From the beginning of his philosophical career, Deely has been deeply influenced by Maritain’s thought. The John Deely and Jacques Maritain Chair provides a venue for scholars to continue working in this tradition. A providential reading of Quatre essais sur l’esprit dans sa condition charnelle and key passages in Distinguer pour unir ou les degrés du savoir gave him the direction needed for developing his doctoral dissertation, which undertook a rapprochement between the Thomistic account of esse intentionale and the problematic of Being in Heidegger’s thought. This doctoral work eventually bore fruit in Deely’s first monograph, The Tradition via Heidegger, which he dedicated to the Maritains “at a distance” and was graced to present in person to Jacques on July 20, 1972. This early engagement with Maritain’s thought marked the beginning of Deely’s life-long engagement with the Thomistic tradition, in which Maritain featured as his principle interlocutor and guide.
Deely, who is known internationally for his close connection to Maritain’s thought, has striven to develop the Catholic tradition in ways that meet the needs of our current age and that help to shape the future form of philosophical culture. His advocacy of John Poinsot carries on Maritain’s own advocacy of Poinsot, whose writings are a sine qua non for understanding Maritain’s own “intellectual locale” as a Thomist. As a result of Deely’s work, Poinsot is now recognized as a founder of the philosophical tradition (as distinguished from the literary tradition) in the contemporary interdisciplinary field of semiotics. Indeed, Maritain himself, as a consequence of such development, is recognized in this field as a major figure.
In addition to his landmark publications, Deely lectured worldwide on topics relevant to philosophical semiotics and scholastic philosophy. He was a founding member of the American Maritain Association and a drafter of the Association’s constitution in 1977-1978. In 2009, he received this association’s “Scholarly Excellence Award.” In the same year, he received the Aquinas Medal for Excellence in Christian Philosophy from the Étienne Gilson Society.
Deely envisioned the Chair as providing a setting for continuing work in a forward-looking Thomism that is undaunted in embracing the Thomistic Commentatorial tradition that was so dear to Maritain. The positioning of the Chair at St. Vincent College is Providential, given the Maritains’ connection to the Benedictine Order as oblates. St. Vincent College is staffed by members of St. Vincent Archabbey, which is one of the largest Catholic monasteries in the world. The John Deely and Jacques Maritain Chair in Philosophy will enable a prayerful engagement in philosophy within the immediate context of St. Vincent’s Benedictine horarium.
St. Vincent College houses the personal library of John Deely, into which has been incorporated the Anthony F. Russell collection, together numbering over 12,000 volumes. The collection contains a complete set of Maritain’s works (in French and English), as well as numerous secondary studies on the Maritain’s and their thought. It also includes extensive resources in the Thomistic tradition as well as the interdisciplinary field of semiotics. In addition to these volumes, the collection contains extensive, rare holdings from the works of Fr. Austin Woodbury, S.M., the founder of the Aquinas Academy in Sydney Australia. A student of Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange and exponent of Maritain’s thought, Woodbury died leaving unpublished comprehensive, technical notes that recapitulate in detail Roman Thomism that formed the backbone of Maritain’s own intellectual training. These works provide a rare and incalculably important repository of Thomistic texts.