Virgin and Child with Saints Dominic and Thomas Aquinas

Resolved for New Year 2020: Teach the Faith

I love the six days between Christmas and New Year’s Day. The Son of God is with us! Now we get a short time to rev up our engines for the new year’s work of evangelization, as Christ commanded.

I propose three resolutions for the Year 2020, under a single theme of education. Why education? The confusion, irreverence, dissent, scandal and blasphemy that we find within the Church today—and the extraordinary challenges of secularism and sexual perversion in our culture—exhibit widespread embrace of falsehood. More than 2,000 years since Christ was born, too few people know the truth of God and his creation.

To help remedy this appalling situation, I pray that in 2020 the Church might finally break free of the dangerously limited notion of Catholic education as a particular system of schools accessed by a dwindling portion of young Catholics. Don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of truly Catholic schools! But they are one means of Catholic education—a favored means during the last two centuries, yet never the only means. The need for educating Catholics in truth and devotion is what takes precedence. Some schools, sadly, have even forgotten essential aspects of their mission, while increasingly Catholics are turning to print, broadcast and online resources as well as lay-run schools, homeschooling and innovative hybrid school-and-home options.

Catholic education is the task of formation in faith, truth and reason, and it is the Church’s primary method of evangelization. It is for all of us! Learning is growth, and teaching is key to three of the Spiritual Works of Mercy: instructing the ignorant, counseling the sorrowful and admonishing the sinner. All three works are desperately needed today.

Every Catholic adult is called to self-educate. Today we have many outstanding publishers of books, videos, software, websites and more. We have faithful Catholic media like EWTN and the Register. We have new and renewed colleges that provide faithful online and in-person instruction grounded in authentic theology.

For children, Catholic education is a solemn duty of every Catholic parent. If a child cannot be taught in a faithful Catholic school or homeschool, then the parent must find other ways of forming the child in the truths of the faith—not only doctrine, but reverent prayer and sacrament. And not only religion, but the great insights of our faith into every other branch of knowledge, including history, science and literature. And not only knowledge, but the skills of reasoning and communication—those uniquely human abilities that resemble God’s wisdom and loving Word.

If a school or CCD program fails to do the job adequately or a secular school is the only option, then a parent must find or create other means of Catholic education. It is as essential as providing food and shelter.

So for 2020, let us resolve to teach the truth of God and his creation to a world suffering from ignorance.

Resolution 1: Teach the Holy Eucharist

The Pew Research study released in 2019 found that only 31% of self-professed U.S. Catholics—26% under the age of 40—believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. A more recent EWTN-RealClear poll found that 49% of Catholics who are registered to vote believe in the Real Presence. Both results are devastating!

If the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith, then clearly a top priority must be Catholic education for both young people and adults, by teaching sound doctrine and forming Catholics in reverent liturgy and adoration.

This begins with parents and educators. Catholic homeschoolers have demonstrated a notable commitment to both daily and Sunday Mass, preparation for Mass through frequent confession, and Eucharistic adoration. But this should not set them apart—surely Catholic schools and colleges could be encouraging the same, yet most regard the sacraments as personal obligations that are extraneous to the job of education. Catholic schools and colleges should consider adding more frequent Masses, including at least some in the Extraordinary Form, with sacred music. They should provide opportunities for Eucharistic adoration and confession. They should teach students about the Eucharistic miracles.

Parents with children in secular schools need to make an extra effort to work liturgy and prayer into their daily schedule, as well as instruction in Catholic doctrine. But if these are high priorities, then they can be done.

Adults, too, need to be able to explain the Church’s authentic theology of the Eucharist and share the truth with each other. We can no longer assume that even our fellow Catholics know the truth. We must find ways to integrate contemplation of the Eucharist into our daily lives and into group activities.

Through catechesis and exposing fellow Catholics to beautiful and reverent liturgy, we can return Catholic education to its roots and renew faith. We have seen the tragic results of watered-down instruction and lackluster worship. Now we must aim for something better.

Resolution 2: Teach chastity

As our culture keeps going further off the rails, it is all the more important that Catholics uphold virtue and teach and practice chastity. Our witness to chastity can, I hope, bring about a renewal of the culture. It will certainly help preserve us and our young Catholics from grave sin.

Even in Catholic high schools and colleges, the hook-up culture is well-documented and the rates of sexual activity and assault are alarming. These are associated with the mortal sins of contraception, sterilization and abortion, as well as an epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases. Even before high school and throughout adolescence and adulthood, Catholics are faced with the temptation of online pornography and explicit sexuality and violence in movies and television shows.

Teaching chastity in a culture that is downstream from the Sexual Revolution is not easy, but it begins with simple practices and precautions within our Catholic homes, schools and colleges. Make an effort in 2020 to frequently speak the words “near occasion of sin,” an essential point of Christian ethics that seems to have been forgotten or even rejected by many Catholics today. Avoidance of temptation is the reason Catholics once chaperoned activities, dressed modestly, and associated dating with the seriousness of marriage—let’s do it again.

Some practical steps can be taken to build a home or school culture that projects an assumption of chastity. Members of the opposite sex should not be entertained in bedrooms or in any room with a closed door, and Catholic colleges could help set the example by restoring appropriate campus dorm policies. Monitor internet usage and filter pornography from Wi-Fi networks; again, some Catholic colleges are already leading the way.

Resolution 3: Put truth back into education

One factor in the decline of faith over recent decades is the declining respect for truth. When was the last time you heard someone state a proposition—an opinion or claim of some sort—and back it up with sound evidence and reasoning? It is rare, and I suspect that most people today are afraid to try.

Developing strong reasoning skills used to be central to a Catholic education, probably because we expected young people to cogently analyze great literature, explain history and learn difficult theological concepts as taught by Augustine and Aquinas. Today, schools tend to emphasize facts and figures, but young people often lack the wit and wisdom of their grandparents.

Moreover, most Catholics have had a secular education—many never setting foot in a Catholic school or college, others attending Catholic institutions that provided a rather secular program. Not only were they not well-formed in doctrine, prayer and sacrament, but they never gained the insights of our faith into every other study.

If a young Catholic is not formed in truth, then we have failed to educate. Providing a truly Catholic education and fostering skills of reasoning are difficult outside of a Catholic program, but they can be done with great effort by the parents. Immediately, however, we need lukewarm Catholic schools and colleges to step up and show the way—to present the ideal so others can follow. Everything that a Catholic school or college does should reflect its Catholic identity, from its hiring practices and human sexuality policies to its curriculum and library book choices.

In 2020, Catholics should resolve to no longer accept mediocre education. Together we should demand truly faithful education with classical approaches to learning and formation. Simply resolving to make truthful education a top priority, whatever our state in life, would help turn our gaze to God and his magnificent creation. It would refocus our lives to the perfection that God wills for us, by his grace and mercy.

Please pray throughout the next year for the intercession of St. John Henry Newman, himself a great educator and advocate for faithful Catholic education. His desire was that the Catholic laity would seek truth with vigor and hold to truth with devotion. May God grant such wisdom in us, and bless us all throughout the year.

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.

Archbishop Sheen

Archbishop Sheen’s Idea of Education

This article by Patrick Reilly, President and Founder of The Cardinal Newman Society, was published at The National Catholic Register prior to the unexpected delay of Venerable Fulton Sheen’s beatification (originally planned for Dec. 21). Please continue to pray for his Cause for sainthood.

Education should teach us the “truth about man,” said Archbishop Fulton Sheen. A graduate of and longtime professor at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., before he was a television celebrity, Sheen should inspire Catholics to seek out authentic education.

For 23 years, Sheen taught courses such as “Philosophy of Religion” and “God and Society” at Catholic University, making frequent use of Caldwell Chapel on campus. After teaching, he moved into television and radio programs, reaching greater numbers—even until today—with his wisdom, wit and unparalleled teaching ability.

One of his former students, Father William Amann, said that Sheen’s strong faith was obvious in the classroom. “He was a very holy man and it came out certainly in the presentation of his class. His holiness was evident in his demeanor and the classes he gave, his belief in God, and his trust in the Lord.”

For Sheen, education was about training the “whole man—the intellect and will, not just the mind alone.” Related to the intellect, he described the educated person as one who will do three things: “seek truth,” have a “correlation of studies” and have “depth, particularly the deepening of mystery.”

For the first, Sheen urged that the “one basic truth we have to learn is the truth of our own existence.” He lamented that people live years of their lives without learning “why they are here, and where they are going.”

“When life is meaningless, it is very dull,” Sheen continued. “When you know the truth of life, then you are most free.”

On the second point, the correlation of studies refers to the idea that “there are certain subjects that ought to be regarded as essential, so that a man will be truly educated.” The tendency in education, Sheen explained, was to use the “shelf theory” and “take any course that you please.” This leads to a “disconnected and disjointed” understanding.

The “really educated man sees a relationship between various branches of knowledge,” said Sheen, urging against “overspecification” in universities. A well-rounded curriculum “will teach a man how to… know himself, know society, know his relationship to the universe, and above all, he will understand his relationship to God.”

Finally, a truly educated person will have a “philosophy of life that is solid” and will “deepen the mystery of things” rather than centering studies around various fads that come and go.

Sheen’s thoughts on education may sound lofty in our nation today, where many colleges, even Catholic ones, have become focused solely on job training. They lack the formation that Sheen insisted upon. Many colleges promote relativism, fail to provide a meaningful foundation in the liberal arts, and leave students empty and unprepared for life.

Sheen explains how a strong Catholic education can make life worth living. If families look carefully, they can find strong Catholic schools and colleges that are worthy of a saint.

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.

Catholics Should Be Wary of ‘Elite’ Colleges

Lately we’ve been hearing about a college admissions scandal and FBI raids of parents’ homes. But Catholic families may be being cheated by an even bigger fraud.

The news is abuzz about indicted celebrities who abused the power of their wealth to get children into prestigious colleges, ahead of deserving students. It’s a classic American scandal, pitting the wealthy against the little guy.

But there’s more to it than that. “If education is what the beast says it is, a mere means to the end of greater wealth and prestige, then what these parents did makes perfect sense,” writes scholar Benjamin Myers at First Things. “…Many of those outraged by the behavior of these celebrity parents share the foundational assumptions that make sense of such actions—that the point of education is not to ‘get wisdom,’ in the words of Proverbs, but to gain prestige. The parents who bribed their kids’ way into college were just feeding the beast, the same as everybody else.”

In other words, Catholic families who aspire for their children to attend college to obtain a ticket to success instead of forming their minds, hearts and spirits are missing the point of college—at least what the Church deems worthy of young Catholic students.

More than the bribery scandal, the greater fraud in American academia is the pretense that “elite” colleges still have the value they had just a lifetime ago, let alone the value that the great universities had centuries ago. For many big-name universities today, their reputations were built in another time and on another sort of education.

