly, I want our students to hear his message that what they are doing will change the world.”
Ahlquist speaks extensively and has authored numerous articles and books on the man whose life heavily influenced his own. Raised as a Baptist, Ahlquist first discovered Chesterton when he read “The Everlasting Man,” a book that C.S. Lewis credited for his transformation from atheism to Christianity.
“I never would have thought about becoming Catholic if I had not read Chesterton. He comes from such a different angle, a wider angle; Chesterton gets you to see the big picture,” Ahlquist said.
The book motivated Ahlquist to research the early church fathers and the history of the Catholic Church, which ultimately helped him resolve his concerns about the papacy, the sacraments and the Blessed Virgin Mary, he said.
Ahlquist was received into the Catholic Church in 1997, along with his two oldest children, Julian and Ashley. His wife, Laura, who had not been a practicing Catholic when they met, returned to the faith.
More information is available by contacting event organizers at [email protected] or (920) 450-3025.