The Value of a Catholic Education

Eileen Cubanski

As founder and executive director of NAPCIS, a national association of private schools committed to faithful Catholic education, and an educator for 42 years, I have long appreciated the special value of Catholic education. It is exciting to witness the revival of serious Catholic colleges, those institutions profiled in The Newman Guide. For many people, education—and most especially Catholic education—does not and should not end upon graduation from high school. The value of a Catholic education is most profoundly realized in post-secondary education, an essential stage in the formation of a mature Catholic mind. Catholic education forms the human person in right order with God; what is at stake is the very meaning of the human person. During the years of vital discernment, a young adult needs to involve the whole person, body and soul, marrying faith and reason in the pursuit of truth and in the governance of his education and future. A Catholic liberal arts education, during this crucial time in the formation of the person, is essential to understanding the unity of all truths. This is the special contribution of the Catholic intellectual tradition, which even for non-Catholic students ought to be an essential component of the study of Western culture—yet too often is entirely ignored at non-Catholic colleges. In addition to providing an essential foundation in the Catholic liberal arts, a faithful Catholic college helps the student under-

stand that knowledge learned in the pursuit of a specialized academic discipline does not conflict with faith. Instead that knowledge is enhanced and clarified by Catholic theology, and the student’s faith is deepened and enriched. According to the Vatican II declaration on Catholic education, “a true education aims at the formation of the human person in the pursuit of his ultimate end and of the good of the societies of which, as man, he is member, and in whose obligations, as an adult, he will share” (Gravissimum Educationis).

Treasure to Be Protected
Because of this, I am rightfully proud of my own 16-year Catholic education, which culminated in 1965 with my graduation from a Catholic college in the Northeast. Unfortunately, not everyone shares the Church’s appreciation of Catholic education—including, it seems, the current leadership of my alma mater. The contrast between what I experienced and what passes today as a Catholic college is striking. When I attended college, theology was a required study in every semester. Every class began with prayer. Mass and the Sacraments were available daily; the noon Mass, in fact, was always standing room only. Yearly retreats were required, sending the message loud and clear that prayer and contemplation were essential for proper Catholic formation and for maintaining a personal relationship with God. The entire campus life was a reminder of the school’s Catholic mission, from 41

The Newman Guide

The Value of a Catholic Education

the statuary and artwork displayed in every building, to the code of dress and behavior that held us all to the highest standards of virtue and morality. It was in my final-semester theology class, senior year, that I heard a statement which alarmed me and foreshadowed the changes to come. It was from the respected college’s chaplain and most-feared theology professor, who told us that, as Catholics, we had a responsibility to develop our own consciences independent of the Church’s moral teaching. The implication was clear. One’s conscience must be formed through learning and contemplation of Catholic teaching, and a Catholic education can be invaluable to this process. But my professor’s statement was a declaration of independence from Catholic teaching, rather than a call to fidelity. I was terribly naïve to the consequences of this novel idea (at least so it was to me), considering the cultural context of the 1960s. Little did I know, or possibly suspect, that the door to dissent was open, and the next few decades would witness the slippery slope of declining Catholic identity. At my alma mater, the course is complete. The college is now “Catholic” in name only. Notorious dissenters, such as Father Richard McBrien and Sister Joan Chittister, are invited guest speakers. Cultural programs include the yearly presentation of The Vagina Monologues. The list of commencement speakers is a “who’s who” of advocates for abortion and women’s ordination. Just as the wonderful nuns who founded the college decades ago eventually shed their habits, the college shed its Catholic identity and, with that, gave up its treasure. Although it consistently makes the U.S. News & World Report list of recommended colleges, it is also frequently cited by the Cardinal Newman Society for a lack of Catholic identity.

Victory of the Spirit
Is Catholic education everywhere in such a sad state? Absolutely not! Catholic education is thriving on all grade levels—elementary, secondary and post-secondary—but families have to choose schools and colleges carefully. In The Idea of a University, the Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman wrote that a college or university is “a place that teaches universal knowledge. ...Since knowledge is limited only by truth, if the Catholic faith is true, a university cannot exist externally to the Catholic place, for it cannot teach universal knowledge, if it does not teach Catholic theology. Hence a direct and active jurisdiction of the Church over it and in it is necessary, lest it should become the rival of the Church.” The crisis of Catholic colleges has been followed with great interest and concern in the last 40 years. There are Catholic colleges that declare and demonstrate their institution as founded on the principles as expressed in Ex corde Ecclesiae, the Apostolic Constitution on Catholic higher education, but identifying them can be difficult. This Guide will help. Parents must be just as vigilant in their process of review and selection of a Catholic college as they are in making choices about elementary and secondary education. Parents and their college-bound children must spend a lot of time in prayer, research and observation, and they should ask a lot of questions before making any decisions about a particular school. Can a Catholic student get a good education at a non-Catholic college? Sure, as far as it goes. But a Catholic college looks beyond learning a profession and preparing to be a good worker of the 21st century. It offers a more complete education, the free pursuit of truth. That is because a faithful Catholic colThe Newman Guide

42

Eileen Cubanski

lege or university teaches from the source of truth, which is Jesus Christ, and, therefore, possesses the fullness of truth. A Catholic college protects and nurtures a student’s faith. It rejects the disordered secular “theology” that posits man as the supreme being and deprograms a person’s faith from any part of daily life. Instead of compartmentalizing life and identifying himself by what he does and not who he is—so that he is a doctor, lawyer, teacher or parent who happens to be Catholic—a Catholic college prepares the student to be a Catholic doctor, a Catholic lawyer, a Catholic teacher or a Catholic parent. Fortunately the increasing variety of faithful Catholic colleges offers many options to students. It is one important sign of the “Springtime of Hope” in the Church of which Pope John Paul II spoke. Catholic education in all its venues—homes, elementary and secondary schools, colleges and universities— leads the renewed vitality in the Church and is the hope to restore all things to Christ in the Church and society. This could not be more important. The source of salvation is Jesus Christ, teaching us how to know, love and serve God through the Catholic Church. Catholic schools and colleges are the formal expression of the Church’s teaching mission.

Young people rely on Catholic education to teach not only the skills and knowledge that are necessary for responsible citizenship, but also the truths of the Catholic faith. By forming the hearts, minds and wills of students, Catholic education helps them discern their secular and religious vocations in life, witness to their faith in the world and pursue their ultimate end in Heaven. Catholic education is essential to the growth of the Church and is thriving with the Holy Spirit’s loving intervention. It is by Catholic education that He protects and preserves the Church. The Holy Spirit is in control within the Church to bring faithful Catholic education to every soul, from early childhood to aspiring adults ready to become the future leaders of the Church and society. For educators like me and those you will find at the colleges in The Newman Guide, all our successes and failures are cast in the shadow of the Cross. From the heart of the Church to the heart of our schools, we celebrate the activity of the Holy Spirit and our part as His instruments in Catholic education. We look to the Cross to show us most powerfully the vertical dimension to the tasks, challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for Catholic education. We can do no less than to help carry that Cross and share in the celebration of its ultimate victory—the salvation of souls.

The Newman Guide

43

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful