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Why We Teach Catholics the Truth

The argument for faithful Catholic education is most apparent in humanity’s worst moments.

It’s then that we realize how greatly our culture needs men and women full of virtue, wisdom, and reverence to help lead us to God. And we need Catholic homes, schools, and colleges that form young people for that task.

The terrible events this August in Charlottesville, Va., certainly stir yearning for a renewed culture. Observers worldwide saw an absurd display of racism, political theater, moral vacancy, and tragic violence that left dozens injured and three dead.

The protests and counter-protests, disputing the future of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, occurred on and around the campus of the University of Virginia—
a rather typical secular university, in the sense that it’s been compromised by political correctness and relativism. But UVA is also the sort of institution that many Catholic colleges and universities try to emulate, because of its impressive resources, commitment to faculty research, and social prestige.

What this respected university cannot do, apparently, is fulfill its basic mission! It cannot teach truth when it is needed most, as it was last month.

During the Charlottesville violence, UVA President Theresa Sullivan issued public statements declaring that the “ideologies and beliefs” of the protesters contradicted the University’s values of “diversity, inclusion, and mutual respect.” Critics wondered why she didn’t show greater moral outrage against racism and violence.

That prompted UVA professor Chad Wellmon to take to the pages of the Chronicle of Higher Education with a candid defense of Sullivan and the modern research university. In most of American education, morality and divine revelation are formally excluded as unworthy of academic consideration. Why should anyone, he asked, look to a public university for “moral clarity”?

The university has moral limitations. Universities cannot impart comprehensive visions of the good. They cannot provide ultimate moral ends. Their goods are proximate. Faculty members, myself included, need to acknowledge that most university leaders lack the language and moral imagination to confront evils such as white supremacy. They lack those things not because of who they are, but… because of what the modern research university has become.

What that is, according to Wellmon, is “a health center, a federal contractor, a sports franchise, an event venue, and, almost incidentally, a university devoted to education and knowledge.”

Because moral truth is excluded from the modern secular university, Wellmon has acknowledged and accepted that in the wake of the Charlottesville protests, he needs to severely limit what he can discuss in the classroom:

When I welcome my students [back to school]… I will discuss white supremacy and the march, but I will use language different than the one my wife and I used with our three children. To them we spoke in the language of our faith tradition—in terms of the image of God, the church, and Christian love. When I speak to my students, I will do so in the language of the university and its traditions—in terms of open debate, critique, and a love of knowledge.

How awful! Wellmon’s students need the very same truths that he taught his children. But the modern university—which by definition should be dedicated to all truth—restricts what its professors can teach.

Not so in faithful Catholic higher education. As Pope Saint John Paul II explained in Ex corde Ecclesiae:

It is the honor and responsibility of a Catholic University to consecrate itself without reserve to the cause of truth. …[A] Catholic University is distinguished by its free search for the whole truth about nature, man, and God. The present age is in urgent need of this kind of disinterested service, namely of proclaiming the meaning of truth, that fundamental value without which freedom, justice, and human dignity are extinguished.

Catholic education does not reject the limited “values” of modern higher education: “diversity, inclusion, and mutual respect,” as Sullivan described them. Respectful dialogue is quite helpful to human discovery and understanding, and at a Catholic college, it’s a matter of respecting the dignity of each person as a child of God.

But for dialogue to be fruitful, it requires a commitment to reason and truth. That’s increasingly rare outside the faithful Catholic colleges recommended in our Newman Guide. A university that questions truth and fails to recognize God, the “fount of truth,” is subject to academic imperialism: the most politically correct conformists, the loudest activists, or the most powerful experts determine what is “true.”

This state of academia undermines even the possibility for respectful dialogue. Thus we find that campus debate too often turns to protest, shouting, and even mob-enforced censorship instead of rational discussion.

Moreover, in today’s secular university, too often the most important ideas—those relating to God, morality, and purpose—are treated as relatively equal in value. Academia places greater value on a diversity of viewpoints, instead of identifying those that are correct. Wellmon is honest about the modern university’s inability to teach students “visions of the good” and “ultimate moral ends;” these must be learned from God’s revelation, which the secular university rejects.

The Catholic educator, however, can teach these and more. The scope and capacity for teaching, learning, and understanding is vastly greater at a faithful Catholic college, because reality is embraced fully and without limitation. This is why our patron, Cardinal Blessed John Henry Newman, argued that a true “university”—embracing the entirety of knowledge—must be Catholic.

At the faithful Catholic college, every discipline has a firm foundation in reality. Theology is not only taught but bears upon every study. Artists and writers appreciate the human experience, full of meaning and hope in the reality of Christ. Science and medical students learn the ethics of caring for God’s creation and wonder at the intentionality of every living thing and process. Math and engineering students embrace the divine order on which every rule and formula depends.

Questions of morality are not excluded but are central to a Catholic education. Catholic educators face sin and redemption honestly, for the good of their students. They draw lessons from those tragedies that result from our fallen nature—like the events in Charlottesville—without hiding truth within the privacy of their homes.

Hopefully, the events in Charlottesville have inspired Catholic families to talk about the sin of racism, respect for human dignity, and the sometimes blurry distinctions between preserving and celebrating history. As students begin the school year, we need that conversation to continue in the classroom.

We need educators who teach and witness to Catholic morality and assent to God’s authority, as given to us through the Catholic Church. We need the same truths—all truth—to be embraced, sought, and reverenced in our homes, schools, and colleges.

Anything less deprives young people of a complete formation. Anything less deprives them of truth.

The Land O’ Lakes Statement Has Caused Devastation For 50 Years

In hindsight, what they did was appalling.

But when several Catholic university leaders gathered in the summer of 1967 at a remote retreat in Land O’ Lakes, Wisconsin, did they fully anticipate the consequences of their vision for “modern” Catholic education? Hopefully not.

It was 50 years ago, on July 20-23, when Notre Dame’s Father Theodore Hesburgh, C.S.C., gathered his peers to draft and sign the “Land O’ Lakes Statement,” a declaration of the independence of Catholic universities from “authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical, external to the academic community itself.”

Over the course of just a few years following the statement, most Catholic colleges and universities in America shed their legal ties to the Church and handed their institutions over to independent boards of trustees. In the quest for secular prestige and government funding, many went so far as to remove the crucifixes from their classroom walls and to represent their Catholic identity in historical terms (such as, “in the Jesuit tradition”).

The wound of secularization deepened over the next few decades: many Catholic colleges and universities weakened their core curricula in favor of the Harvard model of electives and specialization, adopted a radical notion of academic freedom, embraced relativism and political correctness, and largely abandoned the project of forming young people for Christ outside the classroom.

It wasn’t until 1990 that the “Land O’ Lakes Statement” was soundly repudiated by Saint Pope John Paul II in Ex corde Ecclesiae, the apostolic constitution for Catholic universities. Although not yet accepted in its entirety, Ex corde Ecclesiae turned the tide toward renewal of Catholic identity and gave prominence to those faithful institutions that never accepted the Land O’ Lakes mentality. In the meantime, however, Fr. Hesburgh’s declaration did much damage.

It’s for good reason, then, that the “Land O’ Lakes Statement” has become a focal point in American Church history. It’s sometimes described as an explosive, revolutionary act that changed the trajectory of Catholic higher education, which may be an exaggeration. But it certainly was a watershed moment, evidenced by the rapid changes that followed the statement. It was also the culmination of years of unrest in Catholic universities—in many respects, a moral struggle with the temptation to pride and prestige at the expense of Catholic identity.

With the “Land O’ Lakes Statement,” that struggle was momentarily lost. It represented a public, deliberate choice for opportunity over mission, resulting in a voluntary exile from the once-lush gardens of truth and wisdom that had distinguished the world’s Catholic universities.

The allure of prestige

For most Catholic university graduates and educators before the late 1960s, alma mater was still as much Mother Church as her academic institutions. But more than a decade before the “Land O’ Lakes Statement,” influential academics were already expressing disappointment with the public status of Catholic universities in the United States.

This was argued forcefully by Monsignor John Tracy Ellis, a Church history professor at the Catholic University of America, whose lament was published and disseminated by Fordham University:

“…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. …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.”

Note that Msgr. Ellis did not claim that Catholics were intellectually lacking, but only that they lacked academic “influence” and “prestige.” The prior claim would have been astonishing, given that Ellis’ university colleagues included (until 1950) then-Bishop Fulton Sheen—who not only was known for his radio and television preaching, but also was described as a highly gifted philosopher.

The Thomas Reeves biography of the Venerable Sheen reveals a much earlier battle, in which the saintly professor testified to Catholic University’s board of trustees against attempts to make the institution a “Catholic Harvard,” with emphasis on secular prestige. At a 1935 trustees meeting, Sheen called for the “primacy of the spiritual” in Catholic education:

“The task of integrating the supernatural with the natural, of infusing human knowledge with the divine, of complementing our knowledge of things with our knowledge of God, of making all things Theocentric, is the business of a Catholic university.”

He added that the bishops’ national university:

“…is to education what the Catholic Church is to religion, namely, the leaven in the mass. The Church is not one of the sects, it is the unique life of Christ; the Catholic University is not one of the American Universities, it is their soul.”

The deck is stacked

It would be wrong, then, to assume that Catholic identity was suddenly under assault by the participants in the 1967 retreat at Land O’ Lakes. It had endured through many trials. The appeal for academic independence from “all authority” had perhaps found its time, when society itself seemed to have turned against tradition and values.

Two other false notions about the Land O’ Lakes meeting deserve to be corrected. For one thing, the retreat was not an isolated gathering of independent reformers; it was surprisingly “official,” one of several regional meetings around the world to help draft a statement by the Vatican-affiliated International Federation of Catholic Universities (IFCU), of which Fr. Hesburgh was then president. The final Vatican-influenced document, “The Catholic University in the Modern World,” was far more traditional in its understanding of Catholic education, and in fact it is quoted in Ex corde Ecclesiae.

Second, although the Land O’ Lakes meeting was identified as the North American regional delegation to the IFCU, it was never truly intended to represent all of the region’s Catholic colleges and universities. Subsequent histories and Notre Dame’s own description indicate that the participants were focused on large, research institutions—an odd emphasis, since none of the represented universities had truly attained that status, but perhaps they aspired to it.

Moreover, it seems the deck was stacked with Fr. Hesburgh’s allies: only 10 universities were represented, including six from the U.S.: Boston College, Catholic University of America, Fordham, Georgetown, Notre Dame and Saint Louis. (The rector of the Catholic University of America was alone in publicly criticizing the resulting statement.) Of the 26 signers, seven were from Notre Dame and its sponsoring Holy Cross Fathers, and ten were Jesuits or leaders of Jesuit institutions.

Some of the signers were especially notable: Archbishop Paul Hallinan of Atlanta, Father Theodore McCarrick (then president of the Pontifical University of Puerto Rico and later Archbishop of Washington) and Father Vincent O’Keefe, S.J. (later Vicar General of the Society of Jesus).

Also intriguing is the signature by John Cogley, a leftist scholar representing the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions. It’s not clear what he was doing at Land O’ Lakes, except that he was a celebrated intellectual in certain circles. He had been religion editor of the New York Times and a principal writer of John F. Kennedy’s 1960 speech advocating the separation of church and state. He later dissented from Humanae Vitae and became an Episcopalian.

For a few coins

I leave it to the reader to explore more of the statement itself, but I’ll make one more claim about the motivations behind it. Above I accused the signers of succumbing to the temptation for worldly prestige. But closely tied to secular prestige is the desire for money, which seems also to have been a related factor.

In 1987, Sister Brigid Driscoll, former president of Marymount College in New York, offered a defense of the “Land O’ Lakes” mentality:

“In the 1960s and early 1970s, most Catholic colleges severed even tenuous ties to the Church…

“We became independent and named lay trustees because of accreditation, the increased sophistication of higher education as a major enterprise and because of the demands of growth…

“Those decisions meant a windfall for the schools a few years later when the federal government offered financial aid to independent colleges…

“Any indication that these schools were under ecclesiastical authority could cast doubt on their independence and thus jeopardize that aid…”

The same year, in the New York Times (Jan. 16, 1987), Fr. Hesburgh made a similar claim:

“Catholic colleges and universities receive a large amount of financial help in different forms from the public monies of the state.

“…if there were no academic freedom and institutional autonomy for Catholic higher education, it might very well be that the [U.S. Supreme] Court would rule that public funding for Catholic institutions of higher learning is unconstitutional.”

In fact, however, the Supreme Court has ruled quite differently in support of religious institutions. Today some of the most faithful Catholic colleges like Franciscan University of Steubenville and Thomas Aquinas College participate freely in federal student aid programs, as does the “ecclesiastical” Catholic University of America.

It’s sadly true that, for the Catholic universities that embraced Land O’ Lakes, secularization has been rewarded with large endowments and state aid. But it’s simply not true that federal aid would have been unavailable to universities that maintained formal ties to the Church. Ironically, Notre Dame still is under some legal control by the Holy Cross Fathers; its students receive grants and loans, and it has received numerous federal grants from the Obama administration (albeit after giving the President an honorary degree).

For many smaller Catholic colleges, secularization has not benefited them financially. They struggle to distinguish themselves from state universities that provide the same job training at less cost.

Marymount College in New York is a case in point. Recall that Sr. Driscoll seemed proud of her institution’s choice to sever “tenuous ties to the Church,” bringing a “windfall” of taxpayer funds. The College closed its doors in 2007 for financial reasons.

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.

National Essay Contest Winner Seeks Catholic College Centered on God

The Cardinal Newman Society is proud to announce that Jace Griffith of Idaho Falls High School in Idaho is the winner  of the Society’s first annual Essay Scholarship Contest for Catholic college-bound students and will receive a $5,000 scholarship toward her education at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan.

“I’ve decided I want God to be the center of my life,” writes Griffith in her winning essay, titled “Fullness.” “In the end, it only makes sense to choose a college that wants the same thing.”

The contest was open to high school seniors in the United States who participated in the Newman Society’s Recruit Me program and used The Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College and My Future, My Faith magazine in their college search. The winning scholarship must be used for education at one of the 29 Catholic colleges and higher education programs recommended in The Newman Guide for their strong fidelity and Catholic identity.

With the innovative Recruit Me program, high school students can invite Newman Guide colleges to compete for them and provide information about their programs. Rising high school seniors who wish to compete in next year’s essay contest can sign up for Recruit Me online at

The topic for this year’s contest was to reflect, in 500-700 words, on the following questions: “In general, why should someone choose a faithful Catholic college? And what do you, personally, hope to gain from a faithful Catholic education?”

Essays were judged by how well they demonstrated appreciation for faithful Catholic education, as well as the quality of the writing.

“Jace Griffith impressed us with her inspirational storytelling and her eagerness for the curriculum and community at a faithful Catholic college,” said Kelly Salomon, editor of The Newman Guide and director of membership for The Cardinal Newman Society.

Growing up in a community and schools with mostly non-Catholics, Griffith learned to explain and defend her Catholic faith, but she yearns for a Catholic college that forms “ethical and virtuous men and women with their eyes set on the great fullness that only God can give.”

“After all,” Griffith continues in her essay, “I’ve spent enough time struggling to explain why I’m skipping school for ‘a good Friday’ and fending off tissues from well-meaning classmates who noticed the ash smudge on my forehead.”

She looks forward to a liberal arts curriculum, studying psychology in the “context of human dignity” and being surrounded by young adults with “similar goals and morals.”

“Impressed by the unique academics and enamored with communities full of the vibrant, persistent, delighted love of Christ, I trust that faithful Catholic colleges will continue to teach their students the fullness that is real truth and real joy,” she writes.

Griffith’s entire essay can be read here.

