Corn and soybeans aren’t the only things sprouting in America’s Heartland these days.
The seeds of a new Catholic college have been planted in Kansas City, Mo., and they are sprouting a new institution based on time-tested sources and the fervor of the Dallas-based Walsingham Society of Christian Culture and Western Civilization: Christ College, which plans on opening a pilot program this fall.
With several solid Catholic colleges already in the Midwest, is there a need for yet another?
Jennifer Potts thinks so. The mother of six has had three of her children attend Catholic colleges on the West Coast and Nebraska, but she lives in Kansas City, Mo.
"I would like my girls back home instead of going to the other side of the country to finish their formal education," Potts said. "Christ College could be the answer to prayer."
Christ College, to be located at the Catholic Center, part of the Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., chancery, is the latest education project of the Walsingham Society, which is named for Our Lady of Walsingham, a Marian apparition in 11th-century England. Many members are Catholic converts from Episcopalianism and attend Masses of Anglican use or through the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. The society already oversees a School of Liberal Studies in Dallas and Arlington, Texas.
Christ College is currently accepting applications for Latin and theology courses this fall. The full curriculum will be available to the freshman class in fall 2014.
Liberal Arts Education
Offering a four-year liberal arts program, Christ College’s purpose is to seek and find truth, said Brinton Smith, the society’s president.
"Learning truth leads to the growth of the human person. At its best, the learning a liberal arts college proposes does not minister to curiosity or to appetite or to the use of men and goods, but to the sharing of those true things that are essential to the genuinely good life," Smith said.
The texts used at the college will be from the Great Books catalogue, reading from the intellectual tradition of the Church and the West, Smith said.
"The books share a body of ideas brought forward from the great Tradition: a belief that the pursuit of truth is fruitful, a love of ideas, an absence of the cynicism and skepticism that darkens modern scholarship," Smith said. "Beneath it all is the love of the true, the good and the beautiful."
Committing to a new college might seem risky, but the new college is attracting a lot of interest. "We have had many early inquiries from parents and guidance counselors, so much so that we think that we will exceed our goals for the first year," Smith said. "In our visits to Kansas City, we received a warm welcome from Bishop [Robert] Finn and the diocese and met many Catholic families who are alumni of John Senior’s Pearson Integrated Humanities Program at the University of Kansas and of Cardinal Newman College in St. Louis."
"The area has many well-educated Catholics through these two institutions who are interested in having a similar Catholic, Great Books, liberal arts college back in the heart of the country," Smith added.
Jude Huntz, chancellor of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, believes that Christ College will be a unique asset to the region.
"Christ College is a curriculum that, in addition to the Great Books curriculum, has at its heart a loyalty to the Church’s magisterium in all disciplines of the college," Huntz said.
Huntz believes it is a good time for the college to begin.
"Interest in the Catholic community is high, and the economy is improving," Huntz said. "So, from a material point of view, the time is right," Huntz said. "From a spiritual outlook, the time is also right. The Church and the nation need a renewal of Catholic higher education. The value of this education is a source of priestly and religious vocations, as well as forming solid Catholic leaders who will raise strong families in the faith. The need could not be greater."
Smith acknowledged the difficulties facing Catholics. "It is not a secret that our Catholic faith is under assault today — not only in obvious ways, but in the more subtle loss of any real sense of connection to Christian Tradition and to the civilization shaped by that Tradition," Smith said.
However, Smith pointed out that there is hope through education. "It would be easy to give in to despair and imagine that our children and grandchildren will be able to live as Catholics only in a sort of high-tech catacomb, cut off from the intellectual and moral roots of our faith," Smith said.
"It need not be so," he added. "We all can do something to promote the truth of our Tradition and the civilization that it created. As Catholic scholars, Christ College is what we can offer to the Church and the world in these times of mass ignorance of our shared inheritance of the true, the good and the beautiful."
"We see an orthodox Catholic liberal arts education as the foundation for the New Evangelization," Smith explained. "Through their studies of the Great Books, both Catholic and not, our graduates will be inoculated against the ideologies of the modern world that lead so many away from the truth of God, nature and man."
"They will not be rootless, but instead will be able to place themselves within our great Tradition," he said. "This will allow them to provide a witness against the ignorance and falsehoods of the contemporary world."
Potts has attended organizational meetings and is looking forward to the college coming to Missouri. She believes that a liberal arts degree will offer her children precisely what they need.
"I believe a liberal arts education is the best beginning for higher education or finishing formal education," Potts said. "I want my kids to love to read, discuss, learn and be a witness to their faith. If they want a technical skill, I’m sure they can go to a technical college after the fact."
"The most important thing in life is not whether or not they are computer-savvy or have a business degree," she added. "They must be able to think things through for themselves, with the guidance of our Catholic Tradition. They must be able to come to moral decisions throughout their lives; they must know and love truth and be able to share this with their neighbors."
The college curriculum meets this goal.
"The proposed program is not a university, but a single-curriculum college, offering a bachelor of arts," Smith explained. "The curriculum prepares students for advanced graduate studies in the humanities, specialization in professional schools such as law, medicine, business, architecture or engineering."
The decision regarding the location of the new college came about after Huntz met Smith at a Anglican-Use Society conference last November in Kansas City, Mo.
Bishop Finn met with Smith and others connected to the project. The bishop gave his blessing for the college to explore the possibilities of locating in the diocese, Huntz said.
The college will draw its faculty from Walsingham Society members based in Dallas and from the Kansas City area.
"We will be bringing some instructors to Kansas City, but we will also be hiring from an excellent pool of Catholic scholars who live in the area," Smith said.
Potts is happy to have this option for her children. "I feel very comfortable entrusting their continuing education to these professors," she said. "They are well-qualified, enthusiastic and have a love of God and our Catholic faith that is rarely seen in Catholic-school professors these days."
The methods reflect the experience of Blessed John Henry Newman.
"The method of instruction differs [from most other colleges], in that we have lectures, seminar discussions and one-on-one tutorials," Smith said. "Each professor/tutor is assigned a group of students that he personally assists through the curriculum. He meets with his students individually at least once a week to read their papers, help prepare them for class exams and for the sophomore and senior comprehensives. He does this for all of the classes, not just his own."
"This is the experience that Blessed John Henry Newman had at Oxford as a student and as a faculty member after his graduation," Smith said. "The tutor not only gives the student an intellectual role model, but also a moral and spiritual one. The tutor shows the student how to live life as a faithful servant of God, the Church, the community and his family by demonstrating these things to him from day to day."
This endeavor is especially timely, given the current Year of Faith.
As Huntz said, "The diocese welcomes Christ College as a collaborator in the New Evangelization and the renewal of the Church and society."
Smith concurs: "The kind of education that Christ College offers is essential if the Church is to meet the challenge of offering collegiate studies that encourage students to seek and love truth, which at the same time will give them the courage and imagination to find a vocation that is consonant with the Catholic faith."
Laurie Ghigliotti writes from Atchison, Kansas.
Catholic News Agency
contributed to this story.