The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Our "New" Catholic Colleges and Universities

Sean Cardinal O'Malley, the Archbishop of Boston and a man for whom I have much love and respect, visited Florida last week and received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Ave Maria University during their commencement ceremony. Ave Maria is a relatively new Catholic university located in Ave Maria, Florida, near Naples. If you would like to read Cardinal Sean's comments on his visit, you can do so by visiting his blog: Cardinal Sean's Blog. (In the spirit of full disclosure, let me add that Cardinal Sean -- then the Bishop of Fall River -- ordained me and my class of brother deacons back in 1997.)

Ave Maria University has grown rapidly since it first opened its doors in 2003, thanks to the vision and generosity of Tom Monaghan, the founder of Domino's Pizza. Like so many of the new Catholic colleges and universities that have sprung up around the country, Ave Maria is faithful to the magisterial teaching of the Church and committed to providing its students a solid liberal arts education guided by Catholic principles. The school now has nearly 800 students on its Florida campus, plus another 500 in Nicaragua. It also has a law school located in nearby Naples. One of our parishioners, a bright young man who is graduating from Trinity Catholic High School in Ocala, Florida, will attend Ave Maria University in the fall. I know he and his family are thrilled that he has been accepted and will become a part of this thriving Catholic educational community.

As I mentioned above, Ave Maria University is just one of a number of relatively new Catholic colleges that were formed to fill the void created when so many of our ostensibly "Catholic" colleges and universities decided to sever their Catholic roots and become instead secular institutions with Catholic-sounding names. This decision to separate themselves from the Church and repudiate their duty of obedience to her was a conscious decision made in 1967 when the major Catholic universities declared their autonomy from the Catholic Church in the Land O’Lakes Declaration.  The declaration was the brainchild of Notre Dame's Fr. Theodore Hesburgh who believed that Catholic colleges and universities, to be "effective," should no longer submit to the Church's teaching authority. This was clearly stated by the declaration:
To perform its teaching and research functions effectively the Catholic university must have a true autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical, external to the academic community itself.
As a result, these schools, acting like rebellious teenagers, quickly began to dismantle their core curricula and separate themselves from the teachings of Mother Church. Within a few short years they became indistinguishable from most secular institutions. This left the believing Catholic with few choices when it came to higher education...until Ave Maria University and other similar schools arrived on the scene.

In addition to Ave Maria, this new crop of colleges and universities includes: Franciscan University of Steubenville -- (1946) Steubenville, OH; Thomas Aquinas College -- (1971) Santa Paula, CA (from which our elder daughter graduated in 1993); Christendom College -- (1977) Front Royal, VA; Magdalen College -- (1974) Warner, NH; Thomas More College -- (1978) Merrimack, NH; Wyoming Catholic College -- (2007) Lander, WY...and many others whose names escape me right now. If you're unfamiliar with these schools, just visit their websites and you'll quickly recognize how different and how Catholic they truly are.
Over the past 30 years or more I've watched these schools, and others like them, grow and flourish, supported by those who realize there is a great, unmet need for rigorous Catholic higher education that still maintains a strong Catholic identity. This, of course, is exactly what Pope John Paul II demanded in his apostolic constitution, Ex Corde Ecclesiae ("Out of the Heart of the Church"), which he issued twenty years ago in August 1990. It's a wonderful document that places the Catholic institution of higher learning in its proper context where the search for the truth and its transmission are the institution's primary responsibility. This is a responsibility that makes little sense to many of those who lead and teach in our secular institutions where relativistic thinking has made the search for truth meaningless.

I encourage all faithful Catholics not only to support these institutions and others like them, but also to encourage our young Catholic students to consider them as they make their plans for higher education.


1 comment:

  1. Great post Deacon. I have been looking up Catholic colleges in PA lately. I have one more year of high school left and I am trying to decide where to go for college. I definitely want it to be a Catholic college even though my parents told me I didn't have to pick a Catholic college, it is all up to me. I have been going to Catholic school my whole life and I want to continue that way. Thanks so much for sharing.