college, university, catholic education

Catholic Colleges Must Preserve Their True Mission

college, university

Traditional methods within authentic Catholic education are slowly deteriorating. This began, in part, thanks to a controversial movement made by a select number of Catholic institutions in 1967. Their act of “separation,” known as the “Land O’Lakes Statement,” has altered and distorted Catholic identity for the last 50 years. As a result, many Catholic colleges and universities have faced significant problems and criticisms due to their actions.

Moral relativism, hedonism, and activism have whittled down the bastions of Catholic dogma, creating challenges to addressing many of today’s sensitive issues (e.g. human life and dignity, marriage, human sexuality, etc…) These contribute to a less than comprehensive approach to respectful, meaningful, and scholarly dialogue. Worse, they unravel the relationship between faith and reason, and promote scandal.

Neither Shall the Two Meet

In many cases, students and faculty are expected to suppress their Catholic faith in an effort to maintain “order.” The potential fear that one might offend looms heavily over these campuses. Sadly, this is often coupled with a hidden agenda within these places of higher learning. One that is meant to call into question and even change teachings on specific religious truths that have stood since the beginning.

Problems have occurred with Catholic institutions insisting on offering platforms to controversial speakers while refusing to provide an equal exchange of ideas and views. There has also been evidence of scandal regarding the formation of campus groups. When these occur, the reason becomes abundantly clear. Those who embrace traditional, faithful doctrine must relax or “get over it,” even at a Catholic university.

Some individuals and student groups have even been targeted and threatened with dismissal or disbanding. This produces an atmosphere contrary to the primary component of a Catholic institution, namely a Catholic identity consistent with Catholic teaching. (It is important to note those moments where administrators have spoken out.)

An Antidote to a Failing Agenda

The long held methods of successful catechesis have now been deemed outdated or said to evoke controversy. Yet their replacements have often proved divisive. The numerous forms of dissent, indoctrination, intimidation, along with the suppression of doctrinal views have run rampant, leading to a form of “stagnant progress.” The practice of offering a sufficient defense (based on faith and reason) against undermining viewpoints is essential. This is what sets Catholic institutions apart from their secular academic counterparts

Imagine my relief when, as a college freshman at a Catholic university during the early 90s, a professor told us that we were free to present our ideas during class. But he cautioned us. If we did, we had to be able to defend them. Now this was not a university known for its authentic catechesis. Nevertheless, there was still comfort and encouragement knowing that a leveled playing field was established where at least both sides could receive representation. I wonder how many experienced a similar balance? How many experience it today?

Keeping it Old School

Tragedies unfold almost daily on campuses, where students (Catholic and non-Catholic alike) are deprived of opportunities to witness, acquire, and master valuable skills and insights. Many events we hear and read about weaken the foundation first set in place at the beginning. Fortunately, this is not the case within the walls of authentically Catholic colleges. These institutions have not forgotten one of the major contributions of holy Mother Church – the university system:

The institution that we recognize today, with its faculties, courses of study, examinations, and degrees, as well as the familiar distinction between undergraduate and graduate study, comes to us directly from the medieval world. And it is no surprise that the Church should have done so much to foster the nascent university system since, according to historian Lowrie Daly, it was ‘the only institution in Europe that showed consistent interest in the preservation and cultivation of knowledge.’

The quest for knowledge is transforming. The journey culminates in attaining a sense of reality united to reason, bounded by truth, and exercised in faith. This process must be preserved and cultivated in order to maintain its “realness.” Unfortunately, this essential part of Catholic education has been overlooked and ignored by many within its hallowed halls and offices.

The True Mission of a Catholic College

Pope Saint John Paul II’s encyclical on the role of Catholic colleges and universities entitled, Ex Corde Ecclesiae (ECE), lays out the mission beautifully:

It is the honour and responsibility of a Catholic University to consecrate itself without reserve to the cause of truth. This is its way of serving at one and the same time both the dignity of man and the good of the Church, which has ‘an intimate conviction that truth is (its) real ally … and that knowledge and reason are sure ministers to faith’ (7). Without in any way neglecting the acquisition of useful knowledge, a Catholic University is distinguished by its free search for the whole truth about nature, man and God. The present age is in urgent need of this kind of disinterested service, namely of proclaiming the meaning of truth, that fundamental value without which freedom, justice and human dignity are extinguished. By means of a kind of universal humanism a Catholic University is completely dedicated to the research of all aspects of truth in their essential connection with the supreme Truth, who is God. It does this without fear but rather with enthusiasm, dedicating itself to every path of knowledge, aware of being preceded by him who is ‘the Way, the Truth, and the Life (8),’ the Logos, whose Spirit of intelligence and love enables the human person with his or her own intelligence to find the ultimate reality of which he is the source and end and who alone is capable of giving fully that Wisdom without which the future of the world would be in danger (ECE #4).

As mentioned earlier, not all Catholic Colleges provide this experience to their students. However, there is a sense of optimism as these issues continue to be carefully examined and addressed. In the meantime, however, it is essential that we continue to recognize those Catholic institutions which demonstrate fidelity to our Church. These faithful colleges and universities maintain an academic and social environment that encourages the fellowship of ideas, and inspires students to go deeper and rise higher in their search for the “ultimate reality,” the Logos. They represent for us the true, the good, and the beautiful.