Chesterton Society: Sharing a forgotten treasure


Photo provided by Joe Cherney

Last semester, Franciscan University of Steubenville students came together to create a society focused on making an impact on campus through the eloquent writings and ideas of G.K. Chesterton. Their main mission is to spread awareness and appreciation of his works on a campus familiar with many great English writers such as C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.

The Chesterton Society’s president, junior Joseph Cherney, shared that the foundation and mission of the society is to make Chesterton known. Despite Chesterton being the “grandfather of Tolkien and Lewis,” Cherney said that he has been “forgotten by time.”

“How many people have heard of Tolkien, have heard of Lewis or have heard of Chesterton?” he said. Cherney explained that unlike Tolkien and Lewis, Chesterton did not start with fiction. Yet he went on to become a playwright and poet as well as a philosopher and theologian.

Along with Cherney, nine other students have come together to be a part of the society. Two of those students lead the society with Cherney: Brendan Smith as vice president and Matthew Walker as secretary. John Walker, associate professor of theatre, serves as the Chesterton Society’s adviser.

Seeing the treasure found in the works and person of Chesterton, the Chesterton Society set out to bring this Catholic thinker back into the spotlight on campus. According to Cherney, the club’s mission is also unique in being the first Student Life club to do this in cooperation with and as a local chapter of The Society of Gilbert Keith Chesterton, an international society focused on this very mission. By collaborating with the international society, the local chapter can receive help with housing and transporting guest speakers at the university.

Although the Chesterton Society was founded very recently, it has already started fortnightly meetings on Friday at 4 p.m. in the J.C. Williams Center’s Tower Room. Their meetings focus on reading through Chesterton’s works, starting with his work “Heretics.”

Cherney explained that while this is not his most popular work, it is necessary to develop a background of him which is, as Cherney explained, “important to who we are.”

Cherney noted how the club seeks to imitate Chesterton’s apologetic style of debate. He said that Chesterton “always considered his opponent to have coherent arguments and positions.” Though Chesterton argued that his opponents’ ideas were wrong, the men themselves were not simply crazy or easily dismissed. It is this calm yet firm background that the Chesterton Society seeks to spread.

Despite the Chesterton Society’s passion for his books, they do not plan to just have a book club, said Cherney. Already the society has invited Nancy Carpentier Brown, a prolific author of many Chestertonian works, most notably “The Woman Who Was Chesterton,” which focuses on G. K. Chesterton’s wife, Frances Chesterton. She is scheduled to speak at the university in March 2019. Cherney mentioned that he hopes this talk will complement the academic lecture given by Dale Ahlquist on Chesterton.

The Chesterton Society hopes to one day have a Chesterton symposium on campus, according to Cherney. This is in accordance with the society’s ultimate end, “to bring the works of G.K. Chesterton to a wider audience that has forgotten him.”

“If you haven’t given Chesterton a try, give (him) a try; there is so much there,” said Cherney.