Modern secular education

To be sure, elite universities offer many advantages to their students. They are able to hire brilliant professors, sometimes including prominent Catholics like Robert George at Princeton and Mary Ann Glendon at Harvard. They often have vast resources for research, facilities, libraries, etc. And a diploma from an elite institution can be a ticket to wealth, success and distinction.

These are valuable in their own right, and there are many factors in choosing a college that may lead a student to attend a secular institution—or worse, a corrupted and highly secularized Catholic institution. But Catholics need to be aware and highly cautious about the rest of the baggage that comes with most of modern higher education—especially our “prestigious” universities.

Today many are dominated by identity politics and political correctness, instead of rational dialogue and reasoned argument. Studies tend to be either career-centered, with an emphasis on practical training, or narrow and biased distortions of the liberal arts. The campus life is morally toxic and frequently corrupts the souls of students.

Most important, they lack Christianity. In our secular age, it’s understandable that most students don’t value the insights of Christianity on science, history, the arts and humanity. But Catholic families should value them above all.

Newman’s vision

Blessed John Henry Newman, the 19th-century theologian and educator who will be canonized later this year, argued rightly that the only complete college is a faithfully Catholic one. That’s because higher education should be open to all truth and committed to integrating all truth—thus the word “university.”

At a faithfully Catholic college, the knowledge that is revealed to us by Christ and His Church rightly informs every other branch of study, makes it richer, and opens our eyes to greater understanding. A college that rejects and excludes Christian truth is a lesser college.

Higher education should not be focused primarily on accumulating facts and skills, although that’s the emphasis of most college learning today. Newman said he didn’t care much what subjects a student studied, as long as he learned to reason well, organized and prioritized knowledge, solved problems, and acquired wisdom.

And a higher education is not just about academics—it’s about forming young people to fulfill everything that God desires for them, to become more fully human. A faithful Catholic college like those recommended in The Newman Guide teach not only wisdom but also virtue, and they form students in the Faith and the Sacraments. They attend to campus life outside the classroom and lead students on the path to holiness. This is not contrary to learning, but central to it.

Sadly, many of the elite Catholic colleges like those involved in the admissions scandals—Georgetown University and the University of San Diego—have moved away from this sort of valuable education, even while resting their reputations on the excellent education that they once provided.

Even the Ivy League institutions once understood the value of a faithful, integrated education. Did you know that most Ivy League universities began as Christian institutions? For decades now, they have compromised their original mission, yet they retain their prestige in the eyes of the world.

A faithful Catholic college… now that’s an education worth reaching for! But don’t try bribing admissions officials to get in.

This article was originally published at the National Catholic Register.

Are Jesuits Proud of Their Pro-Abortion Alumni?

As the 116th Congress began in January, the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU) trumpeted the surprising fact that more than 10 percent of the U.S. Congress—55 of 535 members in the House and Senate—graduated from American Jesuit institutions.

But in their widely reported press release, the Jesuit educators also displayed a callous disregard for the moral formation of these graduates, most of whom actively work against the Church on today’s most important human rights issue: the right to life.

Upon reading news reports about the Jesuit alumni in Congress, my immediate question on Twitter (@NewmanSocPres) was almost reflexive: “Are they pro-life?”

I don’t really expect them to be, given the direction of Jesuit higher education and the many pro-abortion scandals on their campuses, including the recent lecture by an abortionist touting the Christian virtue of his practice at Georgetown University. But of what value is Catholic education if its graduates are not formed well in faith and morals, the most basic of which is respect for life? Could we at least expect that from highly secularized but officially Catholic colleges?

Moreover, it seems strange that even the most faithful Catholic news media didn’t evaluate the voting records of these alumni before touting the 10 percent-in-Congress statistic as—it probably seemed to most readers—good news for Catholics and a reason to attend Jesuit colleges.

It’s not good news! And it’s yet another piece of evidence that these colleges are having a detrimental impact on society instead of advancing Catholic thought and culture.

Pro-abortion voting records

I reviewed the voting records of the 55 Jesuit-educated senators and representatives using the pro-life scorecard published by National Right to Life (NRLC). If we combine NRLC scores for the 115th Congress (2017-2018) and the 114th Congress (2015-2016) for the 47 Jesuit college alumni who voted in one or both of those years, then we find that only eight of them voted pro-life 100 percent of the time. (God bless them!)

On the other hand, 36 of the alumni had NRLC scores of zero. That means that they voted 100 percent of the time against pro-life objectives.

Three others had mixed records:

Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska managed to get a 44 percent pro-life rating, largely because she voted to confirm Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. But Murkowski voted against the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (prohibiting abortions before 20 weeks of gestation) and supported funding for Planned Parenthood.

Sen. Robert Casey of Pennsylvania scored just 18 percent. He supported the 20-week ban, but he repeatedly voted for Planned Parenthood funding.

Congressman Henry Cuellar of Texas had a mixed record of 43 percent. He claims to be pro-life but opposed efforts to reduce funding to Planned Parenthood.

Seven of the alumni are new to the House of Representatives and had no voting record in the last two Congressional sessions. But according to statements made during their campaigns, it appears that five strongly support legalized abortion and only two are pro-life:

Gil Cisneros (California): As a candidate, Cisneros strongly defended “women’s right to choose” and funding for Planned Parenthood.

Greg Pence (Indiana): The Catholic brother of Vice President Mike Pence ran for Congress on a pro-life platform.

Mikie Sherrill (New Jersey): Endorsed by the abortion lobby NARAL, Sherrill said she was “proud to stand with NARAL and the work they do to protect the rights of women.”

Xochitl Torres Small (New Mexico): The former Planned Parenthood employee supports funding for abortion and even opposes limits on late-term abortions.

Greg Stanton (Arizona): While mayor of Phoenix, Stanton urged Congress to fund Planned Parenthood and co-chaired a fundraiser for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona.

Bryan Steil (Wisconsin): The pro-life candidate was endorsed by Wisconsin Right to Life.

Lori Trahan (Massachusetts): Candidate Trahan vowed to fight “bans on abortion, bans on private and public insurance coverage of abortion, and the frequent attempts to regulate abortion providers out of existence.”

These campaign positions were upheld last month, when the U.S. House voted to overturn President Trump’s ban on foreign aid to pro-abortion organizations. Only Pence and Steil voted against it, while the other five Jesuit college alumni who are new to Congress voted for it.

Delegate Stacey Plaskett, another of the Jesuit college alumni, is a nonvoting House member from the Virgin Islands and has no voting record. But last year, Plaskett made a commitment to NARAL to fight to keep abortion legal across the United States.

Not ashamed?

The final tally: only 10 of the 55 Jesuit college alumni are clearly pro-life, 42 are strongly pro-abortion, and three have mixed records that are unworthy of anyone who had a Catholic education.

If the Jesuits think that their 10 percent representation in Congress is so significant as to warrant public celebration, then why are they not ashamed that 82 percent of those alumni oppose the Church on such important issues as abortion and taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood?

Or to put it another way: Why does secular prestige appear to be more important to the Jesuit colleges than the slaughter of innocent babies?

Below is the tally for the Jesuit college alumni, with details from the AJCU:

Sen. John Barrasso (WY) – NRLC rating 100
B.A. Georgetown U. (1974), M.D. Georgetown U. (1978)

Sen. Robert P. Casey, Jr. (PA) – NRLC rating 18
B.A. Coll. of the Holy Cross (1982)

Sen. Richard J. Durbin (IL) – NRLC rating 0
B.S.F.S. Georgetown U. (1966), J.D. Georgetown U. (1969)

Sen. Mazie Hirono (HI) – NRLC rating 0
J.D. Georgetown U. (1978)

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (VT) – NRLC rating 0
J.D. Georgetown U. (1964)

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (NV) – NRLC rating 0
J.D. Gonzaga U. (1990)

Sen. Edward J. Markey (MA) – NRLC rating 0
B.A. Boston Coll. (1968), J.D. Boston Coll. (1972)

Sen. Robert Menendez (NJ) – NRLC rating 0
B.A. Saint Peter’s U. (1976)

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (AK) – NRLC rating 44
B.A. Georgetown U. (1980)

Sen. Gary Peters (MI) – NRLC rating 0
M.B.A. U. of Detroit Mercy (1984)

Sen. Dan Sullivan (AK) – NRLC rating 100
J.D.-M.S.F.S. Georgetown U. (1993)

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Jr. (MD) – NRLC rating 0
J.D. Georgetown U. (1990)

Rep. Vern Buchanan (FL) – NRLC rating 100
M.B.A. U. of Detroit Mercy (1986)

Rep. David Cicilline (RI) – NRLC rating 0
J.D. Georgetown U. (1986)

Rep. Gil Cisneros (CA) – elected 2018
M.B.A. Regis U. (2002)

Rep. Henry Cuellar (TX) – NRLC rating 43
B.S.F.S. Georgetown U. (1978)

Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (CT) – NRLC rating 0
B.A. Marymount Coll. (now part of Fordham U.) (1964)

Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (CA) – NRLC rating 0
B.A. Coll. of the Holy Cross (1974)

Rep. Debbie Dingell (MI) – NRLC rating 0
B.S.F.S. Georgetown U. (1975), M.A.L.S. Georgetown U. (1998)

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (NE) – NRLC rating 100
M.P.P. Georgetown U. (1986)

Rep. Lois Frankel (FL) – NRLC rating 0
J.D. Georgetown U. (1973)

Rep. Mike Gallagher (WI) – NRLC rating 100
M.A. Georgetown U. (2012 & 2013), Ph.D. Georgetown U. (2015)

Rep. Paul Gosar (AZ) – NRLC rating 100
B.S. Creighton U. (1981), D.D.S. Creighton U. (1985)

Rep. Trey Hollingsworth (IN) – NRLC rating 100
M.P.P. Georgetown U. (2014)

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (MD) – NRLC rating 0
J.D. Georgetown U. (1966)

Rep. Jared Huffman (CA) – NRLC rating 0
J.D. Boston Coll. (1990)

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (WA) – NRLC rating 0
B.A. Georgetown U. (1986)

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (NY) – NRLC rating 0
M.P.P. Georgetown U. (1994)

Rep. William Keating (MA) – NRLC rating 0
B.A. Boston Coll. (1974), M.B.A. Boston Coll. (1982)

Rep. Ann McLane Kuster (NH) – NRLC rating 0
J.D. Georgetown U. (1984)

Rep. Ted Lieu (CA) – NRLC rating 0
J.D. Georgetown U. (1994)

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (CA) – NRLC rating 0
J.D. Santa Clara U. (1975)

Rep. Stephen Lynch (MA) – NRLC rating 0
J.D. Boston Coll. (1991)

Rep. Gwen Moore (WI) – NRLC rating 0
B.A. Marquette U. (1978)

Rep. Stephanie Murphy (FL) – NRLC rating 0
M.S.F.S. Georgetown U. (2004)

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (NY) – NRLC rating 0
J.D. Fordham U. (1978)

Rep. Jimmy Panetta (CA) – NRLC rating 0
J.D. Santa Clara U. (1996)

