And what must they do to deserve that title? In "Catholic Higher Education: A Culture in Crisis," Melanie Morey and John Piderit describe the challenges facing Catholic education in ways that raise questions and offer insights not only into undergraduate institutions but also secondary schools. In a wide-ranging and meticulous study of Catholic colleges across the country, the authors take us through the many kinds of Catholic universities, their origins and histories and the various ways they try to be true to the religious inspiration that brought them into being.
Many factors contribute to making the Catholic character of colleges and high schools less and less recognizable. Most were founded by religious congregations of priests, sisters and brothers whose members were visible and influential in maintaining their Catholic identity. The greatly reduced numbers of these religious has seriously diminished their visibility and influence.
Theoretically, the laypersons who replaced them could carry on the mission, and many do. But many administrators admit that their colleges have weak Catholic cultures, and so might the heads of some Catholic high schools. One university president observed: "The Catholic culture and character of my institution are not at all thick on the ground.
Catholic Higher Education in Ruins
There are people for whom it is a nice thing, but it's not something that is meaningful to them. There are others for whom it is a nice feature in the environment, but it isn't really important for them. Other administrators complained that among their faculty "responses to things Catholic run the gamut from enthusiastic to hostile" and often admitted with frustration that "some of the folks that find it most difficult to support the mission are Catholics who are either not practicing or really have issues with the church.
There is one striking difference between Catholic colleges and high schools in the way they came to experience their crisis of religious identity. Many colleges in the '60s and '70s were reticent about things Catholic and almost were apologetic about them. Benedict, founded in , came closer together gradually over time, according to Hinton. Ultimately, the relationship was about giving up control. Rather than having to explain the importance of working together, the school has to do the opposite: explain why the schools aren't completely merging, she said.
When schools discuss their financial futures, they would do well to remember that everyone wants "some assurance that the deepest, most valuable things that matter will be cared for and shepherded," she said.
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It may end up being around dollars and cents. I would hope not, but it may," she added. It's just hard for people to hear when they've given decades of their lives. James, of Boston College, continues to imagine what he admits is likely a fantasy at the moment, of Catholic schools seeing themselves as a national collective, rather than competing.
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Is there an essential aspect of learning, a contribution that Catholic education makes, that is different and, more importantly, a positive addition to the education process? A Catholic education must enliven the head, but it also must transform the heart. For approximately years, beginning with the work of the Jesuits and their classical method of ratio studiorum , Catholic higher education largely served its clientele well, initially preparing future clergy and, later, a broader student constituency to be prepared in mind and heart to serve society at large and, in many cases, the Church specifically.
By the midth century, however, winds of change were clearly blowing and began to raise the roof of the Catholic higher education system. In , Msgr. John Tracy Ellis published a seminal article that berated Catholic higher education for its failure to produce any number of notable scholars. He claimed that because the efforts of Catholic educators were too fractured and splintered amongst a host of various colleges and universities, these institutions could not develop great scholarship.
The Second Vatican Council indirectly brought about significant changes in Catholic higher education through its strong promotion of the advanced role of the laity in the Church.
As a result, sponsoring religious communities had less control, leading to a diminution of Catholic identity. The elimination of in loco parentis , and the substitution of departments of religious studies for theology, were initially thought to be positive ways to move Catholic higher education forward. In a similar vein, the desire to lessen Catholic distinctiveness in the area of education, to be assimilated more into the mainstream with secular institutions, while bringing some needed and significant economic benefits, also moved Catholic colleges and universities away from their root purpose and function.
The process of canonical alienation, by which religious communities or local dioceses ceded control of the institution to a lay board of trustees, was even more problematic. These changes allowed Catholic colleges and universities to compete on a higher level academically, receive government funding, and find greater prestige within the scholarly community.
Additionally, the simultaneous turmoil present in United States society, at large, throughout the decade of the s, and the ramifications of the general trend toward secularism added significantly to the rupture in the fabric of Catholic higher education that remains today. In its long and proud history, Catholic higher education has made great strides, especially in the post-Vatican II era after , but progress has come with a heavy price.
The aforementioned canonical alienation brought about the most significant change, both positive and negative. Starting with Notre Dame and Webster College in , Catholic institutions of higher learning welcomed the laity, both men and women, to share in every avenue of this educational endeavor, but especially as administrators, professors, and members of the governing board. Their contributions have been invaluable in transforming Catholic education, allowing it to compete and stand equal to, or in many cases, above, similar non-faith based institutions.
One of the primary architects of this revolution in Catholic higher education was Fr. The statement published at that meeting suggests that Catholic schools are to be the best possible in providing a proper education for students today. The ramifications of the loss of Catholic identity are, indeed, multiple and significant. The historian of Catholic higher education, Sr.
Even more important, the Catholic tradition itself is sometimes taught from a dissenting standpoint, on the grounds that official dogma does not adequately reflect the modern human experience and, finally, because dogmatic claims themselves are simply unsustainable in the modern academy. The standard by which the university measures itself is not that of the larger Church, certainly not that of the hierarchy, but that of an intellectual community so ecumenical that it includes a preponderance of nonbelievers.
Even Fr. A Proposed Solution Education at a Catholic institution of higher education must be different than what is offered at secular, non-faith based institutions. We live in a highly secularized, first world environment in the United States, and the marks of what general society considers important are clear: power, wealth, and prestige. These have been, and always will be, the three great temptations of our world.
Matthew describes it best, offered something different. Rather than bending to these temptations, Jesus offered virtue. It is the mission of Catholic higher education collectively to say that, while the general goal of education — namely, to prepare young men and women to live productive lives in our society — is central, we can, and must do more. Indeed, what makes a Catholic college or university education different is its call to center education in a faith-based perspective.
Split of the Catholic University of Leuven
This certainly does not mean that all who participate in the endeavor need to be Roman Catholic, but fostering the mission is essential. Catholic institutions of higher learning call students to ask deep and profound questions about themselves and their world. Such an education must challenge students to go beyond what secular society says is most meaningful or relevant.