Editor’s note: The following introduction to The National Catholic Register’s 2010 College Guide, a new 192-page, full-color book from Circle Press, serves as this issue’s publisher’s note and editorial.
Choosing a college is one of those defining moments in life. If you’re someone who values a school’s Catholic identity, this book will help you choose wisely. But first you need to understand why you need this guide. Your own personal history is soon to become part of the history of Catholic higher education. You shouldn’t let that happen without first understanding that history, which has gotten more interesting lately in ways that will directly impact your life over the next few years. Here’s the timeline:
1789 Bishop John Carroll founded Georgetown University. Since then, Catholic institutions of higher learning in the United States have multiplied to more than 240 — that’s more than 10% of all Catholic colleges and universities in the world.
1950s Major Catholic universities decided to shed the “sectarian” stigma and compete with major secular universities on secular terms. They wanted to be great Catholic universities, with the emphasis on great. Not enough thought went into how they could achieve greatness in a distinctively Catholic way, so their Catholic identity began to erode.
1965 Vatican II called for the Church to dialogue with the modern world. In North America, there were, broadly speaking, two reactions. One was the founding, mostly by laypeople, of Catholic colleges with an intense Catholic identity. The other was the 1967 Land O’Lakes Statement by an influential group of Catholic educators. The statement embraced secular notions of academic freedom and declared the independence of Catholic colleges from Church authority. However unintended, the resultant secularization called into question whether Catholic colleges could maintain or recover their Catholic identity. Some have dropped the Catholic label altogether; others keep a nostalgic link to “the Catholic tradition.”
1990 Pope John Paul II issued the apostolic constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae (From the Heart of the Church) on the renewal of Catholic universities. Its core vision: “Catholic teaching and discipline are to influence all university activities, while the freedom of conscience of each person is to be fully respected. Any official action or commitment of the university is to be in accord with its Catholic identity.”
The Vatican asked the U.S. bishops to produce an application of Ex Corde, including legally binding norms. Unfortunately, the positive thrust of renewal often got sidetracked in a decade of wrangling between bishops and college presidents over the norms, especially over requiring the mandatum, canon law’s term for a bishop’s official recognition of a Catholic theologian’s pledge to teach in communion with the Church.
2001 “The Application of Ex Corde Ecclesiae for the United States,” published by the bishops’ conference, became law. It recognized students’ right to receive instruction in authentic Catholic doctrine, especially from theologians, and affirmed the requirement of the mandatum, but specified no consequences for professors who refuse to request it or for colleges that continue to allow them to teach.
For schools that were not already too secularized, however, “The Application of Ex Corde” provided sure guidelines on how to recover or strengthen their Catholic identity, and gave positive impetus to genuine renewal.
That’s an overview of the history of Catholic higher education in North America. This book has its own history, and you need to understand that too if you want to get the most out of it.
2003 The National Catholic Register published its award-winning 12-part “Mandatum Series.” To ensure impartiality, the Register investigated the Catholic colleges ranked highest by U.S. News and World Report. The series found that most colleges present the mandatum as a private matter between individual theologians and their local bishop, and treat parents and students who ask about it as if they had no right to know whether the theology classes will be in communion with the Church or not.
It became obvious that a guide was needed.
2004 Circle Media published its first Catholic College Guide List as a section in the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. The schools that the “Mandatum Series” had shown were willing to publicly require the mandatum were invited to participate.
2005 The secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education called for the development of a “Catholic identity instrument” for the network of Catholic colleges and universities in the United States. Several such instruments have been developed.
For its part, the Register designed the Catholic Identity Questionnaire, composed of 10 essential markers of Catholic identity, with a straightforward Yes or No question for each. In contrast to the other instruments, which are extensive and subjective, the questionnaire was then and remains still the only objective measure of the effort by Catholic colleges and universities to achieve basic Catholic identity.
Presidents and boards of trustees have used the questions as benchmarks on the journey to recover or strengthen their Catholic identity.
It is open to all Catholic institutions of higher learning and is available online on the NCRegister.com homepage under “Resources.”
Only schools that choose to respond to the questionnaire can participate in the annual Catholic Identity College List. The answers from each school, along with their comments, form the basis of the list, which is published each fall in the Register and Faith & Family and subsequently on their websites. The number of schools has increased every year, and now represents 13% of Catholic institutions of higher learning in the U.S. and Canada.
Parents and students used the identity list to focus their search on colleges that are transparent and accountable regarding their communion with the teachings of the Church. They still needed to do a lot more time-consuming research, however, to find out what else each school offered.
2010 Circle Press publishes its first annual National Catholic Register’s College Guide, the book you are reading. It supplements the Catholic Identity Questionnaire with detailed research that gives a comprehensive feel for what else distinguishes each school. It covers the basics: costs and financing, degrees and curricula; and rounds them out with the experiential: religious and extracurricular activities and international opportunities. This supplemental information is available only in this book.
Not all schools here are at the same place in the quest to renew or deepen their Catholic identity. Some embody the vision of Ex Corde Ecclesiae; others are somewhere on the pilgrimage back from secularism. All of them, however, respect your right to know whether they are teaching the faith in communion with the Church.
Now Enjoy the guide. It’s an exciting read. And then, choose wisely!
To order your copy of The National Catholic Register’s 2010 College Guide, call (800) 932-3826 or go to CirclePress.org; use promo code COLLEGE to preorder at 10% off the $9.95 cover price.