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finding god on a catholic campus

finding god on a catholic campus

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Published by: Center for the Study of Catholic Higher Ed on Feb 11, 2009
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The Newman Guide
The late futurist Herman Kahn once said
there are only two times in life when one\u2019s
ideas, a\ue006itudes and convictions are radically
altered: before you are six and when you go
to college.

In my own pastoral work with college stu- dents, especially where it pertains to religious belief and behavior, I have found Kahn\u2019s ob- servation to be true. Given what is at stake, the choice of a college for one\u2019s child should be an overriding concern of any Catholic par- ent. The university is usually the last place to form the pre-adult Catholic. The important transition between the teen years and young adulthood should be one from dependence to responsible independence in all areas of one\u2019s life, most especially the moral and the spiri- tual.

Character formation, built upon the natu- ral law and perfected with grace, will deter- mine the question of happiness or unhappi- ness both in this life and the next. There also

is the \ue000nancial question. The large sum\u2014
sometimes exceeding $150,000\u2014shelled out
for college expenses could easily be invested
elsewhere for the real bene\ue000t of the Church,
society or one\u2019s family. Prudence calls for se-
rious deliberation.

Through the years many parents have asked my advice on selecting a Catholic col- lege for their child. Their concern about mak-

ing a wise choice is well-justi\ue000ed. The United

States once had the largest and best network of Catholic colleges in the world. Millions of Catholic men and women for much of our his- tory received a coherent, faithful education

Finding God on a Catholic Campus
Father C. John McCloskey III

and formation, preparing them to form fami- lies, serve God, Church, society and country and to value their roles as father or mother, husband or wife above wealth, pleasure or

personal realization. These Catholic colleges
were sta\ue002ed by tens of thousands of dedi-
cated men and women, clerical, religious and
lay, to whom great glory and credit are due.

Over the last 40 years, in large part due to an eagerness to assimilate, most Catholic colleges and universities have thrown away their heritage, traditions and truth claims, re- sulting in a loss of an understanding of their mission. Pope Benedict XVI, in a June 2007

address in Rome, described our present \u201cedu-
cational emergency\u201d as \u201cinevitable\u201d
in a culture which too o\ue005en makes relativism

its creed. In such a society the light of truth is missing; indeed, it is considered dangerous\u2026 to speak of truth, and the end result is doubt about the goodness of life and the validity of the relationships and commitments that constitute it. Hence, education tends to be re-

duced to the transmission of speci\ue000c abilities

or capacities for doing, while people endeavor to satisfy the new generation\u2019s desire for hap- piness by showering them with consumer

goods and transitory grati\ue000cation. Thus, both

parents and teachers are easily tempted to ab- dicate their educational duties and no longer even understand what their role, or rather the mission entrusted to them, is.

That mission, as Pope John Paul II told
American bishops in 1998, is \u201cthe integral for-
mation of students, so that they may be true
to their condition as Christ\u2019s disciples and as
Finding God on a Catholic Campus
The Newman Guide
such work e\ue002ectively for the evangelization
of culture and for the common good of soci-
ety.\u201d The key word is \u201cintegral\u201d: the formation

of the whole human person. Formation, of course, covers lots of ground. It is clear, how- ever, that university education cannot simply

be a ma\ue006er of transmi\ue006ing knowledge, but of
transforming the whole personality through
a lived assent to the truths of Revelation.

The primary way for the Catholic univer- sity to help undergraduates is by means of a liberal arts education in the Western tradi- tion. Through this education, students can learn to think, reason and communicate as

adults in such a way that they can ful\ue000ll their

vocations as parents of Catholic families who will make Christ and his Church present in the wider secular world of work, social activ- ity and friendship.

Today, however, with notable exceptions,
\u201ccollege\u201d has largely become at best a place

for excellent pre-professional training and at worst an extended and expensive four-year vacation from reality. The great majority of college students today cannot articulate why they are studying, other than vague referenc-

es to career or \u201cservice to humanity.\u201d Their
uncertainty and confusion re\ue001ect the lack of

clear vision on the part of educational institu- tions themselves, which mirrors the prevail- ing culture marked by secularism, utilitari- anism and relativism.

What remains is an atmosphere where
power, physical a\ue006ractiveness, sexual con-

quests, leisure time, economic security and the amassing of wealth are the underlying, if unarticulated, goals of life. A relatively few

young men and women are capable, a\ue005er
some re\ue001ection, of understanding that they

are living in a polluted atmosphere, and that holiness, commitment, marriage and family, truth, character and virtue should be the ends of an integral education.

