Roanoke hosts Slovak couple as Copenhaver Scholars-in-Residence

SALEM, Va. - Roanoke College is pleased to have Dr. Michal Valco and Dr. Katarína Valcová serving as its Copenhaver Scholars-in-Residence this semester. The Valcos, whose home is in northern Slovakia, are co-teaching two courses, "Europe Twenty Years After Communism: Historical, Political and Religious Perspectives" and "Christian Faith and Life." Both are ordained Lutheran ministers.

The couple and their two children arrived in Roanoke on August 8 and, in addition to teaching, plan to research and write. "We came here to learn," says Michal.

Married since 1996, the Valcos teach at the University of Zilina and the Lutheran Bible School in Martin, Slovakia, where Michal also is director of the school. Students of all ages and from all parts of Slovakia attend. The Valcos are passionate when talking about the school's mission, which is based on the Bible verse John 8:32: "You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free."

To the Valcos, "knowing the truth" includes understanding how present attitudes cannot be separated from past events and ideologies. "After four decades of communism," Michal says, "we found out that people knew very little about the Judeo-Christian background and almost nothing about the Bible." Some of the Bible School students are seeking degrees through the school's partnership with the University of Zilina and some are lay individuals desiring a more thorough understanding of Christian theology. The Valcos want all of them to learn more than just the Bible.

The school curriculum also teaches ethics and how to live in a free society. Michal says that under communism, people got used to having their needs met by the state, and some people now need to be taught how to accept the responsibilities that come with freedom.

"There is some appeal [to communism]," says Michal. "There is a huge amount of social empathy among young people...It's an ideology that still affects hundred of millions of people. It's alive in the intellectual circles of Western Europe. It's a force that's maybe sleeping, but it's still trying to capture the hearts of people. We believe it's because of a lack of information."

American students don't really understand communism, the couple says. "We need to let people know what the system really is about," says Katarína. Students in their "Perspectives" course seem to be enjoying hearing the couples' stories, she says. "In this country people have never experienced any of it, and it is far, far away."

"You can't afford to remain ignorant in a global society," Michal says, stressing the importance of understanding the communist ideologies of some of the U.S.'s trading partners.

"Most of our students today were born after the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the end of Marxism-Leninism as a viable human prospect," says Dr. Paul Hinlicky, the Tise Professor of Lutheran Studies, who arranged for the Valcos to teach at Roanoke. "The presence of Michal and Katarina and the course they are teaching will make vivid and clear why Marxism-Leninism remains unviable."

The Valcos first met Hinlicky when he was teaching at the Protestant Theological Faculty of Comenius University in Bratislava, Slovakia in the 1990s. Valco served as Hinlicky's student assistant, helping with translation and Slovak pronunciation.

Over the past twelve years, the College has developed a strong connection with the Slovak Lutheran Church of the Augsburg Confession. Several Slovak students have been given grants to study at Roanoke and four Slovak doctoral students have come here to teach. In 2002, the Slovak denomination's general bishop, Julius Filo, visited as a Copenhaver Scholar-in-Residence. Two Roanoke College professors have had extended teaching service in Slovakia.

Hinlicky was a professor at the Lutheran seminary for six years and continues to visit Slovakia to lecture and consult. In 2009, he led a Semester Abroad Program in Bratislava, Slovakia. Dr. Robert Benne, the director of the College's Center for Religion and Society, has taught two six-week seminars in Christian ethics at the seminary.

While in Roanoke, Michal and Katarína, who are avid hikers, hope to take advantage of some of Western Virginia's hiking trails. They are pleased that their children, ages five and seven, have the opportunity to go to school in the United States to strengthen their English language skills, and they are appreciative of the friendships they are forming with their fellow Roanoke faculty members and their families.

The Valcos will present a lecture to the faculty on September 23 as part of the College's "Faith and Reason" lecture series, which is entering its eighth year. Their presentation is titled, "Faith and Reason Before and After Communism."

Roanoke College, an independent, co-educational, four-year liberal arts college in Salem, Virginia, combines firsthand learning with valuable personal connections in a classic, undergraduate setting. Roanoke prepares students for their futures through its commitment to providing a true classic college experience. Roanoke is one of just 280 colleges nationwide with a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the nation's oldest and most prestigious honor society. The Princeton Review names Roanoke as one of the "best in the Southeast."

For additional information, call the Roanoke College Public Relations Office at (540) 375-2282.

Released: September 20, 2010
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