Catholic Universities and Catholic Identity

I don’t remember if I’ve put something up about this before, but if I haven’t, I should have. This topic never fails to amaze me, and in large part was one of the reasons I ever considered heading to seminary in the first place. Among many other things that led to my vocational discernment, after a few years of Jesuit education at the college level, I was convinced that something was not quite right…

Irony of ironies, I’m currently studying once again under the Jesuits (for the next 4 years!), but this time with a bit more focus and a better idea of what to expect. The poorly formed approach to Catholic education that I encountered during my undergraduate studies does not persist here to such a degree, thankfully. A few years ago, I was convinced that it was simply the Society of Jesus that was the problem, but now—through both my newfound appreciation for the Jesuits here in Rome and my experience of similar problems in other religious orders—I’ve come to realize that there is a bigger problem at hand: namely, a blatant lack of Catholic identity in supposedly Catholic institutions.

Suffice it to say that an institution’s own perception of its Catholic identity can lead it into either prosperity or ruin, depending on the position. To be quite pointed, I think that this very reality is quite underplayed and often overlooked completely. Think of it: how many institutions/groups/etc. that are nominally Catholic are so caught up in meeting secular standards that they all but abandon what they set out to do in the first place? Anything from the theology department of a major university to the Altar Rosary Society at the local parish can fall prey to such a collapse. If we begin thinking that we can function properly without adhering noticeably and explicitly to our Catholic foundation, the next and most certain step will be the absolute loss of all semblance of Catholicism; these institutions will (and do) ultimately sever their relationships with the Tradition of the Church and, in the end, become wholly non-Catholic.

In contrast to this negative tone—which unfortunately reflects the reality of the situation—perhaps the best question is, “What can we do to change this?” The simple answer is, “Never be afraid to be outspoken, even in the face of great opposition.” One particular recommendation that I would put forward is this: Catholic educational institutions are very responsive when it comes to their alumni, particularly in financial scenarios. If you know someone who contributes to an institution with a poor vision, talk to them about it. Most likely they are not giving money out of spite for the Church, but out of ignorance. I’ve seen firsthand what such simple conversations can do, and the results are usually very positive. The true ‘answer’ to all this lies, ultimately, in the mission of the organization. In some cases, it will take years of prayer and candid demonstration until we see much of a change in Catholic identity. Nevertheless, this is precisely what we are called to pursue as faithful Catholics in the modern world.

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    # by Anonymous - January 11, 2008 at 1:28 PM

    As a parent, its disturbing to me to witness how entrenched "Catholic" univerisity administrations have become in opposition to the teachings their supposed to be promoting. When I read the corporate doublespeak that is routinely issued by the Office of the President in defense of indefensible actions, I can only be reminded of the Jesus' warnings about cleaning the cup on the outside & letting filth grow within. It will go worse with these presidents on judgement day than those who at least have the courage to be the athiests they claim to be.

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    # by Andrew Haines - January 12, 2008 at 5:03 AM

    I don't know if I'd go so far as calling them atheists (at least not 'formal atheists'), but I do agree that there is a lot of word-mincing that happens on paper at many Catholic colleges. For some reason, the idea is that you need to be societally 'relevant' in order to attract new students. [cf. my post on relevance for my thoughts on that...] If only they knew that the Gospel attracts so many more souls than relevance ever will; for the good or the bad, the controversial message of the Gospel, in contrast to the easy-going message of society, will always be a better 'marketing tool' than openly supporting Planned Parenthood, bringing in sympathetic speakers on the topics of gay marriage, contraception, etc. We just need to bring this simple truth to the attention of those in the places of authority.