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Being Thankful for a Catholic Education

November 28, AD2015

Pixabay - BibleStudy

During this time of year, we pause and give thanks for all of the blessings we have in our lives. These blessings become even more significant when we recognize that many do not have them, or at least do not have them to the degree we do. Giving thanks is something we should do often as it puts our lives into a proper perspective. Among the things I am most thankful for are my faith, my family, my health, my country, and my Catholic education. It may sound cliché, but we become what we think.

Ex Corde Ecclesiae and Catholic Education

Recently, I attended my graduation ceremony for my Master’s program. I feel extremely fortunate to have earned this degree through an authentically Catholic institution that properly adheres to the teachings of Holy Mother Church. Such academic environments are rare these days as many Catholic colleges and universities have lost their way, turning from defending truth to reducing it to the lowest common denominator. It has been 25 years since Pope St. John Paul II wrote his Apostolic Constitution, Ex Corde Ecclesiae (ECE). This document serves as a necessary model to recognizing the tremendous wisdom that authentically Catholic institutions offer when they operate as they should.

As the late Holy Father wrote, “It is the honour and responsibility of a Catholic university to consecrate itself without reserve to the cause of truth” (ECE 4). The Catholic Church, which first established the university system, has never deviated from this mission.  On the contrary, she has embraced it. During my undergraduate years, while attending a different Catholic University, I suffered from this lack of focus.

Identity and Catholic Education

I was under the impression that my Catholic identity would be respected and nurtured during my college years, and that my Catholic faith would expand in unique ways. I will admit that my faith practice grew, through campus ministry, service projects, pro-life efforts, and prayer. However, my intellectual knowledge and understanding of the faith was a different story. Four years were spent on calling into question the sacred teachings of the Church I had always been taught to value. Those teachings were replaced by arbitrary viewpoints that adhered to popular culture. Soon, I was faced with a dilemma. Either continue to go along to get along, or reverse course and return to the more natural (and logical) approach to truth. Once I began to witness my faith regain substance, I began to feel a sense of peace and competence that had been lost for some time.

The identity of a Catholic university, according to Ex Corde Ecclesiae (12ff), should reflect the Church’s call to be a witness for truth, while instilling within each person the mission to join ones knowledge with ones conscience. This consistent approach to living in accordance with natural law is not subservient to societal norms or individual opinions, no matter how popular. Knowledge and conscience must remain consistent and devoted to God the highest authority. Many are familiar with the controversies surrounding various organizations and events that take place on Catholic campuses across the country. Some of these are promoted and endorsed by Catholics (both professors and clergy) and serve only to deteriorate and hamper Catholic identity.

Catechesis

One of the greatest tragedies, existing on the premises of many Catholic colleges is this lack of adherence to sound catechesis. First, this proves a disservice to those who are seeking precision when it comes to the Catholic Church’s proper place in the world. Secondly, it confuses and corrupts those with a limited knowledge of the Church. Lastly, it is a blatant lack of respect for the integrity of the school, and of the Church, as a whole: “…a Catholic University must have the courage to speak uncomfortable truths which do not please public opinion, but which are necessary to safeguard the authentic good of society” (ECE 30). Even if the student who attends a Catholic college or university is not Catholic, he or she should still never be deprived of the experience that corresponds to the roots, and reason, for the school’s existence.

The stories of Catholic colleges debating whether or not to place crucifixes or religious art in classrooms, is as absurd as it is shameful. Catholic is as Catholic does and it is a sad day when the classroom setting is not permitted to correlate with the school’s mission statement. You are not attempting to offend a non-Christian by having a crucifix in a classroom in the same way you are not trying to offend your immigrant neighbor by flying Old Glory.

Formation, Truth and Catholic Education

Catholic institutions operate to ensure that humanity flourishes in the pursuit of truth. Furthermore, the advancements made through academic rigor must contribute to the common good of society, free of relativism. Faith and reason exist in a mutual and respectful manner that complement, not contradict. They should be properly addressed, discussed and understood (of course, this should be at the heart of all institutions of higher learning, but it is a moral imperative when it comes to Catholic institutions). This is a mandate that should never be compromised or misconstrued as a reason for an apology. Catholic colleges providing authentically Catholic experiences (whether at the undergraduate or graduate level) are essential. Today’s society, with its progressive array of ideals, values, and mindsets, demands it.

The coursework leading to my graduate degree provided me with knowledge and understanding, based on objective truth, rooted in catechetical teaching, and consistent with natural, moral law. In addition, my professors took their role, seriously, portraying an accurate account of the Church since her inception. I applaud them for this. I was blessed to have had such wonderful professors, who were always true to her teachings, never deviating from them throughout their instruction. They are a testimony to the message of Pope St. John Paul II’s work by representing the hope that can only be found in those who remain loyal and obedient to the pursuit of truth. I pray other institutions will follow. I also pray that the knowledge I have gained will continue to inspire me towards further research and reflection, allowing me to help others (and myself) become an even more faithful, and informed, Catholic. We become what we think.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Todd was born and raised just outside of Philadelphia (Go Phils!) but now lives and works in Michigan. He has been involved with the Church, and working with youth, for over 15 years in the areas of ministry, athletics, and education. He has a M.A. in Theology from Catholic Distance University, with a concentration in Ecclesial Service (special thanks to the intercession of St. Joseph of Cupertino). He is a proud family man and has a passion for all things CATHOLIC!

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  • Jeff_McLeod

    Count me as another cradle to grave Catholic educated. Immaculate Heart of Mary grade school, Cretin High School (run by the Christian Brothers), and the College of St. Thomas.

    I have been very successful in my career, and I attribute all of it to my Catholic education.

    A certain clown-politician on the republican side recently whined that a philosophy major was worthless. Specifically, I think he said that the philosophy majors “living in their parents’ basements” would never go as far as a real man with real skills.
    As a philosophy-minor who did in fact live in my parents’ basement after college, let me say, don’t worry about me old man. We Catholics know how to make our way in life just fine.

  • john654

    Todd, did I miss it, where did you go to school?

  • Randal Agostini

    We are currently closing three Catholic Schools for every one that is opened. This article reflects how essential one Catholic education is, but all Catholics should be unified around the concept of providing a Catholic education for every Catholic. Current law specifically denies the right of a Charter school to have a religious identity. This is not equal opportunity.
    Thomas Aquinas taught that all men are imbued with an “essence,” that part of us that is everlasting, more real than any bricks and mortar, yet the one thing that is not nurtured in a government school is that essence, which makes us a whole person – God’s gift to humanity. Is not salvation our whole purpose in life?

  • james

    And may these institutions always be represented in the pantheons of religion.

  • Guy McClung

    Todd-Thank you for this fine article and the hope it expresses for Catholic education. What the “institutions” and “colleges and universities” and “identity” boil down to people – professors who do “profess” the Faith and fellow students who do the same. Without them, there is no Catholic school. And you can include members of the Board Of Directors who begin to worry about dollars instead of souls. Catholic schools, truly Catholic schools, may be the last bastion of the true university where one can speak “uncomfortable truuths” without being silenced by the politikally correkt. Todd, do not cease to spread the truth. Guy McClung, San Antonio, Texas