Her $5,000 scholarship is made possible thanks to the generosity of Joe and Ann Guiffre, supporters of the Newman Society and faithful Catholic education.

“We are grateful to Mr. and Mrs. Guiffre for enabling this scholarship,” said Cardinal Newman Society President Patrick Reilly. “They understand the unique value of a truly Catholic education, and they are thrilled to help a student experience all that a Newman Guide-recommended college can provide.”

Essays were submitted from students in 29 states. Most attend Catholic schools, but many others attend public schools or are homeschooled.

All of the participants have applied to colleges recommended in The Newman Guide, including colleges across the United States and as far away as the University of Navarra in Spain and Catholic Pacific College in Canada.

Although only one student was named as the winner, many students submitted outstanding essays.

The essay from Anthony Jones of Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax, Va., reflects on Catholic colleges’ commitment to truth. He quotes from Ex corde Ecclesiae, the Vatican’s constitution on Catholic higher education: “A Catholic University is distinguished by its free search for the whole truth about nature, man and God.”

“Unfortunately, many colleges that claim to be Catholic shy away from teachings they deem hard to accept,” Jones writes. “Such disregard demonstrates a lack of both respect and understanding of God’s word, inevitably resulting in an education that is seriously flawed.”

Adam Boyle from Mother of Divine Grace School in Ojai, Calif., writes in his essay that his “decision to attend a faithful Catholic college is essentially the same as Peter’s response to Jesus: where else would I go?”

“Faithfully Catholic colleges provide this ‘fixed definition of truth’ for all of their students, and that creates a culture centered around Christ and His bride, the Church, which we know is the ultimate truth,” Boyle writes, quoting from Archbishop Charles Chaput’s Strangers in a Strange Land.

Julia Kloess, a homeschooled student from Mount Horeb, Wisc., described faithful Catholic colleges in the context of truth, beauty and goodness.

“I have not yet discerned where God wants me to go after college, but this education will serve me well no matter where God leads me for the rest of my life,” Kloess writes. “Whether I become a mother, enter the consecrated life, or start a career, I fully intend to seek the Truth, the Ultimate Good, and Beauty Itself, namely God.”


Editor’s Note: The Cardinal Newman Society recently announced Jace Griffith of Idaho Falls High School in Idaho as the winner of the Society’s first annual Essay Scholarship Contest for Catholic college-bound students.  Griffith will receive a $5,000 scholarship toward her education at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan this fall.  Below is the full text of Griffith’s winning essay.  More information about the Contest can be obtained here.

I was fifteen the first time I attended the Idaho Catholic Youth Conference. Two thousand Catholic teenagers packed into a school auditorium. We were a community of similar age and similar beliefs, and on Friday night we knelt down together to adore one God.

The monstrance moved around the room for an hour in the shaking arms of the priest. His eyes were fixed on his Savior. In the darkness of the room, the illuminated host was the only light.

“Viva Cristo Rey!” came a cry from the back of the room.

Viva!” the congregation replied with one voice. For the first time, I understood that I was not alone as a Catholic youth, and my chest swelled up with fullness.

Growing up in a city where Catholics are a minority, dwarfed in number by “Latter-Day Saints,” has not always been a bad thing. Among Mormon classmates, teachers, and friends, I’ve learned to defend my faith and celebrate its differences. I’ve learned to turn to my Church when lonely. Most of all, I’ve learned that if I do not actively and willingly pursue Catholicism, my life will lack the fullness of God’s truth—and that I want to start that pursuit at a Catholic college. By fostering learning with an emphasis on the development of the whole person and surrounded by a like-minded community, Catholic colleges cater to those who wish to become not only successful in their careers, but also ethical and virtuous men and women with their eyes set on the great fullness that only God can give.

Catholic colleges are known for well-rounded development, encouraging community service, the pursuit of knowledge outside of intended majors, and rigorous academia. Curriculum at many Catholic colleges is centered in the Liberal Arts: this offers students a strong basis for philosophy, religion, literature, languages, history, and the fullness of truth. Not only do students learn the requirements for their majors and minors, they also learn things like why Aristotle is still important today, what exactly Ramadan is, and how many pages of procrastinated literature reading can be crammed into one night. For me, a dedicated daydreamer on track to become a psychologist, I want more from my education than a basic understanding of cognitive development. A Catholic education means psychology would be taught in the context of human dignity and the soul as a part of human health—and as I learn, I’ll be practicing those beliefs in the community through service projects and prayer alongside my classmates.

The benefits of Catholic colleges don’t end with the unique curriculum: Catholic colleges bring together young adults with similar goals and morals. Catholic colleges allow young adults to grow in their faith surrounded by people who are unlikely to criticize or misunderstand them for it. Instead, Catholic, Christian, and undecided students can find encouragement and community support in a mutually cooperative environment. Having spent most of my life with few fellow Catholics in my school, sports, and extra-curricular activities, I am ready to continue my development alongside hundreds of others with the same idea. After all, I’ve spent enough time struggling to explain why I’m skipping school for “a good Friday” and fending off tissues from well-meaning classmates who noticed the ash smudge on my forehead. I want to feel what I felt at ICYC when I was fifteen: fullness! Love and acceptance, strength in my community, and pride in my faith. I want to see that my faith is alive, and that it is alive in the people around me, each of us pushing and pulling each other on a stumbling path toward Heaven.

Impressed by the unique academics and enamored with communities full of the vibrant, persistent, delighted love of Christ, I trust that faithful Catholic colleges will continue to teach their students the fullness that is real truth and real joy. I’ve decided I want God to be the center of my life. In the end, it only makes sense to choose a college that wants the same thing.


Newman Society Celebrates 10 Years of ‘The Newman Guide’ with 2017-18 Release

Today, The Cardinal Newman Society releases the 2017-18 edition of The Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College and celebrates 10 years of connecting families with faithful Catholic education through the Guide.

The Newman Guide recommends 29 Catholic college, universities, and higher education institutes for their faithful Catholic identity.

The late Father Benedict Groeschel, CFR, who wrote the preface to the first Newman Guide a decade ago, said it was the Newman Society’s “most important contribution to Catholic higher education ever.”

Since the first edition of The Newman Guide in 2007, the Newman Society has greatly expanded the profiles of the recommended colleges online at TheNewman, distributed more than 100,000 free copies of the companion magazine My Future, My Faith, and launched the innovative Recruit Me! program to introduce families to colleges that truly form young people according to the mission of Catholic education.

“In the last 10 years, the institutions recommended in The Newman Guide have experienced remarkable success while remaining committed to a strong Catholic identity,” said Cardinal Newman Society President Patrick Reilly.  “The reputation of and appreciation for these faithful institutions is certainly growing in the Church, and they have become pillars of the New Evangelization in America.”

Exciting Updates at U.S. Residential Newman Guide Colleges:

Ave Maria University (FL)

In seven years, undergrad enrollment climbed 75%. Recent expansions include Catholic teacher formation and the Mother Teresa Project with the Missionaries of Charity to promote service.

Belmont Abbey College (NC)

Undergrad enrollment has grown 70% in five years. An innovator in reducing college costs, the College reset tuition in 2013 (and it’s still the same) and offers a three-year degree program.

Benedictine College (KS)

Benedictine has had 19 straight years of enrollment growth—43% in the last seven years—and 10 new residence halls in a decade. Daily Mass attendance has increased to about 625 students.

Catholic University of America (DC)

The largest of the Newman Guide’s U.S. colleges, CUA added the faithfully Catholic Busch School of Business and Economics to its 12 schools and hosted Pope Benedict and Pope Francis.

Christendom College (VA)

Enrollment is the largest ever at 477, and the College is building a magnificent new Christ the King Chapel and a $13.5 million endowment as part of its $40 million capital campaign.

DeSales University (PA)

Undergraduate enrollment jumped this year and has seen a total 8% increase over seven years. The University has earned a reputation in the arts, including its annual Shakespeare festival.

