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The State of Catholic Higher Education

Patrick J. Reilly

The Newman Guide gives the Cardinal New- college? A basic understanding of the state of
man Society the opportunity to highlight Catholic higher education today is valuable
Catholic colleges which consistently and en- not only as a precaution, but also as confir-
thusiastically embrace the mission of Catholic mation of the great treasures we have in the
higher education. 21 colleges profiled herein.
But what about the Catholic colleges that
are not included?
Identity Crisis
The reasons why we have chosen not to
profile other Catholic colleges vary with each Notwithstanding the great strides the Church
institution, most ranging from a lukewarm is making with regard to Catholic higher edu-
Catholic identity to serious scandal. General- cation, currently most U.S. Catholic colleges
ly, however, families seeking a Catholic edu- that are not in this Guide fall into two catego-
cation outside the colleges identified here will ries. First, most of them have retained some
discover a sad state of affairs. degree of Catholic identity, but their leaders
seem preoccupied with other concerns—such
Most Catholic colleges have secularized
as conforming to a “feel good” sort of spiritu-
considerably over the past 40 years, such
ality, ensuring diversity in the student body
that anyone who attended these colleges in
and faculty, providing career training or sim-
the 1960s or earlier would scarcely recognize
ply keeping the doors open. Second, there are
them today. It is no surprise that more than
many other historically Catholic colleges that
half the colleges in The Newman Guide were
have been seriously compromised by disdain
established after 1970, most in reaction to the
for the Church and active dissent from Catho-
rapid decline of faithful Catholic education in
lic teaching. This latter group is smaller but
this country.
includes most of the large Catholic universi-
The good news is that a nationwide renew- ties.
al of Catholic higher education is underway.
In either category of institution, the curri-
Not only are new, faithful Catholic colleges
cula and official policies of the colleges are not
springing up—bishops, religious orders and
well-designed to effectively uphold Catholic
lay leaders are planning to establish several
identity. Even a small number of problematic
more in the next decade—but nearly every
faculty, staff or students have significant op-
Catholic college in the United States has in-
portunities to push the envelope and loosen a
creased attention to its core mission. We hope
college’s historical ties to the Church. We see
to be able to recommend even more colleges
this time and time again, with college lead-
in the near future.
ers scratching their heads about what went
How does knowledge of these trends help wrong.
families who are currently seeking a Catholic

The Newman Guide 23


The State of Catholic Higher Education

A student at the typical Catholic college that are generally ineffective in discourag-
will find: ing sexual activity and alcohol abuse; and
 a significant number of faculty who may  campus health and counseling services
appreciate theology, philosophy and the that are under no obligation to support
arts as useful for presenting ideas and Catholic moral teaching.
critiquing others’ ideas, but who reject
Some of this may astonish you. It is, in
any claim to truth outside the natural sci-
fact, a list of the more common concerns. We
ences;
have identified much more unusual and ap-
 a curriculum featuring a broad course se- palling problems, both at large universities
lection with some required courses but no and at small, seemingly traditional Catholic
integrated core and little exposure to the colleges. These include homosexual film fes-
Catholic intellectual tradition, unless the tivals, transvestite drag shows, conferences
student majors in philosophy or theology featuring pagan rituals and New Age work-
and actively seeks appropriate courses; shops, lectures by notorious pornographers
and pro-abortion activists, etc. Once the door
 a religious studies or theology department
is opened, there is no telling what might come
including faculty who dissent from Catho-
in.
lic teaching and offering courses with no
clear indication of whether they are genu-
ine Catholic theology courses;
How Did It Happen?
 a faculty with a significant portion (some-
times a large majority) of non-Catholics For several centuries, fidelity to the Church
and non-practicing Catholics, often in- was largely taken for granted at Catholic col-
cluding openly homosexual and dissent- leges and universities—but the secularization
ing professors; of Catholic colleges in the U.S. transpired
quickly in the span of a few decades.
 guest lecturers, often with a decidedly
liberal-progressive point of view, includ- It is no exaggeration that higher education
ing pro-abortion politicians and others grew out of the Catholic Church. The great
whose public actions and statements op- medieval universities in Europe were estab-
pose Catholic moral teaching; lished, funded and staffed by Catholics. For
centuries, Catholic colleges around the world
 a campus ministry that is generally weak
have been among the most highly respected.
and understaffed, minimizes catechesis
and spiritual formation, and often plays The Church’s involvement in higher edu-
loosely with Catholic teaching and the lit- cation has also had its critics. In 1852 this led
urgy of the Mass—which is attended by a the Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman,
minority of Catholic students; the celebrated convert from Anglicanism, to
publish perhaps the best-known defense of
 student clubs which often include some
Catholic higher education.
that oppose Catholic teaching, usually
on abortion or homosexuality, and few (if In The Idea of a University, Cardinal New-
any) that provide opportunities for spiri- man argued that a college should have edu-
tual growth; cation for its own sake as its only objective,
thereby fostering “growth in certain habits,
 coed residence halls with some restrictions
moral or intellectual.” With its promise of

