Catholic Universities — Their Fall and Rise

News: US News
 •  •  January 27, 2017   

Colleges improving after 50 years of secularization

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MANASSAS, Va. ( - The head of the Cardinal Newman Society is saying there is hope for Catholic higher education in America 50 years after its Catholic identity was all but destroyed.

Patrick Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman society (CNS) — a group that has tracked Catholic colleges in the United States for almost 25 years — related in an interview January 26, "The outlook for Catholic education is very good; but the last six decades — not so much. It's been very difficult."

The outlook for Catholic education is very good.

Reilly's radio interview informed the public of an upcoming conference on January 28 titled "Crisis: Catholic Higher Education and the Next Generation." The society is co-sponsoring this conference with the Institute of Catholic Culture. While Reilly was optimistic about recent trends in Catholic universities over the last 10 years, he also voiced concern about the overall state of U.S. colleges that bear the Catholic name.

"We have a real crisis in Catholic higher education, where in far too many places, high school students are going off to colleges and universities that call themselves 'Catholic,' yet after four years they come out with no faith at all," he explained.

Reilly met this week with presidents of some 20 Catholic universities in preparation for the conference. Four of these presidents will be speaking at the conference. Reilly praised these presidents for "doing it right" with regard to establishing and maintaining the Catholic identity at their respective institutions.

"These college presidents are leaders in the movement to renew and strengthen faithful Catholic education," he commented. "All of the colleges recommended in The Newman Guide represent the best of Catholic higher education."

The Newman Guide mentioned by Reilly is the annual report CNS puts out pinpointing key Catholic indicators for some 29 Catholic institutions of higher education. Such Catholic markers given by the guide include:

  • Percentage of Catholic students
  • Percentage of Catholic faculty
  • Days per week that confession is available
  • Days per week adoration occurs

These presidents know that "personnel is policy" and so they hire faculty who will further the Catholic mission of their institutions. In his 1990 apostolic constitution on Catholic universities, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, Pope St. John Paul II was clear on this point. "In order not to endanger the Catholic identity of the University or Institute of Higher Studies, the number of non-Catholic teachers should not be allowed to constitute a majority within the Institution, which is and must remain Catholic," the pope stated.

[T]he number of non-Catholic teachers should not be allowed to constitute a majority within the Institution, which is and must remain Catholic.

Asked in this week's radio interview about the impact of the Land O' Lakes Statement had on Catholic identity in U.S. colleges, Reilly remarked that this year was the 50th anniversary of the statement, which was penned at the behest of Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, then-president of University of Notre Dame. Reilly explained that in 1967, Fr. Hesburgh gathered leaders of several Catholic universities together and, under the guise of academic freedom, signed a document that severed ties Catholic universities formerly had with the Church and Her revealed truth.

Earlier this month, Reilly summed up the problems that rolled out in the wake of the notorious statement. "Following Land O' Lakes, the quest for secular prestige and government funding at many Catholic colleges took precedence over the commitment to providing a faithful Catholic education," he said. "These institutions weakened their core curricula, adopted a radical notion of academic freedom, embraced relativism and political correctness and largely abandoned their responsibilities to form young people in Christ."

There has been a marked increase in the number of colleges faithful to the Catholic Church and Her principles, Reilly confirmed. One of the goals of the conference is to put the Land O' Lakes Statement with its false dichotomy of truth and freedom to rest once and for all.

Reilly is hopeful that other U.S. Catholic institutions can re-establish their Catholic identity provided they imitate the presidents who are hiring to bolster the Catholic mission of their universities. "Their examples can be replicated at Catholic colleges across the country," Reilly affirmed, "but only if the Land O' Lakes model and mentality are abandoned."


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