Franciscan University of Steubenville (OH)

The University known for its vibrant campus spirituality is expanding rapidly into online education. Two-thirds of the students are in Catholic “households,” and half study abroad.

John Paul the Great Catholic University (CA)

Undergrad enrollment at JPCatholic has more than doubled in seven years. At the rapidly growing Escondido campus, students earn bachelor’s degrees in just three years.

Mount St. Mary’s University (MD)

Despite a brief, rocky tenure with a mismatched president, the Mount’s now doing great—a testament to its firm Catholic foundation—under West Point’s former academic dean.

Northeast Catholic College (NH)

Undergrad enrollment has grown nearly 40% in seven years, with five new majors. The new “Arts of the Beautiful” program integrates music, visual arts and aesthetics.

St. Gregory’s University (OK)

Undergrads increased 15% in five years, with exponential growth in the new nursing program. A new initiative focuses on “seamless education” from the liberal arts to career preparation.

Thomas Aquinas College (CA)

Enrollment is the highest ever at 389, and TAC expects to open a new Massachusetts campus in 2018. TAC is top-ranked and second only to Princeton University for alumni loyalty.

Thomas More College of Liberal Arts (NH)

Enrollment grew 10% in the last year, the seventh straight year of growth. The College added Spanish internships and a Poland pilgrimage to its Rome and Oxford programs.

University of Dallas (TX)

Undergrad enrollment has grown 8% in the last seven years. Dallas recently built a new business school center and launched a Catholic teacher certification program.

University of Mary (ND)

The recent addition to the Newman Guide is rapidly increasing its Catholic student enrollment and led this year’s March for Life with seven busloads traveling more than 24 hours.

University of St. Thomas (TX)

Hitting its largest undergraduate enrollment this year in nearly a decade, the University’s percentage of students living in campus residences has increased from 20 to 50 percent.

Walsh University (OH)

The second-largest Newman Guide U.S. college has added six new majors for a total of 70. The University was able to decrease its net price while offering substantial student aid.

Wyoming Catholic College (WY)

Enrollment has grown 150% in seven years with the largest freshman classes in the last two years. The College’s former academic dean was recently appointed president.

# # #

Founded in 1993, the mission of The Cardinal Newman Society is to promote and defend faithful Catholic education.  The Society is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt, nonprofit organization supported by individuals, businesses, and foundations.

To schedule an interview with the Newman Society, please contact Kelly Salomon, managing editor of The Newman Guide, at

Aquinas College

Nashville Dominicans Turn Focus Entirely to Teacher Formation

A few years ago, Sister Mary Sarah Galbraith, OP, and her team at Nashville’s Aquinas College set out to build a four-year, traditional college by expanding disciplines beyond nursing and education and building a residential campus.

In many respects, they found significant success, and their accomplishments suggest real opportunities for colleges that strongly embrace their Catholic identity.

Now the college has a new vision — still firmly Catholic and promising the bear much fruit for the Church and the New Evangelization. Today the college’s owners, the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia, announced a bold new direction that focuses entirely on teacher education and Catholic schools initiatives, while retaining courses in theology and philosophy.

The shift was made partly because of financial concerns, although the college remains strong relative to many other small colleges.

I spoke to Sister Anne Catherine Burleigh, OP, spokeswoman for the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia, about the changes and what they mean for Aquinas College.

Centered on Catholic education

Teacher formation is a natural emphasis for the Nashville congregation, which has taught in Catholic schools since prior to the Civil War. Whereas most women’s religious orders have pulled out of Catholic schools and dwindled in number, the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia have expanded into 49 schools in 28 dioceses. They are located in the U.S., Canada, Ireland, Scotland, Italy, the Netherlands and Australia.

In 2013, Bishop Hugh Gilbert of Aberdeen, Scotland, was so enthusiastic in welcoming the largely American sisters to his diocese, he described them as heroes rescuing Catholic schools and Catholic culture.

“I’m old enough to remember Westerns,” Bishop Gilbert said. “And here we are, wagons drawn close, feeling our last days have come and our scalps about to be removed, when — lo and behold — the U.S. 7th Cavalry appears over the hill. Here they are, armed not with carbines but rosaries. And we can breathe again.”

The Congregation of St. Cecilia has grown by more than two thirds since 2000. About 250 of the 300 sisters are active in various apostolates, and the average age of the Sisters is 39.

“God is great,” Sr. Anne Catherine says regarding the 16 to 20 postulants the congregation sees annually.

Aquinas College, fully owned by the congregation, has been a hub for the congregation’s training for both the Sisters and lay Catholic teachers. The college is distinguished by its strong commitment to fidelity and to preparing teachers primarily for Catholic schools.

“The approach to teacher education at Aquinas College is based on the conviction that teaching is more than a career choice,” explains Sr. Mary Sarah in a press release about the reconfiguration. “It is both a gift and a mission.”

In addition to teacher formation, the college will continue its very successful initiatives in education and evangelization. The Center for Catholic Education provides spiritual and professional formation for educators and parents beyond the college, and its annual WISE Conference for Catholic School Educators provides a much-needed emphasis on Catholic identity and mission.

The college’s work in Catholic education “is more needed than ever,” says Sr. Anne Catherine. “It’s something that we do well, and we want to continue to do it well.”

Position of strength

Of course, the dramatic changes bring a lot of pain to this small, close-knit community, which learned today that about 60 faculty members and staff will lose their jobs.

More than half the college’s 257 students also must complete their degrees elsewhere. After this semester, Aquinas College will no longer offer degrees in the arts and sciences, business and nursing. The latter was once a mainstay of the college, but it had already phased out the its two-year associates program in nursing to attract more four-year, full-time students.

In keeping with the Sisters’ deep commitment to the good of their students, Sr. Mary Sarah and the college’s other leaders have worked hard to help students make the most of the situation. Fourteen colleges—including local colleges and some of the faithful Catholic colleges in The Newman Guide—have been lined up to accept Aquinas students with comparable tuition and financial aid.

Still, this was an emotional morning for students and employees learning about the new direction for the first time. College leaders were scheduled to meet with faculty and staff at 9:00 a.m., and students soon afterward. The public learned the news before lunchtime.

Did finances have anything to do with the decision? The Sisters acknowledge that Aquinas was under the same severe difficulties that most small colleges face today, competing with state-funded universities and large institutions with big endowments to support financial aid. Aquinas has just $5 million in endowment funds.

Still, it doesn’t seem that the college’s situation is dire. According to the U.S. Education Department’s financial health ratings released just this week, there are many colleges in much worse straits than Aquinas.

Sr. Anne Catherine explains that by making changes now and avoiding debt, the Sisters can be “proactive” and move the college forward “from a position of strength.” The Sisters’ principled refusal to take on heavy debt is unique among small colleges today — especially those that are rapidly expanding their campuses, as Aquinas planned to do before changing direction today. It had just built a new women’s dorm, completed in 2015.

Acknowledging the pain of displaced students and employees, Sr. Anne Catherine said that the careful financial strategy reflects the Sisters’ commitment to “do what is right and good” for the college community while protecting the college and congregation from “serious financial risk.” For now, the Sisters have concluded that abandoning the vision of a four-year traditional college with residential options and student activities is the prudent path forward.

A model for success

While the Sisters have found the changes financially necessary and have centered on their mission of serving Catholic schools, it shouldn’t be ignored what Aquinas College accomplished in recent years toward its prior goal of building a traditional college with multiple disciplines.

In just a few years, Sister Mary Sarah and the college leadership added new four-year bachelor’s level programs, expanded campus residences and student activities, and attracted faculty like Joseph Pearce, the acclaimed literary expert who has led the college’s Center for Faith and Culture. The acclaimed teacher formation program, which remains, has been valuable to bishops and educators around the U.S. and the globe.

In all of this, Aquinas proudly advertised that “we take our Catholic and Dominican identity seriously.” From renovating chapels to hiring faithful faculty, the college put its commitment into action. And the college’s leaders say that fidelity to Catholic teaching was never a detriment to attracting students and support, but in fact was a key strength.

