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The Scoop (April, 2009)

For the Catholic student, choosing the proper university has become a great peril for the soul. The University is intended to be the great agent that lifts the soul out of Plato’s deep, dark cave. For Cardinal Newman, “Education implies an action upon man’s moral nature, and the formation of character; it is something individual and permanent. It is connected with Religion and virtue.” Most Catholic universities today do not uphold to the true meaning of education, but barter it for complacency. On March 29th of the present year of our Lord, Notre Dame University, run by the Order of the Holy Cross, announced President Barack Hussein Obama had accepted its invitation to be the commencement speaker and to receive an honorary law degree. A man who seems most opposed to any objective moral nature concerning man’s wretched genocide of millions via abortion is not invited for dialogue concerning these issues, but laurelled for his legislative atrocities. On a separate occasion, President Obama spoke at the Jesuit run Georgetown University. During the ceremony, the symbols “IHS” within the auditorium were concealed. For “proper diplomatic” reasons, Georgetown cowered in a time when courage was most needed. America’s most prestigious Catholic universities are falling into the pits of recreancy.

For these reasons, the student is indeed at high risk, and is caused to have concerns for electing a university. These concerns range from orthodoxy on campus to the way a school is run internally. One concern worth deciphering is what kind of organization should run a University. Whether a lay institute or one run by an order, the operation of a Catholic University is most vital to the proper fruition of a Catholic education.

One of the most vital qualities of a university is the spiritual and intellectual community. The Pontiff John Paul II stated that “Catholic Universities are called to explore courageously the riches of Revelation and of nature so that the united endeavor of intelligence and faith will enable people to come to the full measure of their humanity” (Ex Corde Ecclesiae 5). This exploration through faith and reason calls for a certain kind of nurturing within the community. There is a necessary recognition for the common good. This is because “in keeping with the social nature of man, the good of each individual is necessarily related to the common good, which in turn can be defined only in reference to the human person.”  This most vital quality of the common good  is based on “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or individuals, to reach fulfillment more fully and easily” (CCC# 1905-06). This fulfillment is of the highest nature since it targets man’s highest faculties. It moves one to intellectual enlightenment by critical examination; it leads a student to fulfillment of vocation.

The student should question whether a lay university or a university run by an order can offer this kind of community. In terms of an order, it is possible for an order to bring hindrance to fulfillment. Orders follow a rule of life and bring a charism; a mold within the order. This charism brings a set spirituality. Yet, the university must be open minded to the

different spiritualities, temperaments, charisms, and ideas that should be fostered within an intellectual community. Can the spiritual life of the order provide nourishment to the groups and individuals of the university?

On the other hand, a lay institute is more free. There is not a set spirituality. The mission of the university will be established, but the openness of  spirituality is more susceptible towards the nourishment of the spiritual needs of the student. Spiritual retreats can be run by different orders. Different speakers are allowed more freely on the campus. Contemplative ideas of the most fitting spirituality for each individual seems to be fostered in this kind of community.

An order will also have different view on admission criteria. A student with a willingness and enthusiasm to join the order might be chosen over the student searching for intellectual and spiritual cultivation. An emphasis might be placed on third-order members. This different standard could create a single mindedness to charisms in community, thus neglecting any kind of nurture for different students with different spiritualities. Primacy by the order’s spirituality is inevitable. A strict order is usually an orthodox order. An order that abides by the principles of the order will produce more numbers. These principles abide by a rule which is rooted in the Gospel. Therefore, it would be detrimental to the common good of the order to placate the needs of a diverse, liberal community like that of the university rather than the needs of the order.

The secular institute would have a wider range in the admission criteria. Applicants who are well prepared and well rounded students would be the basis for acceptance. It would serve as a better refection of the Church writ large. A community with different ideas would be able to cultivate the student’s idea of the social nature of man. It would also bring a certain respect for the human person due to the different attitudes of the diverse Catholic student body. Diversity, though, does not mean accepting any spiritual attitude for the sake of it being desired, but only those that are indeed fruitful in the individual’s pursuit of the truth.

In this light, it seems that a laity run school is more fitting for an intellectual community within the university. Yet, it must be noted that the ideal of a Catholic university is not dependent on the administrative components, but the intellectual and spiritual. These pillars of the human being are the only combatants for the decay of the mind and soul. Whether the university is run by an orthodox order or the laity it must be in principle with the “formation of character.”  In today’s society, there is a refusal to see the deterioration. For the world, “It is time that this symptom of decadence were known for what it is,” says Allen Tate, “and not as enlightenment, ‘science,’ liberalism, and democracy” (Allen Tate Understanding Modern Poetry). There is a need for Catholic universities to purge themselves from the contagion of the world. A university should be purged of complacent college presidents willing to barter the ideal for expediency.

By Thomas Stearns

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