Charismatic protestant turns Catholic theologian–and now is Chancellor of the Diocese of Tulsa
An introduction to the Early Church Fathers, a sudden conviction of the importance of studying Latin, and a last-minute conversation over coffee with Fr. Matthew Lamb were the things that led then charismatic protestant Harrison Garlick to find a temporary home at Ave Maria University’s Master’s Program in Theology, and eventually, a much longer-lasting home in the arms of the Catholic Church.
Harrison Garlick went to college at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma. There, his first interest in the Catholic faith was sparked by a study of the Early Church Fathers. After graduating with a degree in Theological Historical Studies, Garlick, still a protestant, determined that he wanted to pursue graduate studies in Catholic theology. After many online searches, he applied and was accepted to a program—with one small hitch. “I was unexpectedly convinced that Latin was paramount to a solid Catholic education,” he explains. “[T]he university that had accepted me did not teach Latin.”
Hitting the online search engines once again, Garlick discovered a remedy to the situation: he would enroll in Ave Maria’s Summer Intensive Immersion Program in Latin. Before the summer was out, he was convinced he wanted to stay at Ave Maria. He asked to meet with Fr. Matthew Lamb, founder of AMU’s Patrick F. Taylor Graduate Programs in Theology, two weeks before the semester began. “I often wonder what that conversation was like from Father’s Lamb’s perspective,” Garlick thinks back on the occasion. “Here was a kid from Oral Roberts with no formation in philosophy and who would have to learn just as much as he would have to unlearn, asking to enter, at that time, a 64-credit-hour, two-year Master’s, rigorously dedicated to the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas.”
Fortunately for Garlick, Fr. Lamb welcomed him into the program. “My conversation over coffee with Fr. Lamb is a watershed moment in my life, as my education at Ave led to my conversion and my wife’s conversion.” Feeling welcomed is a common theme in Garlick’s reflections on his time spent studying at AMU. “I have nothing but fond memories of my education in Ave Maria and the community there,” he recalls. There was one instance he brings up in which he and his wife Amy experienced an overabundance of joy and love. After they were both welcomed into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil Mass in 2010, there were so many after parties thrown for them that the dinner hosted by Amy’s sponsor didn’t even begin until after midnight. “We felt incredibly welcomed,” Garlick says of that memorable night, “and we felt that the community truly celebrated our coming home to the Catholic Church.”
Garlick graduated from Ave Maria University with a Master’s in Theology in 2011. His thesis, The Demythologization of Modern Politics: Catholic Political Engagement & the Call of Pope Benedict XVI, explored the “myths” of modernity and how faithful Catholics can respond to these myths through political engagement. One of the things he valued most about his studies in the graduate program, besides its being centered on St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae, was the dialogue fostered between ancients and moderns. The experience of gathering together to read and discuss texts that shaped Western culture was for him, quite literally, life changing. “All of my notes from those discussions, and all my notes from the entire program, sit on my shelf in binders in my office. They are a constant source of clarity,” Garlick says.
After graduating from the Master’s Program and working for a year, Garlick attended the University of Tulsa College of Law. He passed the Oklahoma bar and began working at the Chancery in the Diocese of Tulsa under His Excellency Edward Slattery. A week after Garlick began at the Chancery, Bishop Slattery submitted his resignation to Rome. In the following months, a new Vicar General was named, Garlick was named Chancellor, and the Diocese was gifted a new shepherd, Bishop David Konderla.
Through all of this, Garlick has found his graduate studies remain relevant—particularly his thesis research. “Political engagement remains a focus of mine,” Garlick says, “as I serve as in-house counsel to Bishop Konderla and serve as a speaker in the diocese on issues related to virtue, political philosophy, and, especially this year, voting.” In his capacity as Chancellor, Garlick also assists the Vicar General is his duties as Moderator of the Curia, and he supports the departments of Communications, Development, Archives, Religious Formation, and Child & Youth Protection. Over the past year on the job, he has come to realize that all of his work is in the service of Christ. “Whether its addressing a legal issue,” he says, “defusing a situation, or writing policies, the more there is clarity and peace in the local Church the more her ministers can solely focus on forming intentional disciples of Jesus Christ.”
As a final word, Garlick reiterates how grateful he is for receiving the opportunity to pursue graduate studies in Theology at AMU:
It would be difficult to exaggerate the debt I owe to Ave Maria University, her faculty, and to the members of her community. I entered as a protestant wavering back and forth between various philosophies and left a Roman Catholic with a sure foundation in St. Thomas Aquinas and the classical tradition. Everything I have done since then and everything I do now is still informed according to the truth I learned at Ave. The Summa and the dialogue of the ancients and moderns are never far from my mind as I work for the Church. The community too was simply wonderful. To live life surrounded by other disciples of Christ seeking the virtuous life was such a gift, especially to a new Catholic.
Harrison Garlick lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with his wife Amy and their daughter Genevieve Marie.