Paul Downey, director of marketing and communications, told me a few weeks ago, “We think Aquinas is a great case study in how strong Catholic identity isn’t just a good idea from a moral standpoint. It also makes for a stronger institution.”

He said that from fall 2011 to fall 2016 — in just five years — the college posted these impressive results:

  • the portion of students who were Catholic increased from 35 percent to 63 percent, despite the college’s location in an area with only 6 percent Catholic residents;
  • the portion of students from out of state increased from 8 percent of first-time freshmen to 67 percent;
  • the portion of undergraduates who were full-time students increased from 32 percent of undergraduates to 69 percent; and
  • new students interested in non-nursing programs increased from 27 percent to 47 percent.

That’s the sort of growth that would make any faithful Catholic college envious!

It may seem contradictory to focus on these accomplishments, on a day when Aquinas College has narrowed its emphasis to teacher formation and thereby eliminated its non-education programs and its plan to expand residences. But the marked accomplishments that I highlighted don’t fully address the financial realities that the Dominicans and all small colleges face today.

What the accomplishments do demonstrate is that it would be very wrong to assume that the college substantially failed in its efforts in recent years—especially the marketing of the college’s strong Catholic identity. In many respects, the college’s Catholic identity was what allowed it to attract students and faculty, and strong Catholic identity will continue to be key to the college’s success in the future.

I hope that other Catholic college leaders learn from Aquinas College’s steadfast commitment to its Catholic mission, to its sponsoring order’s charism, and to financial prudence.

May God bless the Sisters in their very important and urgently needed work of preparing teachers for faithful Catholic education worldwide. I have no doubt that their fortitude and trust in God will carry them through this next journey.

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.

Student Group Big

Bishop Flores: What Every Catholic Kid Needs for School

Does “Catholic education” begin in Catholic schools—or is there something more foundational?

Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas, has an intriguing answer.

Last week, in his St. Hildegard Lecture at the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota, Bishop Flores argued that there are “habits of the soul” that, when developed “prior to formal education,” help students become more aware of the relationships among physical and abstract realities and God.

This, he says, prepares a student to study disciplines as varied as “grammar, rhetoric, music, biology, medicine, morality and mystical contemplation.”

I spoke with Bishop Flores following the lecture to discuss the implications for Catholic families and teachers.

Back to the Garden

By encouraging formation that occurs “prior to formal education,” Bishop Flores does not propose some sort of Catholic preschool, although developing good habits in the home and parish at a young age is important.

Instead, by “prior” he means fundamental, a prerequisite for a good education at any age.

In his lecture at the University of Mary, he noted that St. Hildegard of Bingen and other great saints exhibited a “synthetic impulse, by which I mean a purposeful concern for the deeper connections that bind all that exists.” They grasped how things and ideas relate to other parts of reality, the “kinship” and order in God’s creation.

This, argued Bishop Flores, was partly a result of their upbringing within a Catholic culture and worldview.

For St. Hildegard, the synthetic impulse was “fertile ground” to produce impressive writings, musical compositions, poetry, moral teaching and scientific studies without ever having the sort of formal schooling that is common to most great thinkers. She had a mind “like Jacob’s ladder,” said Bishop Flores, that ascended to the sublime and descended into practical concerns without difficulty.

This sense of both divine purpose and the relatedness of all reality is valuable to learning, Bishop Flores argued. The synthetic impulse enables the student to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for the world around us.

It is “somewhat natural to human beings” and therefore available to non-Catholics, but for a faithful Catholic, the synthetic impulse:

…becomes robust and fruitful with baptism into the faith; it comes with looking at life and reality from the gut awareness that the source of all that is, is the Good God; this good God loves immensely, and was interested in a garden at creation, not a wild and chaotic forest of beings related only by a competitive need to survive.

He recommended that Catholics spend more time with other people who appreciate the connectedness of all things, especially how humans relate to each other. He mentioned several categories of good company: children, whose thoughts naturally tend to both realism and imagination; the poor, whose dependency makes them appreciate the “reciprocity of human relations;” poets, writers and other artists, whose work is “reflecting the creative act of the WORD;” farmers, who are attuned to the “natural rhythms of nature;” and the saints, because charity is “the gift of knowing how to relate.”

The confidence of Catholics

I explored these themes further with Bishop Flores after the lecture. If the synthetic impulse is foundational to a good education, I wondered, does it suggest particular methods and practices in formal Catholic education, or is it cultivated entirely outside of our schools?

Bishop Flores believes that Catholic educators certainly can help nurture students’ synthetic impulse—“if you don’t have it, you have to develop it,” he said. But the point of his lecture was to suggest that Catholics, because of their faith, culture and worldview, tend to come to school already confident in the relatedness of things, making them well-prepared for learning and discernment.

Catholic educators should ask, he said, “How well habituated is the student body to seeing things as interrelated? How well have they maintained a traditional Catholic sense of the connectedness of reality?”

Where the synthetic impulse is noticeably lacking, a Catholic school can help.

“But it works much better if there is already a foundation in the home,” Bishop Flores said.

I asked whether he thinks that, given the very secular culture in which most Catholic families live today, many homes still provide this foundation for young Catholics?

He acknowledged the “very steep undertow” in our culture, which is highly individualistic. But he said there remain “expressions of very deep Catholic life” in prayer, spirituality, music and the arts. This sets many young people “on the road” to perceiving truth and the relations of things.

As for Catholic schools and colleges, it’s clear that many today have drifted away from the integrated learning and strong core curricula that helped reinforce the synthetic impulse for previous generations of Catholics. In his lecture, Bishop Flores lamented the “intellectual culture of endless disciplines and sub-disciplines happily unconcerned with what a colleague across the campus may be doing or thinking.”

What has been lost, he said, “is the sheer human joy of pursuing the signs of relationality we know are present in things that may at times appear disparate and unrelated.” Young people should wonder about the unity of creation, but academia wants them to analyze facts in isolation.

Still, that’s not the case throughout Catholic education. Bishop Flores said he is “impressed” by some Catholic schools. It “can be a blessing” that smaller schools have limited resources, he said, because teachers and parents have to work together, increasing the cohesiveness of the community.

He experienced that cohesiveness himself when studying at the University of Dallas, a faithful Catholic college. He was also “very impressed” by what he saw last week at the University of Mary.

Bottom line: there’s much to be restored in education, but “Catholic institutions are in the best position to do it.”

Flesh and blood

Earlier I mentioned Bishop Flores’ recommendation that Catholics spend more time with people in whom the synthetic impulse is especially strong. I asked him to relate this to Catholic education—can schools help provide this for students and faculty?

Obviously schools offer the opportunity for adults to engage with children, one of the groups he mentioned. It’s the encounter with children that draws grade school teachers to the profession. But Bishop Flores suggested that college professors are often too isolated in their disciplines and even socially.

“Many theology and philosophy professors, to put it bluntly, need to get out more,” he said.

We discussed the value of older students mixing with younger ones, an aspect of homeschooling that I’ve found particularly healthy for my own kids. Bishop Flores said he encourages high school students to mentor younger ones and develop an ethos of “looking out for each other.”

Catholic education can also introduce students to the poor. But the encounter should be more than “social justice” activities and providing material aid, Bishop Flores suggested. It should help students relate humanly to the people they help by getting to know them.

“The poor are not a category,” he said. “We’ve eclipsed the personal encounter, because we’ve categorized people.”

With regard to experiencing the arts, we talked especially about the Hispanic Catholic culture prevalent in his Brownsville Diocese, with its “very tactile” feasts, processions and devotions. Bishop Flores said these are reminders of early European expressions of Catholic life, like the ornate Polish churches he explored as a youth, which can be “extremely powerful” in transmitting the faith and encouraging wonder.

“The Church needs to recapture some of the ethnic beauty of the Church,” he said.