24 The Newman Guide


Patrick J. Reilly

“teaching universal knowledge,” a college Competition for students and a desire for
cannot rightly exclude any branch of knowl- greater acceptance by secular colleges led 26
edge—most importantly theology, which American college officials, scholars and bish-
teaches truths that make sense of all other ops in 1967 to produce the “Land O’Lakes
truths. The Catholic Church cannot rightly be Statement.” It publicly declared Catholic col-
excluded from an active role in higher educa- leges’ independence from “authority of what-
tion, because the bishops have the authority ever kind, lay or clerical, external to the aca-
and responsibility to ensure the integrity of demic community itself.”
theological teaching and the dialogue of faith
The aftermath was shameful. Bowing
and reason.
to the anti-authoritarian movement of the
Contrary to Newman’s vision, American 1960s and the interests of increasing numbers
higher education has largely followed the of non-Catholic students and faculty, most
model of the German research university. Catholic colleges watered down their empha-
This means that even many small colleges are sis on Catholic identity and their expectations
concerned with faculty research and publica- for moral behavior. Fearful that courts would
tion as well as teaching; emphasize faculty restrict government funding to faith-based
freedom and departmental independence colleges—a fear that never materialized on
over interdisciplinary studies and an inte- the federal level—college officials removed
grated core curriculum; and underemphasize crucifixes from the classroom walls and re-
theology, philosophy and the arts. organized under boards of trustees outside
Church control. Conforming to secular aca-
To their credit, most of the Catholic col-
demia, they whittled away at their core cur-
leges held on to their Catholic identity even
ricula and focused on preparing students for
as the leading Protestant universities, includ-
successful careers.
ing Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Dartmouth,
and many others, abandoned their initial The resulting problems at Catholic colleges
Christian foundations. The Catholic colleges can largely be summed up into two categories.
stayed Catholic primarily because the college First, Catholic colleges embraced a distorted
sponsors, officials, faculty and students were definition of “academic freedom” such that it
almost entirely Catholic. The curriculum and is difficult to imagine what offensive speech
campus culture largely reflected the interests or perverse activity might not be protected by
and culture of the Catholic Church. it, so long as the ever-changing priorities of
political correctness are not violated.
It was the turmoil of the 1960s and the
aftermath of Vatican II that threw into disar- Second, most Catholic colleges have aban-
ray the Catholic culture in the U.S., of which doned responsibility for students’ moral, so-
college campuses were a microcosm. The G.I. cial and spiritual development. The operat-
Bill, other financial aid programs and new ing principle for most American colleges was
taxpayer funding for public universities en- once in loco parentis; today colleges provide
ticed growing numbers of Catholic students campus facilities, support services and some
to forego Catholic education. Meanwhile, the programming for students, but most without
aid programs brought increasing numbers of clear objectives for personal growth or moral
non-Catholic students to Catholic colleges, standards to define a Catholic campus cul-
which also began to hire non-Catholic facul- ture.
ty. Soon Catholic colleges were faced with an
identity crisis.

