What’s the importance of a Catholic college education?

It helps students and graduates weather the storms of today’s secular culture, say university educators from Catholic institutions featured in the Register’s Catholic Identity College Guide.

Recently, Kansas City, Kan., Archbishop Joseph Naumann wrote in his archdiocesan paper: “To paraphrase the Gospel: What does it profit a person to gain a prestigious degree and lose one’s soul in the process?”

As a parent himself, Derry Connolly, co-founder and president of John Paul the Great Catholic University in San Diego, Calif., asks parents considering a college, “What are you prepared to do to protect the faith of your kids?”

Connolly says of his students, “I value their faith more than anything else, and I’m going to do what I can to protect that.”

Four of Connolly’s children are either in college or are recent graduates who often join him at the university’s weekday Masses, prompting him to say, “I get a tangible benefit when I see them sitting next to me at Mass.”

At a truly orthodox Catholic university, he notes, students will be taught the truth: “Once people get the truth, Christ’s message is compelling.”

In Warner, N.H., Magdalen College’s president, Jeffrey Karls, agrees. “The essence of Catholic education is truth,” he says. It’s the only answer in today’s culture, where young people are highly influenced by commercialism, materialism and technology.

“Young people can be easily pulled into the culture, which is somewhat artificial,” he says. “A Catholic education seeks to impart on students the essence of Truth itself, to bring people in contact with the person of Christ and God our creator. We have a marvelous opportunity to do that at this point in the modern world, which seems so confused about the nature of truth and nature itself.”

College is a time of discovery, “but not a time for discovering whether you believe in God,” says Stephen Minnis, president of Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan. “This is the place you can ask the deep questions and analyze the issues using both faith and reason. As students are maturing and asking the deeper questions, they have to get the answers in a Catholic worldview and carry that on to later and family life.” Especially since “numerous statistics show 70% of young people who go to college fall away from the Church or their religion.”

Minnis says many parents think because they sent their children to Catholic grade and high schools, it doesn’t matter where they attend college.

“Frankly, the opposite is true,” he finds. “If they go to a place not dedicated to faith and reason and not dedicated to the Catholic Church, there’s going to be both explicit and implicit attacks on their faith. In classes, residence halls and on sidewalks there is a bombardment of anti-Christian and anti-Catholic messages.”

Benedictine students attend a chastity talk their first week on campus, while most secular colleges hand out condoms.

Also, he affirms a faithful Catholic college employs faith and reason, providing young people in these formative years with the tools and ability to engage the culture, whereas secular colleges do not allow faith as part of the analysis process.

Contrary to popular belief, he stresses, faculty members at Catholic institutions have more academic freedom than those in secular universities. Faithful Catholic colleges don’t have to be “politically correct.” They have the right to discuss faith and reason in classrooms and are encouraged to do so.

Archbishop Naumann noted that because of secular propaganda, many Americans don’t realize colleges and universities started with the medieval Catholic Church. The Church “was responsible for the development of the university in Western civilization.”

“It’s the people with the (traditional) Catholic education who have preserved the Western tradition and understanding,” says William Luckey, professor of political science and economics at Christendom College in Front Royal, Va.

In contrast, “the other schools trying to be ‘with it’ have in many ways abandoned Western tradition in favor of trendy stuff,” he says. What comes from the great thinkers is replaced by modernism in theology, politically correct history, economics that are no more than data, statistics and graphs. There is no relationship to the truth of man and the world. Luckey sees traditional Catholic schools as places preserving and transmitting Western civilization and Catholicism in higher education. “Colleges do have a moral obligation to give students a moral understanding of the world and to give them a higher-level understanding of Catholic theology.”

Christopher Blum, academic dean at Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, N.H., points out that Benedict XVI declared during his apostolic visit to the United States, “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.”

“It is the office of Catholic education — today and in all times — to continue his mission of intellectual, moral and spiritual healing,” Blum says.

Catholic schools bring Christ to their students through sacred Scripture, the rich cultural patrimony of Christian civilization, in the liturgy and sacraments offered daily.

“Amidst the darkness of the culture of death, these encounters with the living Christ are sources of light and hope,” says Blum. “Of light, because the mind is liberated and perfected by the knowledge of divine truth. Of hope, because young men and women who begin their adult lives within communities that encourage the practice of the moral and theological virtues experience the healing that follows from good deeds freely chosen and enabled by grace.”

His conclusion: “Catholic education is intellectual charity.”


Faithful Catholic colleges know why theology is the pre-eminent subject.

Jeremy Holmes, assistant professor of theology and academic dean designee at Wyoming Catholic College in Lander, Wyo., says, “Without theology, the university becomes a multiversity.”

Because theology is faith seeking understanding, a curriculum that includes theology becomes a more unified curriculum, says Father Daniel Pattee, chair of the theology department at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio.

“It’s the realm of faith that unites things and brings them together,” he explains. “It has a unifying effect on the whole curriculum instead of thinking of the disciplines as being so disparate and separate from each other.”

Why is it the great unifying subject? “Because the author of what science studies is God and the author of what we study in revelation is God,” stresses Father Pattee.

Michael Dauphinais, dean of faculty and associate professor of theology at Ave Maria University in Ave Maria, Fla., says, “To leave aside theology and the truth it conveys means that a university education no longer can answer our deepest questions about God, the universe, and our purpose and destiny. Such an education fails to prepare graduates for their future roles as citizens, professionals and members of families, roles that require a sound understanding of man’s unique dignity and vocation.”

According to John Zmirak, writer in residence at Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, N.H., “Unless he has grown up inside the tiny subculture of believers that are ‘H.V. (Humanae Vitae) positive,’ the average Catholic college student is likely to be ignorant of the core beliefs of his own religion at best. If his religious education came at the hands of dissenting Catholics, he will have actually been vaccinated against the truth. Serious, substantive, challenging theology courses that present the Church’s claims may offer such students their last real opportunity to reclaim their baptismal birthright before they make critical decisions about career, marriage and childrearing.”

Says Zmirak, “We know that theology really is a matter of eternal life and death. Theology classes should be required, demanding and catechetical. Catholic colleges that demand any less are really just whispering to their students that the faith is, at best, a hobby.”

Dauphinais points out that Cardinal John Henry Newman, who wrote The Idea of a University and who will be beatified Sept. 19, observed that “an education that precludes theology inevitably replaces the revealed truth about God and the human person with faulty and incomplete views drawn from other disciplines necessarily resulting in a reduction of reality.

“In contrast,” he says, “when theology forms the center of the curriculum and its view of the human person and God, the other disciplines, ranging from literature to economics, from psychology to biology, are freed to illuminate the majestic and countless aspects of the universe and our place therein.”

Staff writer Joseph Pronechen is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.



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