And students should be introduced to the saints, especially by the display of relics. Bishop Flores finds that young people “are the most responsive” to such tangible displays of both divine and material reality.

“Christianity becomes an idea until you put some flesh and blood on it,” he said.

True Catholic education

After our conversation, it occurred to me that Bishop Flores’ contemplation of the synthetic impulse is helpful to developing a proper sense of Catholic education.

Instilling good “habits of the soul” in young people prepares them for formal schooling, but it is already part of Catholic education in its own right. Catholic education is not an institution with the label “Catholic.” It is the project of forming young people in the faith for fully human living and to gain the inheritance promised by Christ.

So when Catholic parents and parishes nurture the synthetic impulse by teaching the faith and living Catholic culture, it is as much an exercise of Catholic education as teaching theology in a classroom.

Blessed John Henry Newman said Catholic education should integrate religion and science so as “to reunite things which were in the beginning joined together by God, and have been put asunder by man.” By appreciating “the grandly expressive relation between all things that are,” Bishop Flores added, “a Christian is called by grace to be the mediator of a related world that struggles to live up to its relations.”

Now that sounds like a Catholic education that lives up to its name.

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.

thomas aquinas college chapel

One Catholic College Temporarily Closes, But Another Springs Up

In 2008, the cover of Commonweal magazine proclaimed this headline: “Catholic to the Core: How One College Does It.” It celebrated the 10-course, four-year core curriculum and strong commitment to liberal education at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind.

But last week, Saint Joseph’s announced that it would temporarily shut down its main campus with hopes of erasing its debt and starting over again. According to news reports about the college’s needs, dwindling endowment and inability to turn assets into cash, it seems the college has a very steep climb to get back on its feet—and it’s already facing a possible loss of accreditation.

Coincidentally or providentially, in the very same week, Thomas Aquinas College of Santa Paula, Calif., announced that it would be opening a new campus in Northfield, Mass., in the fall of 2018.

Depending on which model other Catholic colleges choose to follow, last week’s news may be a harbinger of future college closings or a hopeful sign of the renewal of Catholic education.

‘In all things to remain faithful’

Commonweal has never featured Thomas Aquinas College on its cover or even offered faint praise for the college—at least I could find none in its online archives. That’s a shame, because Thomas Aquinas exceeds Saint Joseph’s in its commitment to a strong core curriculum and liberal studies. But there are substantial differences between the institutions that, no doubt, explain the apathy of the “Catholic lite” authors at Commonweal and the excitement among many Catholic parents, priests and bishops about the ascendancy of Thomas Aquinas College.

The college has risen up both the Catholic and the secular rankings as one of the top colleges in the nation. It is highly recommended by National Catholic Register (“producing vocations at a time when vocations from far larger and better known Catholic universities have slowed to a trickle”), The Cardinal Newman Society (“impressive intellectual rigor that is matched by a commitment to orthodox Catholicism”), the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (curriculum is in top 2 percent of U.S. colleges), the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (“one of the strongest curricula in the U.S.”), Princeton Review, U.S. News and World ReportKiplinger’s “Best Values in Private Colleges” and more.

But the real selling point about Thomas Aquinas College is its alumni, who bear all the marks of highly educated, highly capable and devotedly Catholic young men and women. Thomas Aquinas is second only to Princeton University for alumni satisfaction as measured by annual giving.

It’s incredible and contradicts all the secular “wisdom” that a staunchly faithful Catholic institution, unreservedly committed to the true Faith and to a pure liberal arts curriculum, can survive and even thrive in today’s American culture. But we see other confidently Catholic colleges in The Newman Guide doing well also. That bodes well for Catholic families.

Thomas Aquinas College embraces a strongly Catholic identity that is rooted in the firm conviction that the Catholic Faith is revealed truth and therefore foundational to higher studies. This carries through the curriculum, the residence halls, and the frequent activity at the stunningly beautiful campus chapel.

According to the college:

At Thomas Aquinas College, the Catholic faith is more than a mere adornment on an otherwise secular education. The intellectual tradition and moral teachings of the Catholic Church infuse the whole life of the College, illuminating all learning as well as the community within which learning takes place. The curriculum is ordered toward theology — that is, the knowledge of God — and the College strives in all things to remain faithful to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.

Reinventing a college

That’s simply not the way Saint Joseph’s has chosen to market itself. Relative to other Catholic colleges, Saint Joseph’s has demonstrated pride in its history as a missionary school for Native Americans and has taken steps to preserve its Catholic identity. And yet, there is something clearly different implied in the college’s appeal to “Gospel values” and “Christian humanism” than the integrated Catholic culture that Thomas Aquinas College embraces without reserve. Although Saint Joseph’s has held on to its strong core of liberal studies, I don’t believe that it could claim a program of Catholic formation and a curriculum and campus life that exude certainty that our Catholic Faith is where we meet the very source of knowledge and truth.

Cardinal Raymond Burke, when visiting Thomas Aquinas College, described the students as showing “a deep love of Christ, God Incarnate, and of His Church.” Most college admissions directors would say that doesn’t “sell” today. But Thomas Aquinas and other colleges are doing it. The waiting list is large enough to warrant a new east coast campus.

No doubt the editors of Commonweal would cringe at what might be perceived as a closed, non-diverse community at Thomas Aquinas. That’s one way to see it, although I think they’d find more diversity among the students than they assume, and it’s impossible not to be drawn to the beauty of Catholicism as soon as one steps onto the Santa Paula campus. Saint Joseph’s still has much of this also, especially with its large iconic chapel, although its presence seems more a tribute to the past than to a vibrant, living Catholic culture.

What I see at places like Thomas Aquinas College is a joyful, unapologetic embrace of our Catholic Faith as the door that opens our minds to true wisdom and virtue. If the purpose of a college is to teach and seek truth, then nothing Catholic—not our beliefs, ethics, practices or traditions—should be regarded as anti-intellectual or otherwise opposed to the work of the academy.

And so I question the exaggeration of another media headline: “Can a Small College Close to Reinvent Itself?” from the Chronicle of Higher Education last week. It detailed the efforts to save Saint Joseph’s by, it appears, primarily cutting programs and faculty to address its financial woes. Nothing is mentioned about emphasizing the college’s obvious market niche to recruit new students—its core curriculum and its Catholic identity. It won’t surprise me if the core curriculum goes away entirely in the new Saint Joseph’s College, if it manages to reopen.

From my perspective—after 25 years of urging Catholic higher education leaders to renew Catholic identity in fidelity and joyful service to the Church—that’s not “reinventing” a Catholic college at all. It’s tinkering with an old house that was long ago condemned by the higher education elite, which now dominates the surrounding community and has rezoned it for purposes that a small Catholic college can never fulfill. If Catholic colleges today want to compete in the same market as public universities and secular elite institutions, they’ll most likely close before long.

What might have been?

I can’t say that’s the primary reason Saint Joseph’s failed—especially since it held on to its Catholic identity better than many others—but a new, exciting embrace of the college’s roots might have helped bring students in. A cursory review of the college’s website reveals a Catholic baseline but little that would be especially attractive to someone seeking a faithful Catholic education. The college has no theology department, just majors combining philosophy and broad religious studies and a graduate program for lay ministers sponsored by the Diocese of Lafayette. Its campus ministry offers a daily Mass and a couple on Sundays, confessions, liturgical activities and Taize prayer. It sponsors a large number of service activities—which are important but found at most secular colleges today—and a pro-life club and LGBT “safe zone” training. Other campus clubs include the Spectrum Alliance for “people who fall anywhere on the spectrum of gender identities and sexual orientation.” Residence halls are mostly single-sex, a rare blessing even in Catholic colleges today.

Who knows what might have been, had Saint Joseph’s decided to fully embrace the model of Thomas Aquinas College? I doubt we’ll get a chance to see. But other colleges could get ahead of their debt and give it a try.

I think it’s certain that a small Catholic college that sees its identity as something of an historical note, recalling a Catholic culture that has disappeared, will not successfully compete with secular private and public higher education. But a college that restores Catholic culture—that lives it today and immerses its students in the beauty and wisdom of the Catholic tradition—will be blessed, I believe.

