If you want to get to know a college, get to know its buildings.

Towering research facilities, gargantuan football stadiums and plush dormitories all speak to a university’s focus and direction.

At a small, young campus in Corpus Christi, Texas, they began with — and keep the spotlight on — a Eucharistic adoration chapel.

“The Eucharist and adoration is central to the campus and to the life of the students and the professors,” says Father Robert Jones, provost at Our Lady of Corpus Christi and a priest with the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity. “We have only one new building, and that is the chapel. He [Jesus] got the best, first.”

Inaugurated in 1999, Our Lady of Corpus Christi is the first of what is hoped to be many universities founded and administered by the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity (SOLT).

“Father James Flanagan, who is the founder of the Society of Our Lady, had an inspiration, what we might call an interior locution, about establishing a litany of colleges in honor of Our Lady under her various titles,” says the schools’ chancellor, David Marzak. “The first one is here. This college is very special to us because it should be the model college for the other ones we’re going to do in other places.”

Our Lady of Corpus Christi got its start in the late 1990s when then-Diocese of Corpus Christi Bishop Roberto Gonzalez gave SOLT 60 acres and buildings that previously housed a Benedictine-run high school. Seven years and $3 million in renovations later, enrollment already has tripled — albeit to a modest 39 students.

“We’re just starting to get known,” says Marzak. “We built the chapel and then we had to start renovating the campus, putting the education program together and working toward licensing. That doesn’t make a whole lot of noise. Now that the program is pretty well concretized and we’re ready for licensing, we’re ready for scrutiny from the Catholic public.”

Those who look will find a school striving to fulfill the Second Vatican Council’s call for “the education and formation of a new man and a new humanity.” That’s done through a classical higher-education model rooted in the liberal arts and humanities — one that emphasizes the intellectual tradition of St. Thomas Aquinas, SOLT’s Marian-Trinitarian spirituality and the “new personalism” of Pope John Paul II.

“This is truly orthodox Catholicity,” says Father Jones, “with great potential for turning out what is needed in the world today — students fully educated in the best of human knowledge and in the best of Christian and biblical resources.”

Without Compromise

Our Lady of Corpus Christi’s Catholicity is precisely what attracted Caleb Tan Eyck, a junior and student-council president. Second youngest of nine children, Tan Eyck attended a public high school in Keystone, S.D. He discovered Corpus Christi through his sister, Katrina, who had worked at a SOLT-run summer faith camp before becoming student life director at Corpus Christi in 2004. Her younger brother followed as a student and, she says, he couldn’t be happier.

“The best thing is that everything we do is centered in the faith,” adds Tan Eyck, who hopes eventually to earn a graduate degree in business administration and then begin a whitewater rafting business. “You go to class and it’s all based in the faith. Whether you’re going to a club or going out to get pizza, your faith is always there. You’re always around people who are strong in their faith.”

Our Lady of Corpus Christi’s first class in 1999 was composed of 12 seminarians studying philosophy. The school began its liberal arts program the following year with nine undergraduates. Since the start, notes Marzak, Corpus Christi has educated about 30 seminarians and 17 undergraduates. Faculty have increased from four in 1999 to 17. (There are four priests and three nuns on campus.)

Marzak hopes for greater and more rapid growth with accreditation from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. “We’re expecting that to happen this year,” he says. “The charism of the Society of Our Lady is the reminder that we’re in a Trinitarian relationship with one another. When we have that, the Holy Spirit will work through us and we can work expecting this apostolate to be successful.”

Until accreditation is granted, students can transfer their Corpus Christi credits toward a degree at Franciscan University of Stuebenville (Ohio). The agreement between the two schools is no surprise, given the rigors and orthodoxy of Corpus Christi academics.

The school offers majors in theology, philosophy, liberal arts and English, and follows a traditional “trivium and quadrivium” academic program.

"Everything has a reason for being in the curriculum and a reason for being in the place that it is," Marzak explains. Students are educated first in grammar, rhetoric and logic (trivium), then in higher studies in the disciplines of theology, philosophy, Catholic social science, literature, math and science. “The trivium are those courses that are preparatory to the higher studies,” says Marzak. “That’s the key.”

Students are coming to Our Lady of Corpus Christi from the surrounding city, but also from both coasts and points between, says Marzak. About 40% of the student body was home-schooled.

No matter where they’re from, all Corpus Christi students must work 15 hours a week. That has included grounds maintenance, renovation of dormitories and the expansion of the chancellor’s house. “Work is a discipline,” says Marzak. “Work helps a young person mature. They learn to sacrifice themselves. We can learn to see work as a sacred experience in the mystery of creation.”

It also helps offset tuition, which runs $10,200 a year plus $4,000 for room and board. With the school’s work-study and financial-aid programs, though, the average Corpus Christi student pays only 30% of that total.

“It’s a small place,” adds Marzak. “It’s a humble little place. But we’re very excited about what we offer here. We have a gift to offer the Catholic community in America.”

Anthony Flott writes from
Papillion, Nebraska.