Rep. William J. Pascrell, Jr. (NJ) – NRLC rating 0
B.A. Fordham U. (1959), M.A. Fordham U. (1961)

Rep. Greg Pence (IN) – elected 2018
B.A. Loyola U. Chicago (1979), M.B.A. Loyola U. Chicago (1983)

Delegate Stacey Plaskett (VI) – nonvoting member
B.S.F.S. Georgetown U. (1988)

Rep. Michael Quigley (IL) – NRLC rating 0
J.D. Loyola U. Chicago (1989)

Rep. Francis Rooney (FL) – NRLC rating 100
B.A. Georgetown U. (1975) , J.D. Georgetown U. (1978)

Rep. Robert C. Scott (VA) – NRLC rating 0
J.D. Boston Coll. (1973)

Rep. Mikie Sherrill (NJ) – elected 2018
J.D. Georgetown U. (2007)

Rep. Albio Sires (NJ) – NRLC rating 0
B.A. Saint Peter’s U. (1974)

Rep. Xochitl Torres Small (NM) – elected 2018
B.A. Georgetown U. (2007)

Rep. Adam Smith (WA) – NRLC rating 0
B.A. Fordham U. (1987)

Rep. Greg Stanton (AZ) – elected 2018
B.A. Marquette U. (1992)

Rep. Bryan Steil (WI) – elected 2018
B.S. Georgetown U. (2003)

Rep. Tom Suozzi (NY) – NRLC rating 0
B.S. Boston Coll. (1984), J.D. Fordham U. (1989)

Rep. Lori Trahan (MA) – elected 2018
B.A. Georgetown U. (1995)

Rep. Juan C. Vargas (CA) – NRLC rating 0
M.A. Fordham U. (1987)

Rep. Filemon Vela (TX) – NRLC rating 0
B.A. Georgetown U. (1985)

Rep. Peter J. Visclosky (IN) – NRLC rating 0
L.L.M. Georgetown U. (1982)

Rep. Peter Welch (VT) – NRLC rating 0
A.B. Coll. of the Holy Cross (1969)

This article was first published at the National Catholic Register.

rosary and books

Hope Emerges after the Devastation of Land O’Lakes

Editor’s Note: The Cardinal Newman Society is releasing several articles marking the 50th anniversary of the devastating Land O’Lakes Statement, in which several Catholic university leaders declared Catholic universities independent from “authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical, external to the academic community itself”. In considering the future of Catholic education, it’s impossible to ignore the past. “How did we get here?” is a question essential to determining how many American Catholic colleges and universities can overcome their conformity to secular norms for curriculum, campus life, governance, and academic freedom. Ultimately, these articles serve as hope that the mistakes of the past can be corrected and that God will bless the renaissance of faithful Catholic education in the United States that is underway.

This article was originally published in The Enduring Nature of the Catholic University, a collection of essays released by The Cardinal Newman Society in 2009. 

On July 23, 1967, at a meeting in Land O’Lakes, Wisconsin, twenty-six leaders of Catholic higher education representing some ten Catholic colleges and universities in the United States of America issued what became known as the Land O’Lakes Statement. This statement, officially titled “The Nature of the Contemporary University,” declared that:

The Catholic University today must be a university in the full modern sense of the word, with strong commitment to and concern for academic excellence. To perform its teaching and research function effectively, the Catholic University must have a true autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical, external to the academic community itself. To say this is simply to assert that institutional autonomy and academic freedom are essential conditions for life and growth and indeed of survival for Catholic universities as for all universities.1

Although the few Catholic educators who signed this Land O’Lakes Statement had no mandate to speak for Catholic higher education, their Statement nevertheless turned out to be surprisingly influential, and for many years it enjoyed near “official” status as describing what many had come to think the Catholic university ought to be today. The Statement both articulated some of the reasons for and encouraged the rapid secularization that was taking place on many Catholic college and university campuses from the late 1960s on. For the next few decades, the Catholic identity of many Catholic colleges and universities was either ravaged or, in most cases, simply regarded as a very low priority.

It now appears that the long winter has given way to an emergent but reliable thaw. It began with Pope John Paul II and his 1990 apostolic constitution Ex corde Ecclesiae,2 although at the time one could hardly have expected positive results, given the immediate, out-of-hand rejection of the Vatican’s expectations by many Catholic educators. It was confirmed by Pope Benedict XVI in his address to educators at The Catholic University of America on April 17, 2009, which this book commemorates.  Although the hard work of renewing authentic Catholic identity at many of America’s institutions remains undone, the Holy Father was clearly aware that the time was right to present a vision for Catholic higher education that moves far beyond the minimal expectations of Ex corde Ecclesiae.  It was a clear signal of the progress that has been made in nearly twenty years—in no small part due to the example of those colleges and universities that stayed true to the Church, as well as the attention of the Vatican and the U.S. bishops to the need for education reform.

But the times were much different in 1967, and the signers of the Land O’Lakes Statement very likely believed they had established a new, permanent direction for Catholic higher education. The Statement represented a virtual declaration of independence from the Church for those institutions that came to accept it. Unfortunately, many Catholic colleges and universities did come to accept it, especially in and through the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU). They accepted it because it justified many of the measures they were taking to secularize their institutions by modifying or dropping many features that had formerly marked an institution as “Catholic.”

The principal idea behind the Land O’Lakes Statement lay in its assertion that the Catholic university must be a university “in the full modern sense of the word.” The leaders of what amounted to an institutional revolt by them against the Catholic Church saw themselves as adopting a modern, secular “model” of a university as the only model of what it was to be a university. If an institution was not such a modern, secularized university, then the implication was that it was not a true university at all. Being relegated to this status was not a fate most Catholic educators wanted to risk.

While the Catholic Church beginning in medieval times had encouraged the founding of the first universities and, indeed, in a true sense could be said to have actually “invented” the very idea of a university, those days were long ago and no longer counted. What those who accepted the Land O’Lakes Statement apparently wanted was full acceptance by the American secular academic establishment. They wanted to be accepted as being on a par with secular institutions, without the baggage, as they considered it, of any odd or embarrassing or moralistic “Catholic” encumbrances. Certainly it was thought that there was no way any truly “modern” university could continue to be “subservient” to an authoritarian Church, for example.

From that day to this, the administrations and faculties of most Catholic institutions, hewing to the Land O’Lakes line, have consistently played down or eschewed specific Catholic  policies, practices, or commitments seen as incompatible with the modern secular institutional model. At the same time, they have continued to insist that they are still fully “Catholic.” According to them, their Catholic identity was in no way attenuated or diminished just because, for example, they dropped prayers or chapel requirements, removed crucifixes from classroom walls, abandoned the idea that a critical mass of the faculty ought to profess the Catholic faith, ceased attempting to teach academic subjects in the light of Catholic truth, and eschewed acting in loco parentis as far as their students were concerned.

What everybody had formerly understood to be Protestant “private judgment” was now suddenly taken by the Land O’Lakers to be some new kind of “Catholic” norm: they would henceforth decide, not the Church, what rightly belonged to Catholic higher education, and what could conveniently be downgraded or dropped.

They also continued to belong to the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities as if nothing were amiss in the way of their Catholic identity. The ACCU leadership, meanwhile, over many years, itself followed and championed the Land O’Lakes line and steadily opposed all episcopal or Roman efforts to reinforce or restore policies or practices deemed essential by the Church to an authentic Catholic identity.

One of the principal reasons for the almost instant wide acceptance of the Land O’Lakes Statement within Catholic higher education was the idea that the Statement had ostensibly derived from secular American academic practice, namely, that to be a university in the true sense a school must enjoy “institutional autonomy” and “academic freedom.” However, the near absolutist way in which these two features had come to be understood by most Catholic educators made it difficult if not impossible for the Church to require any real Catholic discipline or to guarantee the integrity of her teachings as presented by theological and other faculties.

As for “institutional autonomy,” properly understood, it is an essential characteristic of any true institution of higher learning, and the Church strongly affirms it; she does not claim, and has never claimed, that universities must be directly operated or managed as a part of or within the Church’s own structure. But it is false that modern secular American universities enjoy the kind of total independence from any authority “external to the academic community itself” which the Land O’Lakes Statement implies they enjoy. American colleges and universities are subject to and regularly answer to a myriad of “authorities” external to themselves, whether federal, state, or local laws and ordinances pertaining to higher education, or the requirements of boards of trustees or regents, accrediting agencies, scholarly, scientific, professional, athletic, faculty, and alumni associations and societies, not to speak of the often stringent requirements imposed on them by legislatures, foundations, and other funding agencies. Secular modern American universities typically today even “answer to” outside “politically correct” pressure groups. So there was never anything inappropriate about independent Catholic institutions answering to Catholic authority insofar as the universities claim a Catholic identity and teach in accord with Catholic doctrine.

As for “academic freedom,” the Catholic Church affirms it when properly understood—although the Church does insist that academic freedom “must be preserved within the confines of truth and the common good” (Ex corde Ecclesiae, 12). Yet the signers of and adherents to the Land O’Lakes Statement appear to understand the term as the near absolute right claimed today by many secular academics. The description of it in the Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences is often cited as authoritative: “Academic freedom is the freedom of the teacher or research worker in higher institutions of learning to investigate and discuss the problems of his science and to express his conclusions, whether through publication or in the instruction of students, without interference from political or ecclesiastical authority” (emphasis added).

This definition makes the freedom and rights of professors or teachers almost absolute, while the corresponding freedom of churches or other sponsoring institutions to set up, operate, and control their own colleges and universities, as well as the freedom and rights of students and their parents to be assured that the education being imparted is within an announced religious or creedal framework, is simply cancelled out by the supposed academic freedom of professors to do or say what they please. Acceptance of this definition of academic freedom quite simply abolishes the right of the Church to insist that subjects be taught in a Catholic institution in accordance with the truths of the Catholic faith.

The Church was initially slow in responding to the challenge posed by the Land O’Lakes Statement. In 1972 the International Federation of Catholic Universities (IFCU) adopted a document setting forth “the essential characteristics of a Catholic university,”3 which were incorporated into the revised Code of Canon Law promulgated by Pope John Paul II in 1983.4 The canons affirm the right of the Church to sponsor universities (Canon 807); require that no university may bear the label “Catholic” without the permission of the competent ecclesiastical authority, namely, the bishop (Canon 808); insure the autonomy of the university while upholding the integrity of Catholic doctrine (Canon 809); stipulate that scholars and teachers may be removed if they fail to meet the Church’s doctrinal and moral standards (Canon 810); and require that those who teach theology in any Catholic university must have a mandate (mandatum) from ecclesiastical authority, again the local bishop (Canon 812).

The ACCU, as well as many of the heads of Catholic colleges, vehemently opposed these canons during the drafting of the new Code. A delegation of American bishops actually went to Rome to lobby against them. Following the promulgation of the Code, the Canon Law Society of America prepared a commentary suggesting that these canons were not applicable in the United States. They were not, in fact, implemented here.

