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Msgr. Stuart Swetland of Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Md., speaks to the Register about what it means to be an authentically Catholic college.
BY Amy Smith
It’s National Catholic Colleges Week, where a
number of activities around the country are planned to highlight the
accomplishments of Catholic colleges and celebrate their role in society.
by the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities and the National
Catholic College Admissions Association, National Catholic Colleges Week was
established to encourage high schools, churches and families to promote
Catholic higher education to students in the community.
Stuart Swetland, vice president for Catholic identity at Mount St. Mary’s
University in Emmitsburg, Md., has a number of ideas about what it means to be
an authentically Catholic college, how to cultivate a truly Catholic identity
on campus, and what impact Catholic identity has on students and society.
former chaplain and director of St. John’s Catholic Newman Center at the
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Msgr. Swetland spoke with the
Register’s Amy Smith.
it mean to have an authentically Catholic identity?
defining document is the apostolic constitution that Pope John Paul II
published, Ex Corde
Ecclesiae, which says that the
Catholic university comes “from the heart of the Church.”
12 and 13 lay out the criteria for what an authentically Catholic university
should look like. Universities should look at a document like that and bring to
life Jesus Christ in word and sacrament. That’s what campus ministry should do
anywhere. When we talk about Catholic identity, it means we do what a
university does: We are a community of persons who are in pursuit of the truth.
next paragraph says that there is a certain authority that allows universities
to do that. Next, the university should have a Christian presence in the
university world. That’s a nice way of putting it. If it’s authentically
Catholic, it has a Christian inspiration of individuals and as a community as a
How does a
Catholic college or university achieve a Catholic identity?
is constant dialogue at a good Catholic university. A pursuit of truth. That’s
the vocation we are talking about. It’s through the Church — in accordance with
the Church to be true to the faith — and in service to others.
job as the identity officer is to be intentional, to reflect on what those two
paragraphs mean. For us, we are actively searching for truth, serving through
truth, entering into a fruitful dialogue to bear the fruit of the faith in the
culture. In every department, people think about how faith enlightens, serves
and is integrated with dialogue. For example, if you want to do economics or
business well, what does the faith teach us about doing economics or business
How do you
integrate the faith into the campus culture?
from the staff to the faculty and students, recognizes the school’s Catholic
identity and recognizes their role in serving it. Mount St. Mary’s has four
pillars: faith, discovery, leadership and community.
go to talk with the various groups. I just gave a retreat with the maintenance
staff. It was fun to talk with them about what it means for them to serve
within this identity. Someone said, “Father, it’s great to see Catholic
identity in the dorms. There’s less to repair compared to what college students
tend to do.” I was glad to hear that. It means it’s working.
takes intentionality. Seventy-plus percent of the students are Catholic, and we
encourage them to participate, to integrate the faith in all aspects.
the specific steps for fostering an authentic Catholic identity on campus?
should be an active, alive campus ministry. We have Focus [Fellowship of
Catholic University Students], Mass, confession and prayer groups. We start
class with prayer. Service trips are planned with classes. Everything is more
integrated. There are activities on all levels, like retreats to challenge
courses that help students grow in human virtues. Lectures are tied to various
aspects of the class. We go to the pro-life march. With Martin Luther King Jr.
Day, we’ll discuss what it means to live in a political society, how to
overcome injustice, how to be authentically pro-life. We are sending five buses
to the march. And that’s just one week.
have staff in-services with every group, from our safety officers to
ongoing, intentional about who we are and why we are.
have a Catholic identity council; it’s a subcommittee that puts on retreats,
half days of renewal to focus on our mission.
have the Our Lady of Lourdes shrine. It’s nice for us to have a national shrine
not perfect. We have to work at it. It’s a battle, a good fight, as St. Paul
is holistic: It’s about how students live in the dorms, to how we teach, pray
and recreate. It’s all integrated to concentrate on that mission.
what you see across the country?
Catholic colleges and universities are emphasizing identity more today. There
was a period when many took their identity for granted. Offices like mine —
there was a time when that was not done; it just happens now. There’s a greater
emphasis on this. It also has to do with market realities: What’s the
difference between our universities and state schools? If we’re just promoting
good academics — hopefully all schools have that. If we just focus on athletic
facilities and good teams and have friendly, kind teachers, what would make us
uniqueness is that we are proudly, robustly Catholic. When I was at the
University of Illinois, there were so many things I couldn’t talk about in the
classroom, but here, we can bring in faith and ethical dilemmas that you can’t
do at a state university.
freer places are Catholic. We can talk about everything.
would you give to other Catholic universities?
strong leadership from the top to emphasize the Catholic mission. Everyone has
to be proudly, unabashedly Catholic. That’s our president Thomas Powell’s
phrase. That leads us as our first pillar. It’s who we are.
not embarrassed by faith, putting it as an afterthought.
what Mother [St. Elizabeth Ann] Seton teaches us — I can see where she taught
up the hill from my office. She wasn’t ashamed of the faith. We need to show
that same boldness.
the challenges to integrating Catholic identity, given the secularization of
the fun part. There are new challenges because society is less accepting of
Judeo-Christian values and ethical standards. It’s a problem, as the nation is
abandoning its values. There needs to be a lot more apologia for the faith. We
need to show the wisdom of the faith.
How will a
strong Catholic identity impact the students’ futures?
need to emphasize the concept of vocation. Everyone is called to the vocation
of holiness and has a calling in some specific way to sanctify the world. We
need to make sure that they understand their vocation: that they’re called to
be saints — whether that’s in a family, with a career, or both.
they have that, we’ll produce service-minded young men and women looking to
sanctify the world.
Amy Smith is the