The Newman Guide 25


The State of Catholic Higher Education

Reform and Renewal plement it. Many U.S. bishops are pushing
quietly for reform, and in more than a few
It seems this very damaging period may have instances have publicly decried scandal on
reached a turning point. The courage and Catholic campuses. Lay Catholics have also
vision of Pope John Paul II helped slow the urged reform—more than 20,000 of them as
momentum of secularization and, we hope, members of the Cardinal Newman Society,
reversed the trend. and others through local efforts and alumni
organizations.
The 1983 revision of the Code of Canon
Law created a new section for Catholic colleg- The unity of faith and reason continues to
es, including the requirement that any Catho- be a key theme for Pope Benedict XVI, who—
lic theology professor must have a mandatum like his predecessor—is a scholar with great
(or “mandate”) from the local bishop, affirm- appreciation for Catholic higher education.
ing that they will teach within the full com- As philosopher Ralph McInerny has said, “It
munion of the Catholic Church. Students now sometimes seems that the only voice insisting
have reasonable assurance of the orthodoxy on the power of human reason is that of the
of theology professors at colleges that require Holy Father.” His great intellect and insight
the mandatum or which at least strive to hire are having their impact especially in theol-
theology professors who are obvious candi- ogy courses, and college leaders are intently
dates for the mandatum. watching the former Vatican prefect who
successfully defused the liberation theology
In 1990, Pope John Paul II issued Ex corde movement and disciplined wayward theolo-
Ecclesiae, the apostolic constitution on Catholic gians.
higher education, by which he defined what
constitutes Catholic identity at Catholic col- The renewal of Catholic higher education
leges. More than a statement of principle, the is slowly becoming reality, despite the doubts
constitution’s General Norms are binding on of some of the Church’s brightest observers.
Catholic colleges as an application of Canon But it will take many years to reach comple-
Law. Ex corde Ecclesiae gives each local bishop tion.
the legal authority and responsibility to de-
clare a college “Catholic”—or in the case of a
persistently wayward college, to remove the Distinctively Catholic
Catholic label. It requires that every “official
action or commitment of the [college] is to be In the meantime, one of the most exciting
in accord with its Catholic identity.” Catholic developments in the Church today is the es-
professors are “to be faithful to, and all other tablishment of new, faithful Catholic colleges.
teachers are to respect, Catholic doctrine and We are in the midst of a new wave of colleges,
morals in their research and teaching.” with plans underway for several more in the
The results have been encouraging. Even coming years. An earlier wave in the 1970s
though compliance with Ex corde Ecclesiae gave rise to Christendom College, Thomas
varies widely, most Catholic colleges are tak- Aquinas College, and others that have since
ing steps in a positive direction. The Asso- built strong reputations. Each of the new col-
ciation of Catholic Colleges and Universities, leges is unique and offers something special
which once argued that Ex corde Ecclesiae is to Catholic families: one concentrates on the
unworkable in the U.S., now pledges to im- increasingly important New Media, three
serve the rapidly growing Catholic popula-

26 The Newman Guide


Patrick J. Reilly

tion in the South, one emphasizes the out- fundraiser to support the worthy cause of
doors and stewardship of nature, etc. Finding preventing violence against women. The
one’s niche at a good Catholic college is be- colleges in the Guide, however, strive to
coming much easier. build a Catholic campus culture. Very Rev.
David O’Connell, C.M., president of the
Also very exciting are the colleges that
Catholic University of America, said the
have maintained or restored their Catholic
Monologues has “become a symbol each
identity despite prevailing trends in the op-
year of the desire of some folks to push
posite direction. More are joining this group,
Catholic campuses over the edge of good
but the ones profiled in this Guide deserve
and decent judgment.” The University of
praise for their heroism, often amid much
St. Thomas in Houston instead presented
scorn from faculty and officials at other Cath-
a play, Traffic in Women, written by English
olic colleges.
professor Janet Lowery to bring attention
Many of the schools in the Guide provide to the centuries-old problem of trafficking
an outstanding education in the Catholic intel- women for prostitution, pornography or
lectual tradition by means either of studying domestic labor.
the Great Books of Western culture or through
Catholic families, then—and others who
a core curriculum that coherently integrates
are attracted to the benefits of a Catholic edu-
the traditional liberal arts disciplines. These
cation—have good opportunities for a college
point to a renaissance of traditional Catholic
education that is steeped in the Catholic intel-
education, an encouraging development.
lectual tradition while offering a moral cam-
What makes these colleges different from pus environment. Already today there are
largely secularized Catholic colleges? A few 21 excellent colleges profiled in The Newman
examples: Guide which feature a variety of charisms,
academic offerings, numbers of students, lo-
 Instead of graduating students with no
cations, extracurricular programs and more.
substantial exposure to the Catholic intel-
For future students, the numbers of faithful
lectual tradition, the colleges in the Guide
Catholic colleges are increasing.
generally have a strong core curriculum
or several requirements to study faithful The renewal of historically Catholic col-
Catholic theology and philosophy. leges, which built their reputations upon the
dedication of faithful Catholic leaders and
 Whereas most Catholic colleges gamble
faculty, is essential. Whether or not you are
on the maturity of students to refrain
a student or graduate of one of these colleges,
from sexual activity, the Guide colleges set
your prayers and support for renewal will
clear expectations for moral behavior with
have an important impact.
same-sex residence halls or visitation poli-
cies that are strictly enforced. For example, But today, with this Guide to 21 excellent
the Franciscan University of Steubenville colleges, we also celebrate the rising tide of
pioneered an innovative “household” pro- Catholic higher education which Cardinal
gram that encourages students to support Newman so fervently hoped for: “[T]his is
their peers in healthy Christian lifestyles. our hour, whatever be its duration, the hour
for great hopes, great schemes, great efforts,
 About ten percent of Catholic colleges an-
great beginnings . . . to recommence the age
nually host the morally offensive play The
of Universities.”
Vagina Monologues as part of a national

The Newman Guide 27