It’s exciting to see the new efforts like Pontifex University, a Catholic graduate arts school, and Our Lady Seat of Wisdom, a Canadian college that just got approval for a three-year bachelor’s degree. And there are many others in The Newman Guide that are growing with the support of Catholic families and increasing awareness of these faithful college options.

Thank you to all of these colleges for giving Catholic parents hope. Let’s pray for them, as it’s a difficult time for all small colleges, to be sure.

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.

Scalia and Gorsuch: Both Lamented ‘Liberalism’ in Catholic Education

When President Donald Trump said he would nominate a Supreme Court justice in the mold of Justice Antonin Scalia, who died one year ago on Feb. 13, everyone knew that meant someone who shares Scalia’s originalist philosophy of constitutional law.

But who expected that the appointee, Neil Gorsuch, would be another Georgetown graduate? And one who apparently once shared the late Catholic jurist’s disapproval of “liberal” trends in Catholic education?

To be precise, Scalia graduated from the Jesuits’ Georgetown University in 1957, and Gorsuch graduated from Georgetown Preparatory School in 1985. But years earlier, both institutions sprang from the same Georgetown College that Father John Carroll (the future archbishop of Baltimore) founded in 1789. In fact, there was little distinction between the secondary school and the college for nearly a century. The Preparatory School finally separated and moved from Washington, D.C., to its present location in Bethesda, Maryland, in 1919.

‘Not Catholic Anymore’

When Father Carroll founded Georgetown, it was with great hope that the school would help firmly establish the Catholic Faith in America.

“The object nearest my heart now, and the only one that can give consistency to our religious views in this country, is the establishment of a school, and afterwards a Seminary for young clergymen,” he wrote in 1785 to Father Charles Plowden in England.

A historian at Georgetown Prep, Steve Ochs, has written that the College once embraced the traditional view of Catholic education—that its aim is to form young people in Christ and for Christ: “Most importantly, the Jesuits of Georgetown regarded the Christian formation of students as their primary mission. Knowledge and skills, although important, were approached as a means to an end: the knowledge and love of God.”

The University today, sadly, no longer has this view of education. This is most apparent in the dossier on Georgetown scandals that accompanied the late William Peter Blatty’s petition to the Vatican.

In 2014, Justice Scalia famously declared that “Georgetown University is not Catholic anymore.” In his days at Georgetown, Scalia said, “they rolled you out of bed to attend Mass. Not anymore.”

According to The Remnant:

One little vignette still fondly remembered by the Justice harks back to what Georgetown was.

At his final oral exam prior to receiving his degree (History), Scalia was breezing along when Dr. Wilkinson, the chairman of the department who presided over the three professor panel, asked this question: What was the most important event in the history of the world?

The confident candidate thought, “I have done very well up to here and there is no wrong answer to this one,” but as he responded Prof. Wilkinson continued to shake his head signaling that the student had it all wrong. Was it the Battle of Waterloo, or the Greek valor at Thermopylae? The panel member remained unimpressed with the candidate’s answers.

Finally, Dr. Wilkinson replied: “Mr. Scalia it was the Incarnation, when Christ became a man that is the correct answer.” One seriously doubts that Dr. Wilkinson’s question is ever asked at Georgetown examinations today, and if it were, clearly his response would no longer be considered correct. Despite his answer, Antonin Scalia graduated from Georgetown U. summa cum laude, no mean feat in those days in which grades were not “curved,” and no one had ever heard of “grade inflation.”

The prior year, Scalia addressed Catholic students at the University of Virginia and also criticized Georgetown University:

“When I was at Georgetown, it was a very Catholic place. It’s not anymore—and that’s too bad,” Scalia said. “What has happened to Catholic universities, that they would lose their reason for being?”

He said the Catholic Church as a whole “has been in trouble for a while,” having lost some of its zeal for evangelization, for which Catholic education is the Church’s primary tool.

Need for Moral Formation

Justice Scalia didn’t come to that view toward the end of his life; he had deep concern for Georgetown and Catholic education generally for many years. In 1997, Scalia addressed The Cardinal Newman Society’s national conference in Washington, D.C., and he urged Catholic colleges to hold on to their Catholic beliefs:

The American landscape is strewn with colleges and universities, many of them the finest academically in the land, that were once denominational, but in principle or practice no longer are. With foolish sectarian pride I thought that could never happen to Catholic institutions. Of course I was wrong. We started later, but we are on the same road.

Scalia believed strongly in the continued need for Catholic education in today’s society, “because of the moral environment in which its work is conducted—an environment that sternly disapproves what the Church teaches, and in most cases what traditional Christianity has always taught, to be sinful.”

For that reason, the Catholic college must not shy away from “moral formation,” he said. “Catholic universities cannot avoid that task, and indeed betray the expectations of tuition-paying Catholic parents if they shirk it,” he argued.

Again in 2011, in a speech given at Duquesne University School of Law, Scalia adviocated moral formation:

Our educational establishment these days, while so tolerant of and even insistent on diversity in all other aspects of life, seems bent on eliminating the diversity of moral judgment, particularly moral judgment based on religious views. I hope this place will not yield, as some Catholic institutions have, to this politically correct insistence upon suppressing moral judgment, to this distorted view of what diversity in America means.

Scalia told the audience that moral formation “has nothing to do with making students better lawyers, but everything to do with making them better men and women. … Moral formation is a respectable goal for any educational institution, even a law school.”

He added, “A Catholic law school should be a place where it is clear, though perhaps unspoken, that the here-and-now is less important, when all is said and done, than the hereafter.”

An Episcopalian Conservative

Scalia’s high school experience, like his experience of 1950s Georgetown, was very good. He said that he became a “serious Catholic” at the Jesuit Xavier High School in New York, because of the “thoroughly religious atmosphere of the school.”

Gorsuch also attended a Jesuit high school, and like Scalia, he was a successful student. Scalia graduated in 1953 as valedictorian and first in his class at Xavier. Three decades later, Gorsuch was a top debater and was elected student body president at Georgetown Prep.

Both were fiercely conservative even as young men. “This kid was a conservative when he was 17 years old,” said Scalia’s classmate and future New York State official William Stern. “An archconservative Catholic. He could have been a member of the Curia. He was the top student in the class. He was brilliant, way above everybody else.”

Gorsuch, too, was openly conservative, but he found himself in a different environment than the “thoroughly religious” Xavier that Scalia attended. According to the Jesuit America magazine, Gorsuch sparred with both political and theological liberals at Georgetown Prep, even though he was an Episcopalian:

As a student at the tony, Jesuit-run Georgetown Preparatory School, Neil Gorsuch, the son of a Reagan administration official, was known as something of a conservative firebrand among the mostly center-left student body and faculty.

In the 1980s, students at the D.C.-area boarding school spent the minutes before student government meetings hashing out the political debates of the day.

Mr. Gorsuch, who was nominated on Jan. 31 to the Supreme Court by President Donald J. Trump, participated in the informal debates, where he was routinely teased, accused of being “a conservative fascist.” No shrinking violet, he would shoot back, taking on the liberal ethos of the school and even arguing with religion teachers about the liberal theological trends in vogue at the time.

Nevertheless, America reports, Gorsuch was popular and appears to have had a sense of humor, which was the cause of a recent flurry of news reports claiming that President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee had founded and led a “Fascism Forever” club in high school.

Ochs, the historian who teaches at Georgetown Prep and remembers Gorsuch from years ago, explained to America that the club was “a total joke.” Among the activities that Gorsuch listed in his high school yearbook, he identified himself as “Founder and President” of the “Fascism Forever Club.” (He also claimed to be a “Lousy Spanish Student” and president of the “Committee to reform The Beast.”)

“There was no club at a Jesuit school about young fascists,” Ochs told America. “The students would create fictitious clubs; they would have fictitious activities. They were all inside jokes on their senior pages.”