The Holy See responded on August 15, 1990, with Pope John Paul II’s apostolic constitution Ex corde Ecclesiae. Besides being a beautiful description of everything that a Catholic university should be, ECE includes some twenty-five general norms which, among other things, insist that a truly Catholic university is necessarily linked to the Church and is subject to episcopal oversight, especially in the doctrinal and moral areas. Following a period of intense opposition from many American educators, the U.S. bishops, in November 1999, approved an application of ECE which came into force in June 2001. Another document implementing the theological mandatum requirement was approved by the bishops a year later.

With the enactment of these episcopal ordinances, it could finally be said that the U.S. bishops, after more than forty years, had resumed their proper proprietorship over the definition of the term “Catholic university.” It was never anything but a huge anomaly that a group of self-appointed Catholic educators meeting in Land O’Lakes, Wisconsin, should have presumed to be able to redefine this term. But for a long time, it seemed they had succeeded.

The Church has a long road to travel before Catholic higher education is fully back in the fold. The habitual opposition of scholars continues in many places and many Catholic colleges and universities are not fully in compliance with Ex corde Ecclesiae. What is clear, however, is the direction in which things are moving. The restoration of the true definition of the term “Catholic university” by Church authority marked the formal end of the Land O’Lakes era. It is the fidelity and creative leadership of a new generation of educators and leaders—including those whose valuable work is featured in this collection—that point the way forward.

The Restoration of a Catholic ‘Idea of a University’

Editor’s Note: The Cardinal Newman Society is releasing several articles marking the 50th anniversary of the devastating Land O’Lakes Statement, in which several Catholic university leaders declared Catholic universities independent from “authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical, external to the academic community itself”. In considering the future of Catholic education, it’s impossible to ignore the past. “How did we get here?” is a question essential to determining how many American Catholic colleges and universities can overcome their conformity to secular norms for curriculum, campus life, governance, and academic freedom. Ultimately, these articles serve as hope that the mistakes of the past can be corrected and that God will bless the renaissance of faithful Catholic education in the United States that is underway.

This article was originally published in The Enduring Nature of the Catholic University, a collection of essays released by The Cardinal Newman Society in 2009. 

The 1967 “Land O’Lakes Statement” by leading Catholic educators precipitated a revolution in Catholic higher education that amounted to heresy and schism.1 Major Catholic universities in the United States—Notre Dame, St. Louis University, Georgetown, and Boston College, to name a few—proclaimed their independence from the Magisterium of the Church. Claiming that “the Catholic university must have a true autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of every kind, lay or clerical, external to the university itself,” the Land O’Lakes Statement announced its separation from the teaching authority and hierarchy of the Church and established its own magisterium, what Monsignor George Kelly called “a two-headed church.”2 Substituting liberal modernism for Catholic orthodoxy, the Land O’Lakes Statement viewed the mission of the college as conformity to the “modern,” as an education “geared to modern society”3 that resists “theological or philosophical imperialism.”4

Naturally, because no man can serve two masters, Catholic universities that subscribed to the Land O’Lakes Statement disowned their patrimony—the university as a gift from the heart of the Church, Ex corde Ecclesiae—and embraced the model of the secular university with its alleged uninhibited academic freedom. As the Statement reads, nothing is to be “outlawed,” and academic freedom means “no boundaries and no barriers.”5 The consequences of this commitment to the modernist movement are legion: the separation of faith and reason, the loss of Catholic identity, the reign of secular ideology, the establishment of moral relativism as the touchstone of truth, and the loss of an honorable academic heritage rooted in the wisdom of the ages.

Two modern papal pronouncements, John Paul II’s Ex corde Ecclesiae (1990)6 and Benedict XVI’s “Address to Catholic Educators” (2008),7 study this crisis in Catholic higher education and seek to restore the ideals of Catholic higher education. The two popes review the venerable tradition of Catholic learning as a treasury of wisdom that spreads the riches of the Gospel, humanizes and civilizes persons, promotes the dignity and inestimable worth of all human beings, and serves the common good of all societies.

As Pope John Paul II writes, the heritage of the Catholic university cultivates “the joy of learning” and rejoicing in the truth (St. Augustine’s gaudium de veritate).8 It teaches the ability “to think rigorously… to act rightly and to serve humanity better.”9 He argues that, contrary to the opinion of the Land O’Lakes Statement, a Catholic university never stifles the life of the mind or the passion for truth, because Catholic higher learning “is distinguished by its free search for the whole truth about nature, man, and God” and “is dedicated to the research of all aspects of truth in their essential connection with the supreme Truth, who is God.”10 The Catholic university does not inhibit research or censor the quest for knowledge but insists on “the moral, spiritual, and religious dimension” of research and judges the methods and discoveries of science “in the perspective of the totality of the human person.”11

Thus the Catholic Church, “expert in humanity,”12 in its teaching authority always reserves the right to determine the norms of legitimate research and judge the uses of technology and medical procedures as either moral or immoral, as humanizing or dehumanizing, as upholding the dignity of human beings or exploiting persons as objects or instruments. In other words, neither academic freedom nor human freedom are absolute. Although the birth control pill, embryonic stem-cell research, and cloning have acquired respectability in the medical and scientific professions, the Magisterium of the Church exercises a higher standard than the secular world’s criteria of utility, pragmatism, and progress.

Likewise, Pope Benedict XVI’s address warns educators that the test of truth goes beyond contemporary intellectual fashions, whether it is “the cold pragmatic calculations of utility” that determine right and wrong on the basis of self-interest or cost-effectiveness, the “positivistic mentality” that exalts the scientific method and empirical data as the ultimate test of objective truth or “secularist ideology” that divorces reason and faith and reduces truth to political opinion.13

While the Catholic university welcomes all knowledge from the many fields of learning and honors the freedom “to search for the truth wherever careful analysis of evidence leads you,” this human knowledge does not qualify the modern university’s pursuit of academic freedom “to justify positions that contradict the faith and the teaching of the Church.”14 Revealed knowledge and the divine wisdom of God from Scripture, tradition, and the teachings of the Magisterium represent eternal and ultimate truths that subordinate man’s knowledge and human wisdom. That is, if worldly wisdom in the form of legal decisions, medical ethics, and political views claims the “right” to abortion, euthanasia, or same-sex marriage, the Church judges these views in the light of revealed truth, eternal law, natural law, and the teachings of the Church’s encyclicals.

In short, contrary to the Land O’Lakes Statement, academic freedom, scholarly knowledge, and human opinion possess no independent authority or autonomy exclusive of the Church. As Cardinal Newman explains in The Idea of a University,15 when the circle of knowledge excludes theology from the body of truth, it creates a void. Because nature abhors a vacuum, other fields of knowledge then usurp the authority of theology and assume airs of their own infallibility. Newman writes, “Religious doctrine is knowledge, in as full a sense as Newton’s doctrine is knowledge. University teaching without theology is simply unphilosophical. Theology has at least as good a right to claim a place there as astronomy.”16 The modern, then, must be judged in the light of the ancient, and science must be judged in the light of theology. The question is not only “Is it possible?” but also “Is it moral?”

Given the recent crisis in Catholic higher education and its renunciation of its venerable ideals of transmitting the fullness and unity of the truth, the treasury of wisdom from great art and literature, its integration of reason and faith, and its education of the whole person, how can Catholic higher education in the modern world restore its sublime vision of “the idea of a university”? How does it once again reclaim its special identity as many small Catholic alternative colleges strive to create a living Catholic ethos on their campuses?

Fifty percent of education consists of atmosphere, G. K. Chesterton remarked, and one of the marks of authentic Catholic education is the culture or environment that it creates. In the right atmosphere or environment, natural, vigorous growth follows whether it is the life of a plant, an animal, or a human being—whether it is the life of the mind, the heart, or the soul. As Pope Benedict XVI proposed in his “Address to Catholic Educators,” the renewal of Catholic higher education requires colleges with a distinct, unmistakable Catholic identity. He asks, “Is the faith tangible in our universities and schools? Is it given fervent expression liturgically, sacramentally, through prayer, acts of charity, a concern for justice, and respect for God’s creation?”17

This aura of a genuine Catholic culture expresses itself in small things and in great matters. Do young men and young women dress in good taste and beautiful modesty and behave with gracious civility and cheerful affability? Is theology an integral part of the curriculum, and are students introduced to the riches of Scripture, the wisdom of the church fathers, and the lives and writings of the saints? Does the ordinary life of students allow for friendship, conversation, athletics, contemplation, and prayer—a balanced, rhythmic life of work and play, activity and rest? Does the curriculum instill in students a desire to discover knowledge, to love the truth, to defend the good, and even to suffer for noble ideals such as the right to life and the defense of traditional marriage? Does the college introduce students to “the best which has been thought and said”18 in the books and courses that form the course of study?

Bona fide Catholic colleges manifest tell-tale signs that introduce students to a world that radiates purity, charity, joy, and wonder—what the Greeks called the art of living well as opposed to merely living, surviving, or earning a livelihood. As Benedict XVI states, “Catholic identity is not dependent upon statistics. Neither can it be equated simply with orthodoxy of course content.”19 A day in the life of a true Catholic university reveals prayer, learning, conviviality, charity, and service—daily Mass, the study of great subjects or classics, the joy of learning for its own sake, the graces of friendship, civility, and hospitality. This atmosphere is always reflecting goodness, beauty, and truth in its myriad forms—in St. Paul’s words, “whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely” (Phil 4:8). Thus, a Catholic university brooks no tolerance for the base, the ugly, the tawdry, or the banal. Rock music, prurient or lewd films, access to internet pornography, or student organizations that promote homosexuality all poison the entire ambience of a Catholic university and rob it of its identity.

An authentic Catholic college, then—like a loving home—breathes life and invites participation. It cultivates an atmosphere that makes truth good (“Taste and see the sweetness of the Lord,” declares the Psalmist in Psalms 34:8), associates the beautiful with the true (“Glory be to God for dappled things,” writes Gerard Manley Hopkins)20, and equates the good with the true (“You love us, Lord, as if we were the only one,” St. Augustine states). Whenever truth, goodness, and beauty are appreciated and cherished for their own sake—as ends in themselves—they create what Cardinal Newman calls an “overflow.” Newman explains: “Good is not only good, but reproductive of good; this is one of its attributes; nothing is excellent, beautiful, perfect, desirable for its own sake, but it overflows, and spreads the likeness of itself all around it.”21 In this atmosphere of overflowing and spreading, prayer, love of learning, and mirth happen naturally, and students acquire a sense of the excellent, the highest, and the noblest—the Christian ideals that restore man’s dignity and remind him of the meaning of being a human being created in the image of God.

