Priest, doctoral candidate cherishes time at Baylor

Dominican priest Robert Verrill will complete his doctorate in philosophy with a specialization in physics this semester. Verrill is from the Order of Preachers in England. Megan Powers | Multimedia Journalist

By Clarissa Pompa | Reporter

There are many people on Baylor’s campus and it can be hard to recognize the different faces. That is not the case with this student. He is not the average age of a college student, but that is not what makes him stand out. He walks to his classes like most other students. The difference is that Father Robert Verrill is wearing his white religious habit.

Verrill is a Catholic priest of the Order of Preachers, also known as the Dominicans, and is a doctoral candidate in philosophy with a specialization in physics. Originally from England, Verrill is in his last semester of regular coursework before a year of further physics studies. After that, he will return to England for his dissertation.

Verrill’s journey to Baylor started when his regent of studies asked if he was interested in continuing his education. Verrill had already earned a doctorate in mathematics before entering the priesthood but was ready for further education under a new title. He received his Masters in philosophy and theology from the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley in 2016. During that time he was studying with other priests of his order but coming to Baylor has been an interesting change he said.

“It’s a very different atmosphere here because I’m the only Dominican priest living in Waco. So that’s very different from all my Dominican life so far, me living in a religious community for the last 12 years,” Verrill said. “When you’re living in community, you don’t have your own bank account because they have everything in common. Whereas because I’m living on my own, I have my own bank account for the first time in 12 years.”

According to the Order of Preachers website, their vocation values education and intellectual rigor. In pursuing those, they hope to further understand and love the world they serve. With their learning, they can then teach, write, or more in order to help others in their pursuit of knowledge.

Verrill particularly enjoys the studies of Thomas Aquinas, noting that Aquinas was a Dominican as well. Verrill enjoys speaking about the intersection of physics, faith and linguistics. He finds physics a “beautiful subject” and interesting how the philosophy of language can be seen in the Bible, referring to when Genesis says “in the beginning God said let there be light.”

“There’s a lot of interest in Aquinas and how he can help us engage with contemporary issues of faith and reason,” Verrill said. “I’m interested in accounts of physics in which we can reconcile with our recognition there is a sort of purpose and meaning to the world, and that we’re more than just collections of subatomic particles.”

Verrill’s appreciation for Aquinas is shared by Burke Rea, a fellow doctoral candidate in philosophy. Rea sees Verrill in many roles, some of which include friend, confessor and priest.

“We both have a great deal of interest in medieval philosophy, especially the great Dominican, Thomas Aquinas,” Rea said. “We often get into discussions of the finer points of what form is and how medieval theories can interact with contemporary philosophy.”

Beyond philosophy, physics and Thomas Aquinas, Verrill is an avid trumpet player. He began playing at 9-years-old. His first performance was with his church choir, and he continued to play with brass bands in England. Prior to entering the Order of Preachers, he would take yearly trips to New York to take trumpet lessons.

“When I entered the Dominican Order of course that had to stop because I was in England,” Verrill said. “Actually since I’ve been studying in the United States, it’s actually one of the cheapest ways to get back to England is through New York, so since I’ve been in the United States, I’ve picked up my lessons.”

Verrill’s time is not divided solely between various studies. He has made friends both in his department and in his church, St. Peter’s Catholic Student Center. In addition to game nights and dinners, he has presided over baptisms and weddings for his friends, soon to include Rea.

“It’s very special being able to do that. A great honor being able to share in these really joyful moments in people’s lives,” Verrill said. “You have to give up certain things, obviously, to enter religious life and the priesthood, but you receive so much more in return.”