But it was not all fun at the liberal Jesuit school, apparently.

“There were some teachers who were ultra-liberal, and he would spar with them in class, like in religion class specifically, I remember, but always in good nature,” Ochs told America.

Distinguished Alumni

There’s been no sparring with Georgetown Prep this year over its graduate’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

“We are proud to have a son of Georgetown Preparatory School, a Catholic, Jesuit school founded the same year the United States Supreme Court was established, nominated to the nation’s highest court,” said Father Scott R. Pilarz, S.J., the school’s president, in a public statement. “All of us at Prep send our prayers and best wishes.”

America also reports that 70 of Gorsuch’s 90 classmates wrote a letter to Senators urging his confirmation.

If their wish is granted, Gorsuch is widely expected to be a strong advocate on the Court for religious freedom and the protection of human life from abortion and physician-assisted suicide.

When accepting his nomination, Crux reports that Gorsuch thanked his “friends, family and faith” for keeping his feet on the ground.

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.

Georgetown University from observatory, Washington, D.C.

‘Exorcist’ Author’s Canon Law Case Against Georgetown Continues

William Peter Blatty, best-selling author and Academy Award-winning screenwriter of The Exorcist, died Thursday at the age of 89 after battling a form of blood cancer. But his final work is still underway: a petition to the Vatican, seeking the enforcement of canon law to reform Georgetown University’s Catholic identity, is still in front of the Church’s highest court.

Although Bill Blatty is appreciated widely for his writing talent, great humor and one of the scariest movies ever made, we should also remember him as a faithful Catholic and a passionate advocate for Catholic education.

In many of his works, Blatty explored the depths of good and evil, psychology, theology and spirituality with great respect for his subject matter. And as he explained often, his objective was never “horror.” His was an inspiring human quest to catch a glimpse of God amid extraordinary experiences that test the soul.

In his last years, Blatty’s appeal to the Vatican to correct Georgetown’s wrongs demonstrated that his Catholic faith remained strong, as did his deep concern and love for the sincerely Catholic university that he attended in the 1940s.

Petition at Vatican

Manuel Miranda, a Georgetown alumnus who helped Blatty organize the petition, told me Monday that Blatty made arrangements before his death to keep the Vatican petition alive.

Blatty named Miranda his “alternate” in the canon law case. Miranda, a former president of The Cardinal Newman Society, served as Blatty’s legal counsel and helped him found the Father King Society of concerned Georgetown alumni, students, parents and faculty members. The case has worked its way through the Catholic hierarchy to the Vatican’s highest court, the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, and the King Society’s canon lawyer will meet with the Signatura about the petition this week.

In May 2012, Blatty wrote a letter urging friends of Georgetown to join his canon law petition. “For 21 years now, Georgetown University has refused to comply with Ex corde Ecclesiae (“From the Heart of the Church”), and, therefore, with canon law,” Blatty wrote. “And, it seems as if every month GU gives another scandal to the faithful!”

The petition, which Blatty began thinking about filing a few years prior, was announced on the heels of Georgetown’s announcement that HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was invited to speak at the university’s 2012 commencement. Sebelius, a Catholic, had expressed public support for abortion and led the implementation of the HHS contraception mandate. The mandate — which is still being fought in the courts — threatens the religious freedom of Catholic institutions and had been vigorously opposed by the U.S. bishops in numerous public statements before Georgetown invited Sebelius to campus.

At Blatty’s request, the Newman Society produced a dossier documenting the numerous Catholic identity abuses at Georgetown. Many but not all of these abuses have been reported, but the full dossier and petition have not yet been made public.

“Each of these scandals is proof of Georgetown’s non-compliance with Ex corde Ecclesiae and canon law,” Blatty wrote in 2012. “They are each inconsistent with a Catholic identity, and we all know it. A university in solidarity with the Church would not do these prideful things that do so much harm to our communion.”

In May 2013, the petition was submitted to Cardinal Donald Wuerl of the Archdiocese of Washington with the support of more than 1,200 “alumni, students, parents, teachers, and other laity from around the world.”

“After one year of work, the petition we submit today is 198 pages, 476 footnotes, 91 appendices, 124 witness statements, a commissioned 120-page institutional audit of Georgetown, a sworn certification of facts, and a legal opinion,” Miranda announced. “We have documented 23 years of scandals and dissidence, over 100 scandals in the most recent years alone.”

The Archdiocese of Washington advised that the petition be sent to the Vatican, and in October 2013, Blatty announced that the case was submitted to several dicasteries in Rome. The petition then had 2,000 supporters.

“What is profoundly interesting is that the very first remedy that we asked of the Archbishop of Washington, His Eminence, Donald Cardinal Wuerl, was: ‘If the Holy Spirit leads you to it and your conscience will allow it, to declare publicly that Georgetown University is compliant with Ex corde Ecclesiae, orients its institutional initiatives according to standards that are consistent with the norms and morality of the Church, and lives up to the title ‘Catholic,’” Blatty said in a statement at the time. “His Eminence opted not to do that.”

Impact uncertain

On April 4, 2014, Blatty received a response to the canon law petition from Archbishop Angelo Zani, secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education. “Your communications to this Dicastery in the matter of Georgetown University. . . constitutes a well-founded complaint,” wrote Archbishop Zani. He added, “Our Congregation is taking the issue seriously, and is cooperating with the Society of Jesus in this regard.”

The petition has since been appealed to the Apostolic Signatura. It is not clear what communications have resulted between the Vatican and Georgetown University, but the Catholic identity abuses at Georgetown have continued with no indication that administrators will conform with Ex corde Ecclesiae.

Last March, for example, the Archdiocese of Washington chastised the university for hosting Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards on campus — a woman responsible for the deaths of almost three million babies. The Archdiocese said Georgetown lacks an “environment of morality, ethics and human decency” on campus, and the archdiocesan newspaper went even further in denouncing the decision.

“Welcoming an ardent supporter of the violent taking of an unborn human life is deeply offensive and heart-rending to other Georgetown students, teachers, alumni and community members who believe in the Catholic teaching that all human life has God-given dignity from conception to natural death,” the paper stated in an editorial. “Apparently to some, the one group of people that it is acceptable to offend, even at a Catholic university, are Catholics.”

Richards used her platform at Georgetown to rally support for Planned Parenthood and the moral evils of abortion and contraception, potentially endangering students’ souls according to the Newman Society, which called on Georgetown to rescind the invitation. 

Unfazed by criticism about giving a platform to America’s top abortion activist, Georgetown hosted a day-long strategy session for abortion activists in November 2016 who gathered to discuss the “injustices” of legal barriers to abortion. The event was capped off by a presentation meant to gather support for legislation that would force taxpayers to pay for abortions.

‘Our only recourse’

The scandals at Georgetown were heartbreaking to Blatty, who attended Georgetown on a full scholarship and had great respect for the Jesuits of his day. Matt Archbold wrote in 2013, “Blatty’s love of Georgetown runs deep and back to the time when he attended the Jesuit university. Georgetown wasn’t just the setting for the book and the classic film. ‘The film is in many ways a hymn to Georgetown,’ William Friedkin, the film’s director, recently told USA Today in an interview with him and Blatty to mark the film’s upcoming 40th anniversary.”

The canon law petition was not intended to punish Georgetown for its swing away from a once-strong Catholic identity, but instead Blatty wanted to spark reform.

“I believe [a canon law petition] is the only thing that can stop Georgetown in its path,” Blatty told The Cardinal Newman Society in a May 2012 interview. “Only firm Church action can save it and make it a great university. It is our only recourse. Our only hope.

“And not just at Georgetown,” he said. “I hope alumni from other colleges will contact me for help in submitting petitions regarding their colleges. I hope that Georgetown will see the light and alter its course.”

William Peter Blatty, requiescat in pace. It now remains for other good Catholics to continue your noble effort.

Newman Society Editor Adam Cassandra contributed substantially to writing this report.

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.