As Pope Benedict remarks in his “Address to Catholic Educators,” a Catholic college that inspires the imitation of Christ moves a person “to lead a new life characterized by all that is beautiful, good, and true.”22 This aspiration for transcendent values and eternal truths provides student with a moral vision that transcends popular culture, political ideology, and moral relativism—the mentality of “political correctness.” Benedict XVI writes, “Similarly the Church never tires of upholding the essential moral categories of right and wrong” lest man embrace the “cold pragmatic calculations of utility which render the person little more than a pawn on some ideological chess-board.”23 In the environment of a Catholic college, a student learns that truth is divine in origin, not man-made; he discovers that truth is eternal and universal, not relative or subjective; he recognizes that faith and reason complement one another and, in Benedict XVI’s words, “never contradict one another.”24 As the Pope explains, a Catholic college that informs minds with the light of divine wisdom teaches that “it is not praxis that creates truth but truth that should serve as the basis of praxis.”25 In short, the intellectual atmosphere of a Catholic college creates an environment that exemplifies the liberating academic spirit of St. Thomas Aquinas, who frequently quoted St. Ambrose: “All truth, whoever said it, comes from the Holy Spirit.”

Rising above the platitudes of secular ideologies that profess “diversity” and “tolerance” as absolute values and that define the autonomous individual as the ultimate authority of truth (Protagoras’ “man is the measure of all things”), a Catholic intellectual culture pursues what Benedict XVI calls “the fullness and unity of truth”26—divine revelation, tradition, the wisdom of the past, the universality of great art and literature, the lessons of history, and the laws of science. In short, the intellectual culture of a Catholic college creates in the mind a sense of “enlargement” to use Cardinal Newman’s word from The Idea of a University27—the antithesis of intellectual trendiness or narrow ideology. Hence authentic Catholic colleges do not confer honorary degrees to heretical thinkers, welcome guest lecturers, or hire faculty that profess ideas that oppose the Church’s teachings on faith and morals. Like the Christian faith, a Catholic university is countercultural.

The environment of a Catholic college instills refinement in manners, morals, feeling, and thinking. In The Idea of a University, Newman argues that a liberal education forms a quality of mind that acts upon man’s moral nature and sensitizes him to practice acts of courtesy and honor in virtues such as “veracity, probity, equity, fairness, gentleness, fairness, benevolence, and amiableness”28—all qualities that elevate human life and create a civil society. This refinement of mind acquires a natural taste for the noble, the chivalrous, and the ideal—what Newman calls “a fastidiousness, analogous to the delicacy or daintiness which good nurture or a sickly habit induces in respect of food.”29

This appreciation for high standards develops a discernment about the difference between proper and improper, civilized and barbaric, and excellent and mediocre—a sense of discrimination that forms “an absolute loathing of certain offences, or a detestation and scorn of them as ungentlemanlike.”30 Thus a liberal education fosters a moral sensibility that refuses to lower itself to crude manners, coarse language, or small-minded meanness. A refined mind possesses what Newman calls “a safeguard” or sense of shame that inhibits vulgarity or boorishness unworthy of a gentleman or lady—“an irresolution and indecision in doing wrong, which will act as a remora [delay] till the danger is passed away.”31 Hence, an authentic Catholic university will never host films, plays, or musical performances that give offense and stoop to bad taste, vulgarity, and obscenity in the name of academic freedom.

Another mark of Catholic education is a commitment to universal knowledge. John Paul alludes to a Catholic university’s “free search for the whole truth about nature, man, and God,”32 and Benedict XVI refers to the university’s obligation to communicate “the objective truth which, in transcending the particular and the subjective, points to the universal and absolute….”33 This thesis of course informs Newman’s The Idea of a University: “A university, I should lay down, by its very name professes to teach universal knowledge.”34 This type of liberal or classical education, then, values the great books of the past and immerses students in the classical-Christian tradition of Western civilization that illuminates the meaning of a “perennial philosophy” or knowledge of the “permanent things” such as the human condition, the unchanging nature of the human heart, the truth about love, or the ideals of manhood and femininity.

As students discover the permanence and continuity of universal knowledge by learning of the indebtedness of Plato to Socrates, Virgil to Homer, Dante to Virgil, Chaucer to Dante, or Dante to Aquinas, their study of the classics illuminates their minds with an understanding of the nature of wisdom—what is true for all people in all times and in all places. The restoration of Catholic higher education requires courses of study inspired by these great minds and masterpieces at the heart of the curriculum. As C.S. Lewis observed, not to have read the classics is like never having drunk wine, never having swum in the ocean, and never having been in love. The modern substitution of other studies for bona fide liberal arts courses in the humanities destroys the whole idea of universal knowledge as the essence of the university and creates the problem of “fragmentation” that Benedict XVI cites as a problem of the modern university.35

Because the genius of Catholicism consists of its balanced view of all of reality and the whole nature of man—its appreciation of both scientific knowledge and divine revelation, its respect for both reason and faith, its recognition of man as both body and soul, its confidence in both nature and grace—a Catholic university nourishes the mind, body, heart, and soul of its students, aspiring for the golden mean of a sound mind in a sound body, a charitable heart and a lively intelligence, social graces and a contemplative life. A Catholic university is not a place for technical training, an athletic camp, endless political activity or a monastic life. As Benedict XVI writes, “Truth speaks to the individual in his or her entirety, inviting us to respond with our whole being.”36 A Catholic university that speaks to persons in their entirety instills a love of leisure and the enjoyment of play as the essence of human happiness and as a reminder of man’s spiritual and religious nature—man’s need to rest on the Sabbath and worship God, to restore his strength and uplift his heart.

While a Catholic university forms virtues of mind, heart, and conscience that ennoble human work and elevate human society, it also instills an appreciation for the life after work—the capacity to enjoy all of life’s simple and aesthetic pleasures from the delight in friendship and hospitality to a love of music and art. This cultivation of the whole person—the senses, the imagination, the intellect—serves a person both at work and at play for a lifetime. In short, a Catholic university that addresses “the whole being” of man awakens a love of life in all of its abundance and richness. However, when modern universities disown their obligation of authority in loco parentis, create occasions of sin and temptation with coeducational dormitories, and ignore the physical health and spiritual well-being of students with ready availability of contraceptives, they do not show care for the whole person.

“See how they love one another,” the pagans said of the early Christians. The first followers of Christ possessed an unmistakable identity. They honored their marriage vows, they did not abandon their children to die on the mountains, and they practiced charity in the way they shared their possessions. “See how they live. See how they talk and treat one another. See how they play. See how they learn. See what they study. See how they think,” observers should say of the Catholic university as they see the light in the eyes, the joy and peace in the hearts, the kindness in the actions, the mirth in the games, the wonder in the minds, and the image of God in the souls of students and teachers doing their ordinary work in their part of the vineyard living in the world but not of the world.

It is important to be reminded that Christ taught us, “By their fruits you shall know them” (Mt 7:16). Certainly that applies to Catholic education. To be faithful to the Lord’s admonition, Catholic colleges must address the whole person—mind, body, heart, and soul—and illuminate the meaning of wisdom, purity, charity, and God’s mystery. 



Catholic Higher Education in the United States: A Modern Retrospective

Editor’s Note: The Cardinal Newman Society is releasing several articles marking the 50th anniversary of the devastating Land O’Lakes Statement, in which several Catholic university leaders declared Catholic universities independent from “authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical, external to the academic community itself”. In considering the future of Catholic education, it’s impossible to ignore the past. “How did we get here?” is a question essential to determining how many American Catholic colleges and universities can overcome their conformity to secular norms for curriculum, campus life, governance, and academic freedom. Ultimately, these articles serve as hope that the mistakes of the past can be corrected and that God will bless the renaissance of faithful Catholic education in the United States that is underway.

This article was originally published in The Enduring Nature of the Catholic University, a collection of essays released by The Cardinal Newman Society in 2009. 


On April 17, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Benedict XVI arrived on the campus of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., to deliver a much anticipated address to Catholic college and university presidents and diocesan education administrators. As president of The Catholic University of America, I was honored to be his host that day.

Although some observers predicted a “pontifical spanking” for those gathered, the Holy Father’s speech was anything but that. In carefully planned and beautifully delivered remarks, Pope Benedict XVI both praised and encouraged Catholic educators for their great service to the Church in our country. At the same time, he presented a vision of and for Catholic education that was clear and compelling:

Education is integral to the mission of the Church to proclaim the Good News. First and foremost every Catholic educational institution is a place to encounter the living God who in Jesus Christ reveals his transforming love and truth (cf. Spe Salvi, 4). This relationship elicits a desire to grow in the knowledge and understanding of Christ and his teaching. In this way those who meet him are drawn by the very power of the Gospel to lead a new life characterized by all that is beautiful, good, and true; a life of Christian witness nurtured and strengthened within the community of our Lord’s disciples, the Church.1

With respect to the meaning of Catholic identity, the pontiff observed:

Clearly, then, Catholic identity is not dependent upon statistics. Neither can it be equated simply with orthodoxy of course content. It demands and inspires much more: namely that each and every aspect of your learning communities reverberates within the ecclesial life of faith. Only in faith can truth become incarnate and reason truly human, capable of directing the will along the path of freedom (cf. Spe Salvi, 23). In this way our institutions make a vital contribution to the mission of the Church and truly serve society. They become places in which God’s active presence in human affairs is recognized and in which every young person discovers the joy of entering into Christ’s “being for others” (cf. ibid., 28).2

He also presented an insightful and instructive understanding of academic freedom, born from his own experience as a university professor and, now, as Chief Shepherd and Teacher in the Church:

In regard to faculty members at Catholic colleges and universities, I wish to reaffirm the great value of academic freedom. In virtue of this freedom you are called to search for the truth wherever careful analysis of evidence leads you. Yet it is also the case that any appeal to the principle of academic freedom in order to justify positions that contradict the faith and the teaching of the Church would obstruct or even betray the university’s identity and mission; a mission at the heart of the Church’s munus docendi and not somehow autonomous or independent of it.3

His address was well-received and deeply appreciated. As I sat there, listening to Pope Benedict, I could not help but reflect how far Catholic higher education has come in this country in the past more than half-century.

Doubting the Catholic university

In 1955, Monsignor John Tracy Ellis, professor of Church history at The Catholic University of America, wrote a scathing criticism of the quality of American Catholic intellectual life in a paper that he delivered at the annual meeting of the Catholic Commission on Intellectual and Cultural Affairs in St. Louis. In his presentation, later published in the Fordham University journal Thought, Ellis gave voice to the belief noted in a popular text of his day on American institutions that

… in no western society is the intellectual prestige of Catholicism lower than in the country where, in such respects as wealth, numbers, and strength of organization, it is so powerful.4

Ellis went on to observe that:

No well-informed American Catholic in this country will attempt to challenge that statement. Admittedly, the weakest aspect of the Church in this country lies in its failure to produce national leaders and to exercise commanding influence in intellectual circles, and this at a time when the numbers of Catholics in the United States… and their material resources are incomparably superior to those of any other branch of the universal Church.5

Ellis presented these ideas over fifty years ago. If his stinging indictment were considered to be true at that time or up to that time, we should wonder why. Much of the fault, I believe, lay not so much in a fear that Catholic scholars demonstrated for Church authorities as some have argued but, rather, in a fear of the judgments of their secular academic counterparts. The lack of courage to present the teachings of the Church with conviction in their inherent truth within a broader scholarly community evidenced a not-too-subtle belief among our own Catholic scholars that religious faith and scholarly activity based upon it was an embarrassment that relegated Catholic intellectuals to a second-class status. Faith, after all, was considered in the secular arena to be the true enemy of reason in an “enlightened” intellectual world.

There was, no one can honestly doubt, an anti-Catholic prejudice at work in the United States from the time of its foundation and a genuine hostility “to all things Catholic,” as Monsignor Ellis noted.6 Even Harvard professor Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr., once labeled “bias against your Church as the most persistent prejudice in the history of the American people.”7 For that reason, among others, much of the energy within the American Catholic community in general and the American Catholic professorate in particular during the late 19th and early 20th centuries was devoted to “apologetics” rather than pure scholarly endeavor. The audience to which they made their appeals was largely an immigrant population that did not place primary value on Catholic intellectual advancement let alone creating great Catholic institutions of higher learning. One needs look no further than the history of The Catholic University of America to verify that assertion.8

The concept of a national Catholic research university was hotly debated within the American hierarchy itself. And, yet, although visible efforts were made by many within the Catholic academy to promote Catholic higher education as their existing colleges expanded into universities, as late as 1938 the challenge was presented to the Church and Catholic scholars that “research cannot be the primary object of a Catholic graduate school because it is at war with the whole Catholic life of the mind.”9 American Catholic “universities” were popularly viewed as concerned not so much with the penetration of truth as they were with passing on a given tradition of truth, the Catholic tradition, in which little in the way of addition, alteration, or development was deemed necessary.10 It was an unfortunate perception that higher education within the American Catholic academic community was an “either/or” proposition rather than “both/and.”

When Ellis authored his now famous essay, he had no idea that a Vatican Council would soon be convened to address the situation of the Church in the modern world. The pope who would call for that council was still the cardinal archbishop of Venice. When he assumed the papacy in the fall of 1958 and a year later announced the 21st ecumenical council, Pope John XXIII would usher in a new era in the history of the Catholic Church and with it, a new urgency to reform its structures and institutions throughout the world. Catholic higher education was not spared the effects of this “aggiornamento.”

In his apostolic constitution Humanae salutis convening the Council, Pope John XXIII wrote that the Church at that moment was:

…witnessing a crisis under way within society. While humanity is on the edge of a new era, tasks of immense gravity and amplitude await the Church, as in its most tragic periods of history. It is a question in fact of bringing the modern world into contact with the vivifying and perennial energies of the gospel, a world which exalts itself with its conquests in the technical and scientific fields, but which brings also the consequences of a temporal order which some have wished to reorganize excluding God. This is why modern society is earmarked by a great material progress to which there is no corresponding advance in the moral field.11

The Holy Father addressed the hierarchy gathered in Council on October 11, 1962, stating that “the greatest concern of the Ecumenical Council is this: that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine should be guarded and taught more efficaciously.”12 Notice the phrase “guarded and taught!”

That concern, as it related to Catholic institutions of higher learning, had been voiced some thirty-one years earlier by Pope Pius XI in his apostolic constitution Deus Scientiarum Dominus where he wrote that the Church’s chief concern in all of Catholic education had always been the correct teaching of doctrine.13 Anyone well acquainted with Church teaching and its development in history could hardly argue that this process was ever or could ever be legitimately envisioned as a static enterprise.

Defining the Catholic university

The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) dealt specifically with the broad topic of formal Catholic education in their 1965 declaration Gravissimum educationis. It has been said that the underlying concern of the Council was “education,” “Catholic education” in one form or another.14 The situation of Catholic universities and colleges received specific attention. The declaration stated that:

The Church is preoccupied too with schools of higher learning, especially colleges and universities and their faculties. In schools of this sort which are dependent upon her, she seeks in a systematic way to have individual branches of knowledge studied according to their own proper principles and methods, and with due freedom of scientific investigation. She intends thereby to promote an ever deeper understanding of these fields, and as a result of extremely precise evaluation of modern problems and inquiries, to have it seen more profoundly how faith and reason give harmonious witness to the unity of all truth. The Church pursues such a goal after the manner of her most illustrious teachers, especially St. Thomas Aquinas. The hoped-for result is that the Christian mind may achieve, as it were, a public, persistent, and universal presence in the whole enterprise of advancing higher culture, and that students of these institutions may become men (and women) truly outstanding in learning, ready to shoulders society’s heavier burdens and to witness the faith to the world.15

One should notice the emphasis given here to proper disciplinary methodology, due freedom of inquiry, growth in understanding, students outstanding in learning, advancing higher culture and witness to faith.

During the years immediately following the Second Vatican Council, Catholic universities and colleges throughout the world engaged in an effort to define their nature and mission in the Church and world more clearly. That process witnessed the eager participation of members of the American Catholic academy, chastised as they had been by Monsignor Ellis over ten years earlier.

In 1967, a gathering of Catholic educators in Land O’Lakes, Wisconsin, sponsored by the International Federation of Catholic Universities (IFCU) produced a document that set forth its own credo on the nature of Catholic colleges and universities:

The Catholic university today must be a university in the full modern sense of the word, with a strong commitment to and concern for academic excellence. To perform its teaching and research function effectively, the Catholic university must have a true autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical external to the academic community itself. To say this is simply to assert that institutional autonomy and academic freedom are essential conditions of life and growth and indeed of survival for Catholic universities as for all universities. The Catholic university participates in the total life of our time, has the same functions as all other true universities and, in general, offers the same services to society.16

Notice the emphasis given to authority “external to the academic community itself.” The stage was now set for what would become a decades-long effort to resolve growing contemporary tensions between the teaching Church and Catholic institutions of higher learning that existed in a variety of forms within its embrace in the post-conciliar era. Other international meetings would continue to occur but nowhere, at least in my opinion, were these tensions as keenly felt as within the American Catholic academic community.

The controversy surrounding the publication of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae17 in 1968, again in my opinion, distracted educators from the process of addressing the issue of the nature and purpose of Catholic institutions of higher education. In the minds of some, however, especially in the United States, Humanae Vitae was precisely the type of Church teaching that provided a timely example with which to frame the debate. Dissent over this encyclical crystallized the polarization between the faithful presentation and teaching of Church doctrine that Pope John XXIII saw as the “greatest concern” of the Council he convened and  “the true autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of whatever kind” that was the mantra of those who subscribed to the assertions of the Land O’Lakes manifesto. In many respects, The Catholic University of America at the time was the epicenter of the storm.

In 1972, at the invitation of the Holy See and IFCU, Catholic universities and colleges were invited to send delegates to an international congress in Rome, the second such gathering in Rome since Land O’Lakes. Their deliberations resulted in a document, “The Catholic University in the Modern World,”18 which accomplished two major things:

  1. it defined six basic types of Catholic post-secondary institutions that existed within the Church:
    1. those directly established by ecclesiastical authorities and those which were not;
    2. those with statutory relationships to ecclesiastical authorities and those which had none;
    3. those with a formal, explicit commitment to Church teaching and beliefs and those whose commitment was merely implicit.
  2. it also provided a framework for Catholic identity and mission later cited by Pope John Paul II in his apostolic constitution Ex corde Ecclesiae.19

Responding to this document, the Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education at that time, Cardinal Gabriel Marie Garrone, wrote that although the statement envisioned the existence of Catholic institutions of higher learning without formally established or statutory links to ecclesiastical authority, Catholic institutions should not consider themselves removed from those relationships with the hierarchical structures of the Church which must characterize institutions that call themselves Catholic.20 A clear point of difference with the Land O’Lakes statement!

Ten years later, the revised 1983 Code of Canon Law,21 also mandated by Pope John XXIII along with the Second Vatican Council at the beginning of his papacy in 1959, introduced specific legislation intended to address all Catholic colleges and universities, those canonically dependent upon the Church as well as others that claimed a Catholic foundation, character, and purpose but which lacked an explicit canonical establishment. Pope John Paul II had already addressed the former type of institution before the new Code appeared in his apostolic constitution Sapientia Christiana (April 15, 1979).22 It should be noted that the overwhelming majority of Catholic universities and colleges in the United States were of the latter variety. Needless to say, the provisions of the new Code received a chilly reception within the American Catholic academic community.

Magna Carta for Catholic higher education

Himself a Catholic university professor, Pope John Paul II evidenced a great concern for Catholic institutions of higher learning. Following on the heels of both Sapientia Christiana and the 1983 Code of Canon Law, the Holy Father published a second apostolic constitution in 1990 intended to address Catholic universities and colleges that were not ecclesiastical in nature. Ex corde Ecclesiae (August 15, 1990) was, in my opinion, the beginning of the “great thaw” in “the winter of our discontent.”

While not original in the sense that they first appeared in a 1972 document “The Catholic University in the Modern World” produced by the Second International Congress of Delegates of Catholic Universities referred to earlier, the observations of Pope John Paul II summarized what he considered the “bottom line” for Catholic institutions of higher learning. These “essential characteristics” are particularly significant not only because the Holy Father made them his own in Ex corde Ecclesiae but also because they are the reflections of a body of international Catholic educators that helped make the case for a strengthening of the meaning of Catholic identity in Catholic post-secondary academic institutions. Pope John Paul II wrote that:

Since the objective of a Catholic university is to assure in an institutional manner a Christian presence in the university world confronting the great problems of society and culture, every Catholic university as Catholic, must have the following essential characteristics:

1. Christian inspiration not only of individuals but of the university community as such;

2. A continuing reflection in the light of the Catholic faith upon the growing treasury of human knowledge, to which it seeks to contribute by its own research;

3. Fidelity to the Christian message as it comes to us through the Church;

4. An institutional commitment to the service of the people of God and of the human family in their pilgrimage to the transcendent goal which gives meaning to life.23

To assist in providing that assurance, the Holy Father noted, perhaps in part an answer to “Land O’Lakes” and other responses of similar kind:

Every Catholic University, without ceasing to be a university, has a relationship to the Church that is essential to its institutional identity. …One consequence of its essential relationship to the Church is that the institutional fidelity of the university to the Christian message includes a recognition of and adherence to the teaching authority of the Church in matters of faith and morals. Catholic members of the university community are also called to a personal fidelity to the Church with all that this implies. Non-Catholic members are required to respect the Catholic character of the university, while the university in turn respects their religious liberty.24

With the deftness and insight that have characterized his pontificate and all his writings, drawing upon extraordinary human experiences including that of being a university professor, Pope John Paul II provided in Ex corde Ecclesiae a “magna carta”25 for Catholic higher education throughout the Church, including the United States. Calling for a clearly recognizable relationship between Catholic colleges and universities and the universal and local church in which they exist,26 the Holy Father has wisely required that these institutions “operationalize” their Catholic identity through the assistance of a formal, juridical association with the Church. This juridical dimension and its accompanying call for greater accountability to the Church, unfortunately for some, dominated the discussions that would follow within the American Catholic academic community. I say “unfortunately” because the text and substance of the Holy Father’s apostolic constitution—recognized by many, including those outside of the Catholic academic community, as a magnificent exposition of the unique mission of Catholic higher education—have often been reduced by some to a mere set of legal norms.

When the constitution appeared in its final form, after three drafts and the widest, most extensive public consultations to accompany any Church document, it was generally well received in America. Bishops and Catholic educators in the United States appeared appreciative of the opportunities afforded them by the Congregation for Catholic Education to be involved in its formulation. Some hesitation still lingered in these and other circles with respect to the idea of any juridic norms at all—general or particular—but the prevailing sentiment seemed to be that “there was little to cause anxiety and much to enable and inspire” those involved in Catholic higher education.27

For the better part of the past fifteen years, the bishops and the Catholic academic community in the United States have been engaged in a dialogue regarding the regional application or implementation of the constitution required in its “General Norms.” Here again, several drafts and extensive consultations have accompanied the entire process.

From the beginning, two important presuppositions regarding the outcome of the process have been present: (1) that the application document would include juridic norms; and (2) that the application document would be the product of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops or NCCB (now, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops or USCCB) as an episcopal document.

Although these “understandings” were present, their implications were not always clearly appreciated, even among the bishops. One could legitimately claim that they were often avoided or ignored in the hopes they would simply “go away.” In the months immediately preceding the 1999 NCCB meeting, these elements seemed to be all but forgotten, especially within Catholic academic circles. Discussions among Catholic university presidents for which I was present were openly hostile to the idea of episcopal juridic implementation.

The NCCB established an Implementation Committee of bishops in 1991, and several Catholic university presidents were invited to participate as consultors to the committee. An application document was developed, circulated for consultation, revised, approved by the NCCB with a vote of 224-6 on November 16, 1996, and forwarded to the Holy See for the recognitio required by canon law.28 The Congregation for Catholic Education praised the application but indicated that it needed further juridic refinement, especially with respect to Canon 812’s provision regarding the mandate to teach theological disciplines, before it could be passed on to the Congregation for Bishops.

Although the Holy See’s critique was not well received in the United States, the NCCB Implementation Committee set out to respond positively to the Vatican request. A subcommittee was created in 1997 and revised drafts of an application document were developed and circulated in 1998 and 1999 respectively, again accompanied by extensive consultations. A strong argument was made in the Catholic and secular press by critics of the application, including several university presidents and even some bishops, that its provisions would yield “disastrous” results for Catholic universities and colleges in the United States if approved. Concerns were voiced that the new text was, at best, risky and, at worst, destructive of whatever progress had been made in the ongoing dialogue about Catholic identity that had been occurring among bishops and Catholic educators since Ex corde Ecclesiae was first issued in 1990.

Anyone participating in American Catholic academic life since the Code of Canon Law was revised and promulgated in 1983 has heard these concerns before. In fact, some of the more controversial elements now found in the document of implementation known as The Application29 are already contained in canon law’s treatment of “Catholic Universities and Other Institutes of Higher Studies (807-814),” although they were deemed by educators and some canonists as doubtfully applicable in the American Catholic academic context. Similarly, as Ex corde Ecclesiae progressed through its own draft stages in the late 1980s, these same concerns surfaced again.

It would be a mistake to separate The Application as it currently exists from the constitution itself. The “General Norms” accompanying Ex corde Ecclesiae require “local and regional” implementation of the constitution.30 A very concerted effort was made by those concerned with drafting The Application to insure that this text remained directly focused on the constitution, its exhortations and canonical provisions. In fact, several Catholic university presidents explicitly made that recommendation, myself included, during the consultation. Hence, what is required as normative in the resulting juridic text must always be viewed through the broader lens of the constitution itself for accurate interpretation and implementation.

It would equally be a mistake to separate the constitution and The Application from “the teaching of Vatican II and the directives of the Code of Canon Law” upon which it is based, as Pope John Paul II himself has stated.31 Ex corde Ecclesiae, he wrote, “was enriched by the long and fruitful experience of the Church in the realm of universities and open to the promise of future achievements that will require courageous creativity and rigorous fidelity.”32 In the minds of some, these two concepts—courageous creativity and rigorous fidelity—can make strange, even difficult bedfellows. I certainly do not believe that to be the case.

Hope and vision for the future

Apart from a few members of a vanishing generation of Catholic academics, there has been no revolt as had been predicted. In fact, Catholic institutions of higher learning in this country have been unusually quiet given recent history. Catholic universities and colleges continue to possess what the Church has called a “rightful” autonomy and a “legitimate” academic freedom. There have been no major legal battles as had been predicted and the allegedly adverse financial consequences have been exposed as myths. We have witnessed no “pastoral disaster” as one bishop claimed or anything even slightly problematic.

And Catholic teaching continues to be faithfully presented in our institutions by those who are faithful, although it is still challenged by some who view faith and reason at odds. I doubt very much that we will ever make converts of them, no matter what is said or done. The rigorous fidelity of their peers, a new generation of creative Catholic intellectuals and students seeking the truth, and, ultimately, time itself will work together toward the long hoped for renewal in Catholic higher education. The greatest evidence of renewal, however, is present on our campuses within the Catholic students themselves. It has been my experience that they are eager for leadership, hungry for truth, seeking to pray, and open to service to their neighbors. In many ways, they are teaching us.

Ex corde Ecclesiae and The Application promulgated to implement it, in my opinion, spearheaded and inspired an attempt to present a coherent vision that continues to unfold for and within our Catholic universities and colleges in this country. It is up to all of us to replace the tired, negative rhetoric of the not so distant past—when political and polarized ideologies seemed to dominate the conversation—with voices of Catholic scholars and leaders who are faithful and who are “convinced of the priority of the ethical over the technical, of the primacy of the person over things, of the superiority of the spirit over matter,” joining knowledge to conscience;33 voices of Catholic scholars and leaders who do not, in the words of our Holy Father’s encyclical Fides et Ratio, “run from the truth as soon as they glimpse it because they are afraid of its demands”34 but who stand and serve the truth in charity.

New leadership in the Church brings new emphases. Building upon the strong legacy of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI has addressed the value and importance of Catholic higher education several times. Even before his election to the papacy, as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote to me of the importance of involving our Catholic universities and colleges in confronting the pressing moral issues of our day. “Universities,” he stated, (should) “organize symposia, possibly with the participation of representatives of different confessions, religions and cultures, in order to identify currents and points of agreement which may be productive in renewing an understanding of the natural moral law.”35 He sees Catholic universities and colleges as an effective element for positive social and cultural change, a “positive choice,” in his words, for all that Catholicism and Christianity represent.

In a speech at Rome’s Sacred Heart University in 2005, Pope Benedict remarked that “The Catholic university is a great workshop in which, in keeping with the various disciplines, new lines of research are constantly being developed in a stimulating encounter between faith and reason… This then is the great challenge to Catholic universities: to impart knowledge in the perspective of true rationality, different from that of today which largely prevails, in accordance with a reason open to the question of the truth and to the great values inscribed in being itself, hence, open to the transcendent, to God.” 36 And when our students graduate, he continued, “How do they leave? What culture did they find, assimilate, develop?” Addressing himself to administration, faculty, staff and students, Pope Benedict encouraged all Catholic universities and colleges “to give life to an authentic Catholic university that excels in the quality of its research and teaching and, at the same time, its fidelity to the Gospel and the Church’s Magisterium.”37

At his Angelus address on January 20, 2008, the Holy Father responded to a protest that, despite the invitation previously extended, occasioned him not to speak on the campus of LaSapienza University in Rome. His words in St. Peter’s Square that day gave us a glimpse into his view of the mission of Catholic higher education in our world today:

The university environment, which for many years was my world, linked for me a love for the seeking of truth, for exchange, for frank and respectful dialogue between differing positions. All this, too, is the mission of the church, charged to faithfully follow Jesus the Teacher of life, of truth and of love. As a professor, so to say, emeritus, who’s encountered many students in his life, I encourage you… to always be respectful of other people’s opinions and to seek out, with a free and responsible spirit, the truth and the good.38



American Jesuits Are in a Free Fall, and the Crisis is Getting Worse

Excitement is building for Jesuits worldwide as their general congregation to elect a new superior general is quickly approaching this fall. The election presents an important opportunity for them to reflect on the future of the Society of Jesus — and to address serious concerns. Even under a Jesuit Pope, the order suffers from a steady decline in membership, dissent and moral confusion within its ranks, and a widening gulf between many Jesuit universities and the Church.

Perhaps that’s why there has been so much attention lately to the announcement that 20 new Jesuit priests were ordained this year in the United States, Canada and Haiti. That’s good news, with the hope that these new priests will be true Soldiers of Christ and embrace the fullness of Church teaching, like their predecessors of old and some notable giants today.

Unfortunately, the ordinations have given rise to misleading claims that the Jesuits’ membership woes are coming to an end. Last month, a Jesuit official told the National Catholic Register that “the trends of new Jesuit entrants show demographic stability is on the horizon.” As best I can determine, that’s fantasy. It’s easy to understand why the Jesuits would look for any sign of hope after decades of decline, but exaggeration is dangerous if it diverts attention away from a very real crisis that is deeper than the numbers alone.

Again, someone seems to have spun a tale to Catholic World Report, which last week declared that, contrary to warnings in recent years, “there never really was an ‘implosion’ of the Jesuits worldwide.”

But there was … and still is. The “implosion” claim was made by Matthew Archbold of The Cardinal Newman Society in 2013, when he cited predictions of “a demographic free fall with declining ordinations and former Jesuits outnumbering active Jesuits in the United States.” Most convincingly, he cited hard data published in 2011 by Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) that clearly supported the forecast.

I checked the CARA data again — including a newer study of Jesuit numbers released in 2015 — as well as both Jesuit and Vatican sources, and the numbers remain dismal. Jesuit membership has been spiraling downward for more than 50 years. It’s possible that new entrants and ordinations during the three-year pontificate of Pope Francis could help slow the rate of decline in the Jesuit order, but that’s yet to be proven. What’s certain is that the Jesuit order has a membership crisis, and there’s no reason to predict stability or growth anytime soon.

First, let’s take a look at the local numbers. It’s suggested that this year’s 20 Jesuit ordinations is a high number for the North American region, and therefore we should be excited about it. Perhaps so, but there’s not much data to confirm the long-term impact on the order. According to the website for the North American Jesuit provinces, the continent had 28 new Jesuit priests last year, 19 in 2014, and 16 in 2013. Therefore, 20 is relatively good, and yet it’s a substantial decline from last year’s 28 — the largest number of Jesuit ordinations for North America in 15 years.

