Consider the following observations made of two Catholic institutions of higher education:
- Institution #1: A tight-knit, faithful, truly family community, passionately devoted to the Catholic intellectual tradition.
- Institution #2: A secular school in a Catholic neighborhood.
Any guess which institution each describes?
The first is Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. The second is the University of Notre Dame (UND) in South Bend, Indiana.
These descriptions, published in Aleteia by Daniel McInerny--son of the UND professor of philosophy for five decades, Ralph McInerny--provide yet another wake up call for anyone who is alarmed at the hyper-secularization of U.S. Catholic higher education and the loss of what's called "Catholic identity."
McInerny's opinion piece follows on the heels of Peter Blatty's canon law petition. Blatty would like the Vatican to require Georgetown University to comply with Ex corde Ecclesiae...or else.
What's that "else" Blatty wants? That Georgetown relinquish its status as a Catholic and Jesuit institution.
Of Blatty's petition, McInerny writes, "Georgetown’s degeneration has reached a point in which the Catholic essence of the institution is in jeopardy."
In "jeopardy" suggests it may be possible to salvage that "Catholic essence." But McInerny isn't sanguine, writing:
Yet watching Notre Dame teeter from her former greatness has often
raised the question in my mind: when ought we to declare a Catholic
The essence of life in a Catholic university or college is that "ethos" thing, oftentimes called its Catholic "identity." Everybody--theological liberals and conservatives alike--knows exactly what that is. Whereas liberals define it in terms of Catholic universities and colleges being more like their secular peers, conservatives define it in more dogmatic terms.
In The Motley Monk's opinion, this dichotomy--"not faithful" and "faithful" institutions--deflects attention away from what is crucial--the institution's Catholic ethos--and the fact that when the Catholic ethos doesn't permeate every aspect of an institution's life, that institution--as Catholic--is dead and that fact should be recognized so the problems causing it can be rectified...or else.
For example, Blatty's canon law petition suggests the answer isn't found in institutional propaganda pointing to campus ministry or the requirement that all students take two semesters of theology and two semesters of philosophy.
Blatty is correct, of course. Campus ministry doesn't make an institution Catholic. After all, many Newman Centers located at the nation's public universities and colleges have for decades provided excellent programs of formation in the Catholic faith as well as sacramental ministry.
Neither does requiring all undergraduates to take two semesters of theology and two semesters of philosophy.
At Georgetown, for example, Blatty points to the low percentage of theology faculty who are Catholic. Yet, that's a false measure because it assumes that Catholic theologians are cut from the same cloth. Some of those Catholics teaching at Georgetown might satisfy Blatty. But, many would not.
Philosophy fares no better. According to Blatty:
And over in the philosophy department, where once we studied
logic, epistemology, cosmology and ontology in an effort to
intellectually defend Catholic beliefs, we now have the likes of
"Democracy and Star Trek."
But, why just theology and philosophy? Why not science, math, and economics, among other academic disciplines?
McInerny hints at the "essence" that makes institutions of higher education Catholic. Blatty is more concerned about what students are learning in classrooms that's Catholic. Yes, The Motley Monk concurs, both are essential.
But, they're not the "ethos" that those institutions are intended to transmit to students....or else they should no longer be allowed to promote themselves as Catholic universities or colleges.
Let the discussion begin...
To read Daniel McInerny's opinion piece in Aleteia, click on the following link:
To read about Peter Blatty's canon law petition, click on the following link: