WASHINGTON — Two years after opening a new Catholic college on the West Coast, Campion College is preparing to open a sister campus in the heart of the nation's capital.
Next fall, Campion College of Washington, like its predecessor, will offer a two-year Catholic core curriculum and an associate degree in Catholic humanities.
“It's a communion of institutions,” said Mark Brumley, president of Ignatius Press and board member of the Washington campus. “The Washington school is independent but is affiliated with Campion in San Francisco and will share the same curriculum and vision.”
That curriculum encompasses theology and Scripture, philosophy, Western civilization, literature and a writing practicum.
The idea for the Washington-based school grew out of conversations between Robert Royal, director of the Faith and Reason Institute, and former Ignatius Institute associate director Dennis Bartlett. Royal will serve as president; Bartlett will serve as the director of admissions.
“Dennis has remained close to Campion of San Francisco president John Galten and former Ignatius president Father Joseph Fessio,” Royal said. “We used to commute together, and when Dennis told me about Campion I said that we needed to start something like that here in Washington.”
Royal sees the project not as a kind of franchise but as an opportunity to work for the renewal of Catholic higher education.
“This is a way to answer the problem of Catholic higher education,” Royal explained. “For the most part, mainstream colleges are problematic. Even when they want to do the right thing, there are social and cultural currents that make it difficult because of the faculty they have or their needs for attracting students.”
Campion of Washington recently received the financial backing necessary get started and is in the process of hiring faculty. The administration plans to hire only faculty with doctorate degrees. If all goes according to plan, Joseph Atkinson from the John Paul II Institute will teach Old Testament and Mary Healy professor of sacred scripture at Christendom College, will teach New Testament.
“All we need now are the students,” Royal said. He expects that Campion of Washington will accept between 20-30 students per class.
If Campion of San Francisco is any indication, the D.C. college will have no problem finding enough students to comprise a class.
When the San Francisco school first opened two years ago it had 23 students and no physical campus. Today it has 34 students and one building — a former convent — which makes up its physical plant. Currently, Campion has secured transfer agreements with Ave Maria University, Franciscan University of Steubenville and the International Theological Institute in Gaming, Austria. Bartlett expects that future agreements will be reached with other Catholic universities.
“We are in a moment when people know they need to seek alternatives to education,” Royal explained. “This is why the home schooling movement has taken off. People are dissatisfied with Catholic colleges. Campion is going to be affordable, reliable and a part of that search for alternatives. It may not change the face of the earth, but it will change the possibilities for pockets of students.”
One advantage of the affiliation between the two schools is the potential for student exchanges.
“We would allow Washington students to take courses in San Francisco during the first semester of their sophomore year,” Royal said.
That opportunity is one that current San Francisco students find appealing.
“It wouldn't be wise to pass up the opportunity for the cultural experience and the history available in D.C. if it were available,” said Nick Schneider, who is currently a sophomore in San Francisco.
While some might question the value of a two-year school, Schneider sees the two-year degree as an asset.
“Our first reading assignment was 600 pages of the history of Herodotus. We recently read 900 pages from Tom Jones,” Schneider said. “The study skills, the habits learned and the way of approaching a text will be beneficial no matter what a person does after Campion.”
Schneider, who had originally anticipated going on to graduate school, plans to enter the seminary for the Diocese of Bismarck, N.D., after he graduates in May. He said his time at Campion and the faith life there helped to solidify his decision.
Royal explained that a two-year school allows students to think about what they want to do without committing to a four-year school.
That's been beneficial for sophomore Margaret Perry of Napa, Calif., who said she has been most impressed by the curriculum and professors at Campion.
“Each course has been like a whole new world opening up, “Perry said. “I have friends who are sophomores elsewhere and they haven't yet taken classes in logic, metaphysics, medieval synthesis or patristics like we have at Campion.”
Perry has also enjoyed Campion's urban setting.
“It's nice to be in a city and to experience wonderful things like the opera, theater and music,” she said. “A lot of the good Catholic campuses are off hidden away. As Catholics, we have to live in the world. We can't be recluses in it. It's good to engage these things.”
Barlett has just begun the process of recruiting students. He recently contacted all of the Catholic secondary institutions in the D.C. area and has visited two of them. So far, he said, the reaction has been very positive.
“People like this idea very much, especially those who are strapped with Catholic school tuition,” Bartlett said. “A natural audience will be home-school graduates.”
Bartlett expects it will take three to five years for Campion of Washington to become a permanent institution. In the meantime, he would like to see similar universities develop elsewhere. He thinks of Campion as the light cavalry for Catholic higher education.
“This curriculum is transportable to almost any place in the country,” Bartlett said. “There is no reason why people who are like-minded couldn't establish institutions like this wherever they want.”
Tim Drake writes from St. Cloud, Minnesota.