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BY Lisa Makson
SACRAMENTO, Calif. – A flourishing Catholic population on the West Coast has prompted the formation of two new Catholic universities in Sacramento.
The Legionaries of Christ's University of Sacramento is set to open first, in 2005. The Brothers of Christian Schools’ De La Salle University is still in its initial stages and is planning to open in 2007. Both are still fund raising.
“This is wonderful news for everyone in the greater Sacramento area but especially for the more than 500,000 Catholics who live within the Diocese of Sacramento,” said Sacramento Bishop William Weigand. “A Catholic university has been greatly needed in the diocese.”
Christian Brother Craig Franz, president of St. Mary's College of California in Moraga, noted the area's highlights: “Sacramento is one of the very few – possibly the only – state capitals without an associated private university,” he added.
“It is an ideal region for a new college in many ways,” said Jonathan Brown, president of the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities.
Faith Just the Start
Brown was responsible for convincing the Legionaries they should open their first U.S. campus in Sacramento after seeing their success at three of their campuses in Mexico – Universidad An´huac del Sur in Mexico City, Universidad del Mayab in Merida and Universidad An´huac de Xalapa in Xalapa.
The Legionaries approach to education – marrying cutting-edge standards and Catholic faith – “would translate well in the United States,” Brown said.
The Legionaries, who currently operate 11 universities in Mexico, Spain, Chile, Italy and a graduate school for psychology in Virginia, had been researching a possible location for their first American campus for nearly five years.
Legionary of Christ Father Robert Presutti is the general coordinator of the project. He said the university in Sacramento, where the Legionaries have a growing presence, fits into the Legionaries mission to extend Christ's Kingdom.
American students don't want to have to choose between top-tier academics, serious commitment to the sciences and authentic Catholic faith.
The Legion's flagship university, Anahuac University in Mexico City, has been a great success in this regard, Father Presutti said.
“In less than 40 years, Anahuac has grown to a student population of 7,000 and has become one of Mexico's finest universities, featuring schools of business, engineering and the top medical school in Mexico,” he said. “It enjoys a reputation for fostering responsible, proactive community service and involvement in its students.”
The Legionary approach can be even more successful in the United States, he said.
Father Presutti said the school will be based on Pope John Paul II's 1990 apostolic constitution on Catholic universities, Ex Corde Ecclesiae (from the heart of the Church).
For starters, it will have a “strong liberal arts curriculum” so “students will get a good understanding of their place in the world.”
But the university won't stop there.
Father Presutti said the Legionaries envision a top-tier university where scientific research is prized, a university that competes with national secular universities even while it develops a living faith in students through a service-oriented intellectual formation.
“The really nice thing about the Legionaries is that they are champions of sound Catholic dogma,” said Tim Flanagan, one of three lawyer-brothers who are assisting the Legionaries with the University of Sacramento. “[T]hey know how to work with young students in helping them calibrate their own moral compasses so that the way to heaven, like magnetic north, can always be found.”
The Legionaries’ University of Sacramento is already developing its educational plan. Its vice president for development, Margo Reed Brown, said the school will first launch a graduate school of education, one that will be modeled on the Legionaries’ successful graduate Institute for Psychological Studies in Arlington, Va., which trains Catholic psychologists true to the magisterium.
The graduate school “will operate as a satellite program for working professionals” and will be located somewhere in downtown Sacramento, separate from the undergraduate campus, she said.
Jonathan Brown, who has been central to getting both orders interested in the region, said he helped to attract the Christian Brothers after Greek immigrant Angelo Tsakopoulos, president of AKT Development Corp., saw a great need for Catholic higher education in Sacramento. Tsakopolous decided to donate a total of 1,100 acres, according to Brother Franz.
Brown said the Brothers had been thinking about creating a new liberal arts college because they saw a need there, especially among the poor Latino and Filipino Catholic immigrants in the region. And, Brother Franz said, this was a perfect fit for them because of their apostolate to educating the poor.
Tsakopoulos’ son Kyriakos told the Sacramento Bee that his father awarded the project to the Christian Brothers because of their “unmatched track record” in education.
“They prepare students for the working world while endowing them with the moral tools and character to inspire them to serve their communities,” he said.
Christian Brother Craig Franz said Sacramento is attractive because it is “the seat of high-tech investment with such firms as Hewlett-Packard, NEX and Agilent Technologies.”
The Christian Brothers run seven U.S. universities.
“The county looks at it as forming a research triangle, similar to that at Duke [University],” Reed Brown said.
Community reaction has so far been very supportive.
“After four and five months of meeting people in the community,” Reed Brown said, “things are going pretty well. They're very excited about it.”
The Legionaries conducted a “thorough” investigation that “examined a variety of factors, such as overall population growth rates, Catholic population trends, utilization of Catholic education, real estate prices and trends, and business climate statistics,” Father Presutti said. The Christian Brothers already have a school – St. Mary's University – nearby.
Both schools looked at the level of community support – an overwhelming 78% approved and only 9% opposed, according to a poll conducted by Maslin, Maulin and Associates.
Sacramento's Auxiliary Bishop Richard Garcia said of the two campuses, “We see it as something very positive.”
“Although some people are saying they'll be competing against one another, they're going to have different programs so that's not an issue,” Bishop Garcia said. “[A]ll of the people that Bishop Weigand and I have heard from are very positive about it.”
Lisa Makson is based in Alexandria, Virginia.