Should Jesuits be concerned that last year’s number was not sustained? Or should they be excited, because 20 ordinations is significantly higher than in prior years? Is it just a momentary benefit of having a Jesuit pope, or is it a trend? Unfortunately, I couldn’t find data for North America earlier than 2013, when Pope Francis went to Rome. After a fruitless Web search, I requested information from the communications secretary of the North American provinces, but I was only given numbers of Jesuits worldwide.

Another Jesuit official told the Register that there’s a second reason for hope: Although the number of U.S. entrants to the Society of Jesus declined from 102 in 1982 to a low of 45 in 2010, it has since increased to the “mid-50s” this year. Here we’re not talking about ordinations to the priesthood, but novices preparing to be priests and brothers.

That’s indeed hopeful, yet uncertain. While the Register was told there have been no fewer than 45 entrants in the U.S. alone since 1982, CWR reports that 44 men entered novitiates in both the U.S. and Canada in 2015. CARA documents Jesuit membership in the United States (including Jamaica, Belize and Micronesia) and reports 177 entrants from 2009 to 2013, which is an average of just 35 per year. The numbers don’t match up.

Regardless, the numbers of entrants do not tell us as much as we’d like about the future of the Jesuits. If the numbers of new entrants and priests is increasing annually, that’s a hopeful sign. But ultimately, showing growth in the Society of Jesus requires producing a net gain of their membership numbers. This means counting not only new additions but also subtracting the many novices who depart each year before completing their studies. Furthermore, we must subtract the number of Jesuits who pass away each year.

If we take the deceased into account, any prediction of approaching “stability” in the Society of Jesus seems ludicrous. The Register reports that the average age of the North American Jesuits is 65. In the period 2008-2013, CARA counts 445 Jesuit deaths in the United States, an average of 89 per year. In the same period, the U.S. Jesuits had a net gain of just 10 novices per year, subtracting those who departed from those who stayed.

Putting it all together, American Jesuits are still in a free fall. CARA reports that the number of Jesuits in the United States declined by more than half in just 25 years, from 4,823 in 1988 to 2,395 in 2013. Presented in five-year increments, the data shows much sharper declines in the most recent two periods (15.2 percent in 2003-2008, 14.4 percent in 2008-2013) than in the prior three periods (hovering around 12 percent). That’s not improvement by any stretch of the imagination; it’s a worsening crisis.

Are things any better for the Jesuits worldwide? Well, some regions are certainly doing better than others. As CARA notes, “The clear majority of younger Jesuits are now coming from Asia and Africa.” The Center adds, “As Jesuits gather in 2016 for a General Congregation and to elect a new Superior General, the demographic center of the Jesuits will be in South Asia and the global South.”

That’s true, but somehow CWR cites the CARA data wrong when it reports: “… the number of Jesuit priests in East Asia (including Australia, Philippines, Indonesia, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, China, Thailand, and Myanmar) as well as the number of Jesuit priests in Latin America have stayed steady since the 1980s.” In fact, CARA’s study of Jesuit membership finds a 33 percent decline in Latin America and a 13 percent decline in East Asia during the period 1988-2013.

CWR also exaggerates its case for stability in the Society of Jesus with this statement: “Although Jesuit priests in Europe and United States declined in number, there was an increase in the number of Jesuit priests in South Asia (including India, Nepal and Sri Lanka) and Africa.” The implication is that the membership decline in Europe and the United States (7,057 Jesuits from 1988 to 2013) was somehow offset by the much smaller increases in South Asia and Africa (880 Jesuits during the same period).

Instead, the huge declines in Europe and America — together with the significant declines in Latin America and East Asia — have driven a worldwide decline in Jesuit membership since 1965. Over the prior 425 years, the order had grown to its largest number of 36,038 priests and brothers, as reported in the Vatican’s Annuario Pontificio. But from 1965 to 2015, membership dropped precipitously to 16,740. That’s a fall of more than 50 percent in just 50 years.

I’ve been told by the spokeswoman for the North American provinces that this year’s membership is 16,376 worldwide. That makes perfect sense; it’s consistent with the trends. By contrast, recent news reports claim “more than 17,000” and “just over 18,000,” but they cite no sources for their data. Those numbers couldn’t possibly be correct.

So there was a sharp decline over the last 50 years — but perhaps most of the drop occurred during the late 1960s and the 1970s, that tumultuous period following Vatican II, when there was widespread dissent from Humanae Vitae? Surprisingly, that’s not the case. The decline in Jesuit membership was indeed steepest (19.5 percent) during that first decade (1965-1975), when many priests and religious abandoned their vows. But the most recent decade (2005-2015) has also seen a sharp decline of 15.7 percent. Over the last three decades, the loss as a percentage of members has been getting worse, from a decline of 10.4 percent in 1984-1995 (no numbers are available for 1985), to 13.3 percent in the next decade and 15.7 percent most recently.

How about raw numbers? The Vatican reports that from 2005 to 2015, the Jesuits declined by 3,110 priests and brothers, which is less than half the actual decline (7,020) in the troubled decade of 1965-1975. But still, there were twice as many Jesuits in the first decade as the last. And the membership decline has worsened over the last three decades: from a drop of 2,665 in 1984-1995, to 3,035 in 1995-2005, to 3,110 this past decade. Again, that’s no sign of revival; the loss of members has been getting worse.

Moreover, those losses are not sporadic. Jesuit membership has declined every year since 1965, except for a brief uptick from 1984 to 1986.

Facts are facts. Maybe there are glimmers of hope in recent numbers, but overall the Society of Jesus is losing ground. Instead of counting on a bump in numbers thanks to Pope Francis, Jesuits might do better to consider whether these numbers reflect a greater instability in the order and a loss of reputation in the Church. While there are a number of exceptional Jesuits, the Society suffers from repeated controversy and moral confusion among others in its ranks. The reputation of the Jesuits as the “foot soldiers” for Christ is repeatedly undermined by many of their Jesuit universities, which are rapidly losing their Catholic identity and fidelity.

Normally we would celebrate the Memorial of St. Ignatius of Loyola on July 31, but this year it yields to the Sunday feast. This Sunday might be an opportunity for wayward Jesuits — instead of the usual celebration of the great Saint and his Company — to focus attention on the Eucharist and the unity of all the Faithful with the Magisterium of the Church, which should be the foundation for Jesuit education and spirituality. I bet that St. Ignatius would approve.

This article was originally published by The National Catholic Register.

For Catholic Schools to Survive, Their Catholicity Must Thrive

We hear a lot about the decline of Catholic schools, but maybe not enough.

The numbers are staggering: Catholic school enrollment has declined more than two-thirds in the last 50 years, from 5.2 million to 1.9 million students.

Even so, Catholic homeschoolers perceive significant growth in their numbers, with the freedom to explore a vast menu of resources that improve upon the stale textbooks used by many schools.

Catholic classical educators likewise see an increase in their ranks, not only among homeschoolers but in schools that have shifted toward the classical model or have been newly founded.

At The Cardinal Newman Society, we hear regularly from parents who are excited by the changes to Catholic schools promoted by their bishops.  These include the hard-won teacher standards championed by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco.

So why the contradiction?  In certain quarters, families and educators are embracing faithful Catholic education with great enthusiasm.  And yet Catholic schools are still closing; we’ve lost nearly 20 percent of the schools that were in operation just 10 years ago, especially elementary schools.

The answer doesn’t come easily to those who define the crisis simply as a lack of students and money.  These are symptoms of deeper problems in our schools.  There have been too many misguided attempts to attract students and increase tuition revenues, donations and government subsidies.

These strategies are necessary and yet can harm Catholic schools if they ignore the far more serious problem: the diminishment of Catholic identity in recent decades.

Catholic schools in America once were the envy of the Western world, not because they sought prestige, but because they responded directly to the needs of Catholic families.  They embraced goals and methods of forming the mind, body and soul that could only have sprung from the Catholic faith.  Catholic education was excellent, precisely because it was Catholic.

Therefore, attracting families by reaching for secular standards and embracing the goals, methods, curricula and even textbooks of public education can be damaging to Catholic schools.  Ultimately, it fills schools with students who don’t value what we value.

The same can be said for attracting donors by the same methods.

Worse, in an age when both state and federal government are turning increasingly secularist, the pursuit of government aid can be, at best, a short-term solution to financial needs.  The day seems to be coming rapidly when Catholic schools may be permitted to uphold Catholic values only if they are free of government support.

So how do we address the crisis?

As evidenced by the success of many faithful Catholic schools today, I believe that the only path forward for schools that wish to both survive long-term and remain Catholic is to more robustly embrace the Church’s vision for Catholic schools.  I believe this for three reasons:

First, a secular society will only permit religious freedom—if it is permitted at all—to the most consistently and fervently religious schools.  In this, at least, the intolerance of the present age is having some positive impact, by motivating sincerely Catholic schools to establish clear and firm policies that are directly tied to Catholic teaching.

Second, the character of a school is determined largely by its teachers.  If Catholic education is to genuinely form young people to be fully human, it requires teachers who witness to the faith and morals, both inside and outside the classroom.  In today’s culture, hiring such teachers takes a special resolve on the part of school leaders who are firmly committed to faithful Catholic education, even in the face of potential lawsuits and pressure from both outside and within the Church.

Third, as more Catholic families turn to public schools and succumb to the zeitgeist of the age, the remaining market for Catholic schools will include higher concentrations of families who appreciate genuine Catholic education.  Already we are seeing how seriously Catholic schools are attracting students, donors and even local acclaim for their “old-fashioned” methods.  Other schools that strive for students by shedding Catholic identity may find the strategy short-lived, at least if they intend to continue as Catholic schools.

(A scholar recently commented to me that the closing of secularized schools represents the sort of “pruning of the vine” that Pope Benedict XVI predicted in the Church.  I suggested that it may be more akin to dead branches withering and falling away of their own accord, since every effort is being made to save them.  But the scholar’s point was that the Church ultimately benefits from the fruit of the healthy branches.)

No matter how desperate a school’s effort to gain students or financial support, it is even more important that it remains true to its mission and regains anything that has been lost in past years.  Catholic schools should:

Hire only teachers and leaders who embrace that mission and the Catholic faith.

Study and observe the key principles of Catholic education found in the Church’s rich teachings on the nature of the Catholic school.

Subscribe only to school and curriculum standards that explicitly uphold the Catholic school’s emphasis on evangelization and formation.

Establish student and personnel policies that explain and uphold Catholic moral teachings.

Fight vigorously for religious freedom, and permit no government encroachment on Catholic education.

Listen to parents and serve them in their task as the primary educators of their children.  Help children know and love their Savior.

Years from now, the surviving Catholic school is unlikely to be satisfied with meeting minimal obligations for retaining the Catholic label.  That’s not enough.

It’s the school where leaders and teachers are eager to provide the very best Catholic formation—to lead young people to Christ and to accompany them on the road to Heaven—that exemplifies the truly healthy Catholic school.  That’s something that families can rally around.

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.