Under these circumstances, how does one
\ue000nd a Catholic college that o\ue002ers a coherent,
faithful education and formation?
Check with the Church
A good \ue000rst place to look for basic criteria is

the Church herself. Pope John Paul II laid out what the Church expects of institutions that label themselves Catholic in Ex corde Ecclesi-

ae. You will \ue000nd this document reprinted in
the pages of thisGui d e; read it, and then ap-
ply it to the colleges you research. In Ex corde
Ecclesiae, the Church applies her perennial

wisdom to the contemporary scene and pro- vides a sure guide for distinguishing private whimsy from authentic teaching regarding

the university. A\ue005er all, it was the Church
that gave birth to the university.
At the heart of a truly Catholic university
will be a sound theology department, since
the Catholic Church recognizes theology as
the \u201cQueen\u201d of sciences. Apart from consid-

erations of academic competence, parents and prospective students need to determine the all-important question of the theology department\u2019s loyalty to the teaching author- ity of the Church. The majority of Catholic colleges have a two- or three-course require- ment in theology for its undergraduates, who presumably will consider the teaching of their professors as authoritative. Sometimes it

is di\ue003cult to ascertain what type of theology
is taught at any given school.
Ask the authorities if the criteria of the
\u201cInstruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of
the Theologian\u201d of the Congregation for the

Doctrine of the Faith have been applied to its theology faculty, and if they have taken the oath required of them. A list of the on-cam- pus speakers during the last academic year who dealt with themes concerning Catholic doctrine and morals would also be revealing.

Father C. John McCloskey III
The Newman Guide

Another investigative technique is to probe the knowledge of any recent graduate. A few pointed questions will quickly reveal what he knows and where he stands with regard to the Church and her teaching. Finally, if the

university harbors any well-known \u201cdissent-
er,\u201d the case is closed.
A Catholic university should have a phi-
losophy of education that emphasizes a well-

rounded liberal arts education centered on a core curriculum. Legitimate debate over the exact contents of a core curriculum is to be ex- pected, but certainly a well-rounded program of study of the Western intellectual and cul- tural tradition includes literature, philosophy and the arts. The university also must recog-

nize the existence of objective Truth and our
duty to submit to it. Without this a\ue003rmation

and the belief that our Faith has a truth-claim that is universal in its ambit, there simply cannot be any mission to carry that truth to others. Pope John Paul II made this point in a 1998 ad limina address:

The greatest challenge to Catholic education in the United States today, and the great con- tribution that authentically Catholic education can make to American culture, is to restore to that culture the conviction that human beings can grasp the truth of things, and in grasp- ing the truth can know their duties to God, to themselves, and their neighbors.\u2026The con- temporary world urgently needs the service of educational institutions that uphold and

teach that truth is \u201cthat fundamental value
without which freedom, justice, and human
dignity are extinguished.\u201d

A Catholic university should teach Cath- olic philosophy, building on the Thomistic foundation of moderate realism. How can a

student, or a professor for that ma\ue006er, engage
our neo-pagan, post-modern culture with-
out a \ue000rm grounding in metaphysics, episte-
mology and nature? Philosophy alone is not
enough, but it is indispensable as a prepara-
tion for theology.

Philosophy, theology and the liberal arts are all essential parts of a Catholic college ed- ucation. If the university views itself merely as a place that prepares students for a career rather than a place that prepares them for life and gives them a deep appreciation of knowl- edge as an end in itself in the natural sphere,

then it disquali\ue000es itself as anything other
than an academic supermarket.

Spend some serious time with the college catalogs of the schools you investigate. Exam- ine their educational philosophy along with their curriculum and requirements. Be sure to read the colleges\u2019 mission statements. The more you encounter words like belief, matu- rity, conviction, commitment, marriage, fam-

ily, evangelization, culture, character, truth
and knowledge, the closer you may wish to
continue looking.

An important concern for the Catholic stu- dent and family will be the emphasis on reli- gious practice and formation in a particular school\u2019s campus life. I am not referring here simply to religious statuary or saints\u2019 names on buildings, which may simply be relics of a bygone age. What percentage of the faculty is Catholic? What percentage practices their faith in the traditional sense? Does anyone on campus know or care? Do not underestimate the impact that fully formed and commit- ted Catholic faculty can have upon students.

Their in\ue001uence may easily dwarf that of the

Naturally, a college will be as Catholic as the people who direct it. If it is directed at least nominally by a religious congregation, what is its condition? Are there vocations? What percentage of the faculty is made up of mem- bers of the institute? Are they noted for their loyalty to the Church? Is there an openness to the variety of spirituality in the present-day

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