UST panelists explore the state of faith proclamation in Catholic universities
In 1885, Archbishop John Ireland founded what would become St. Thomas University, an archdiocesan university in St. Paul. Twenty years later, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, then led by Archbishop Ireland’s sister, Mother Seraphine Ireland, established what is now St. Catherine’s University, just a mile south of Saint Thomas.
The state of Catholic identity today, including the expression of Catholic values and the teaching of the Church, on these campuses and at other Catholic universities in the United States has been the subject of a recent round table at the UST.
Three panelists and several in the audience of students, faculty and alumni said that many institutions had failed to defend their Catholic identity, while the fourth panelist, UST Vice President for mission, suggested that action for the common good should precede attempts to share dogma.
“Unless you have the encounter with the person, specifically, in the person of Jesus, only then will other doctrines, ideas and moral principles, etc., begin to fall into place. said Jesuit Father Christopher Collins, as he hit back at others who fear Catholic universities such as St. Thomas have gone astray.
For nearly two hours at UST’s Owens Science Center on April 26, panelists and others aired their views on “What’s in a Name?” The Meaning of a Catholic University Today,” sponsored by the UST Alumni Group, the Roccasecca Project, and the university’s Office for Mission and Department of Catholic Studies.
Keynote speaker and panelist Father Wilson Miscamble of the Congregation of the Holy Cross, professor of history at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, said Pope John Paul II had established a “magna carta” for Catholic universities in its 1990 apostolic constitution “Ex Corde Ecclesiae”, which described institutions of higher learning as emerging from the heart of the Church and remaining an integral part, upholding faith and reason together.
“Given the perspective offered by the past three decades, an honest observer must conclude that ‘Ex Corde’ has not been adopted as a guide by most Catholic universities,” Fr. Miscamble said. “Major Catholic institutions of higher learning like Notre Dame have declined it as their ‘magna carta’.”
Too many Catholic universities have succumbed to academic fads and adapted to secular views of expressive individualism, utilitarianism and “variations of ‘woke’ progressivism,” he said.
Responding to Fr. Miscamble’s remarks, the panelists Fr. Collins; Anne Maloney, professor of philosophy at St. Catherine’s University; and Michael Naughton, director of the Center for Catholic Studies at UST.
Maloney said she came to a conclusion similar to Father Miscamble’s. “Our colleges are indeed religious colleges now, but religion is not Catholicism,” she said. “And the truth – which we all know in the trenches – is that it is a much more dogmatic religion than Catholicism ever was.”
“I think those of us who work and teach in our Catholic universities are perhaps a bit like those poor Japanese people who stayed in the woods for many years, not knowing that World War II was over and that ‘they lost,’ Maloney said. “I think this war could be over. And we lost.
Michael Naughton, director of the Center for Catholic Studies at UST, said Catholic universities are going through an identity crisis that stems from the broken relationship between faith and reason. When action exceeds contemplation, pragmatic and academic excellence can be achieved, but moral and spiritual integration can be lost, he said.
The challenges to building a true Catholic university are formidable, Fr. Miscamble said, including the Church’s loss of credibility in the clergy sex abuse scandal, the secularization of society, a growing corporate mentality , difficult demographics and financial constraints.
But signs of hope remain, he said, and UST’s Department of Catholic Studies is one of them. Founded in the early 1990s by the late Don Briel, the department offers degrees that integrate business, history, politics, literature, science, and other disciplines with Church teaching.
“Indeed, St. Thomas has been the site of much thought about what true Catholic education should entail,” said Father Miscamble, whose books include “For Notre Dame: Battling for the Heart and Soul of a Catholic University “, published in 2013. “And you have the wonderful foundation of Catholic studies and various other notable programs to build on.”
Reclaiming Catholic Identity
These building blocks are what the Roccasecca project, named after St. Thomas Aquinas’ hometown, hopes to capitalize on as the group of around 60 UST alumni and supporters encourage the university to ” fully recover his Catholic identity,” said Bill LeMire, 57. , former student and president of the group that hosts the evening.
The alumni group, which registered as a Catholic nonprofit two months ago, was founded about four years ago, LeMire said, by Father Spencer Howe, pastor of Holy Cross in Minneapolis. LeMire and others seek to invigorate the work of the group through receptions, speakers, debates, fellowship gatherings, prayer and the sacraments.
Questions from the audience indicated that some faculty members and students believe that UST has work to do in teaching and proclaiming Catholicism. A student asked, “What can we do to create a Catholic university where Catholics can really grow in their faith?
Father Collins quickly replied, “Bring all your friends to Mass, stack the retreats, join the choir. All the structures are there, he says. We need credible witnesses who will invite their friends, he said.
An audience member said that the UST has at times caused a scandal in its failure to teach and live the faith properly. A student asked what students can do to act when such scandals occur.
Father Miscamble suggested that strong arguments presented with respect can prevail. “Too many students, I think, who are serious Catholics” are programmed not to fight for their rights, he said. Students should let administrators know that “you came to St. Thomas because you thought it was a Catholic university. And you want Saint Thomas to keep its promises,” Fr. Miscamble said.
St. Catherine’s Maloney said faculty and staff should make it clear where students who “want to engage in the mission of a Catholic university” can go to receive food, care, and care.
“I have a warrant and I will fight these battles for you,” she said.
An audience member asked how people can express their views on leadership at UST in its search for a new president as Julie Sullivan, who became the university’s first layperson and first female president in 2013, leaves July 1 to become president of Santa Clara University in Santa Claire, California. Father Collins said there will be “countless, perhaps” open forums and listening groups for faculty, students and staff to weigh in on the research.
Watch the full event on the St. Thomas YouTube channel.
Universities and the local bishop
The relationship between US bishops and Catholic universities was briefly discussed at the April 26 forum at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, “What’s in a Name? The meaning of a Catholic university today”, in the presence of Bishop Bernard Hebda.
Under canon law, bishops have the right and duty to ensure that universities in their jurisdiction adhere to Catholic doctrine. Meeting and companionship opportunities could include having a local bishop speak on campus on various topics, said Fr. Wilson Miscamble, professor of history at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.
In response to a question from a participant about the relationship between bishops and universities, Bishop Hebda said from his seat in the audience that before March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic developed in Minnesota, it met about four times a year. with the president of the UST. Discussions were candid, and if there was a particularly difficult topic, members of the university’s board of trustees would join the meeting, he said.
The UST Faculty of Theology invites him once a year to hear about their research and discuss topics of interest, the Archbishop said. The presidents of UST and St. Catherine’s University in St. Paul are currently exploring topics where faith can be leveraged, the Archbishop said.
“It’s an ongoing process that takes time, that’s for sure,” the Archbishop said. “You are absolutely right, Father (Miscamble) that this is an important time when we also have opportunities for growth. I don’t know of any bishop who doesn’t think this is one of the most criticisms that are taking place in his Church, because it is so important on the lives of students, but also more broadly on the local Church. I am truly grateful that you have had this discussion tonight, and for the thought-provoking reflection . »
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