Inaugural Catholic College Survey

NORTH HAVEN, Conn. — Catholic parents, students, board members, alumni and donors want to know: Is this expensive Catholic university Catholic in name only? Will it help or hurt my child's faith?

They now have a new tool to help them.

In a special supplement this week, the Register is publishing the first-of-its-kind Catholic College Guide designed to help parents find colleges that conform to canon law requirements and Catholic moral norms.

The guide, which also appears in the fall issue of the Register's sister publication, Faith & Family magazine, is the result of a survey sent to the nation's Catholic institutions of higher education.

“Only 17 colleges responded,” said Register publisher and editor-in-chief Father Owen Kearns. “If parents have questions about schools that aren't on our list, they can send our survey to the school and urge them to respond. We've provided a copy.”

Concerned students and parents welcome the guide. They see it as a lens that allows them to see Catholic colleges and universities with greater transparency.

Archbishop Timothy Dolan of Milwaukee, Wis., said he gets questions about schools from parents all the time.

“I would find some type of tool or gauge that parents could use helpful. When you have a report card some schools will do better than others,” he said. The tool should inform students and parents about the theology department, the devotional life on campus, apostolic activities, and the campus' Catholic culture.

“Tools often focus only on one, often the first,” he said. “To leave the other three out would make a tool less than helpful.”

Catholics like Diane and Linus Drouhard of Prairie Village, Kan., welcome the Register's guide. The Drouhards' son is looking for a college, and so they have been sifting through schools trying to find one that upholds the teachings of the Church. Little information is available.

“I wish that these schools would be more forthright,” said Diane. “Even those schools that have received the mandatum, for example, don't want it known.”

The mandatum is a recognition by the local bishop of a Catholic theologian's intent to teach in communion with the magisterium.

In July, Archbishop J. Michael Miller, secretary of the Vatican's Congregation for Education, spoke of the need for an instrument to serve these families by providing “benchmarks of Catholicity.”

“If, at one institution, kids say they don't pray or go to Mass, and another place the weekly Mass attendance rate is 70%, that's probably an indicator of something,” Archbishop Miller told Vatican reporter and author John Allen.

Archbishop Miller said that such benchmarks could include sacramental and devotional life; percentage of Catholics among faculty, trustees and staff; concern for social justice; religious and doctrinal attitudes of students over time; practice of the faith, and whether theology and the Christian tradition are core elements in the curriculum.

He went on to say that he hoped that the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities or other groups could develop a “Catholic identity” instrument for the nation's 235 Catholic colleges and universities.

The Register's guide is one contribution to the development of that instrument.

As any college graduate can attest, campus life is fraught with peril for both the mind and the soul.

“Why send your children 500 miles away to lose their faith, their belief in truth, their chastity, and their innocence?” asked Dave Sloan, an Atlanta-based Catholic speaker on love and relationships who has given seminars on dozens of secular and Catholic college campuses. “The enemy is undermining their minds in the classroom and their souls and spirits elsewhere.”

The Register's survey asked each college and university 10 questions regarding the institution's conformity Pope John Paul's 1990 Apostolic Constitution for Higher Education, Ex Corde Ecclesiae (From the Heart of the Church), and Catholic moral and sacramental life. Only a Yes or No answer was allowed.

Included among the questions were whether the president takes an oath of fidelity, if the majority of faculty is Catholic, if the head of campus ministry is Catholic, whether the school excludes pro-abortion commencement speakers, if the campus excludes co-ed dormitories, and whether the school publicly requires all Catholic theology professors to have the mandatum.

Those schools that responded Yes to each question most closely conform to the guidelines set forth in Ex Corde Ecclesiae. The guide includes such schools as Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, N.H., University of Sacramento and Atlanta's Southern Catholic College.

Whereas many of the nation's older Catholic colleges seem intent on hiding the status of their theologians' reception of the canon-law mandatum, for example, the newer Catholic colleges are demonstrating a fervent desire to publicly proclaim their adherence to the Church's teachings, often incorporating such requirements directly into the school's bylaws.

“We developed a board of fellows. Its task, and only task, is to look after the school's Catholicity,” said Jeremiah Ashcroft, president of Southern Catholic, Georgia's first Catholic college. “The board of fellows can veto the selection of either a president or a chaplain.

“In the bylaws we stated that we would be in accordance with Ex Corde, and that our theology faculty would have the mandatum,” said Ashcroft. “That immediately identified the direction of the college and separated us from many others.”

Ashcroft said that the school's adherence to the Church has attracted a solid group of students. Southern Catholic opened this fall with a freshman class of 74 students from 15 states.

“Our initial students are looking for this kind of institution,” said Ashcroft. “They are spiritual, and their parents are highly spiritual. They were trying to discern among colleges among the type that would meet both their spiritual and academic needs.”

Catholic universities' adherence to what they have been called to be is vital for discerning students such as Richard Grebenc of Cleveland, Ohio. Grebenc has been trying to determine where to obtain a master's degree in theology.

“There is definitely a need for a guide,” said Grebenc. “I want to make sure that when I go to one of these institutions, I can rely on receiving orthodox Catholic teaching. If a school says that all of its teachers have signed off on the mandatum, then I can believe that the teaching I am receiving is reliable. That's key for me in selecting an institution.”

Those working for the reform of the nation's colleges have also attested to the need for such a guide.

“There absolutely does need to be this focus,” said Patrick Reilly, founder of the 16,000-member Cardinal Newman Society, whose mission is dedicated to the renewal of Catholic identity at Catholic colleges and universities in the United States.

The Manassas, Va.-based Cardinal Newman Society is in the process of publishing a comprehensive college guide that examines Catholic identity on campus. Over the past year, the organization has surveyed all of the nation's Catholic colleges. According to Reilly, only about 20% of the nation's Catholic colleges have responded to the three separate requests that the society has mailed out.

The society's survey asked questions related to 30 indicators of Catholic identity. Fifteen of the questions dealt with requirements of Ex Corde Ecclesiae. The other 15 were related to curriculum and student life.

Reilly hopes the guide will be published prior to the beginning of college next year.

“Catholic colleges and universities are heavily focused on process — academic freedom concerns, providing tenure to professors, and selecting the most academically qualified faculty members,” Reilly said. “But they have lost their concern for what type of students they are turning out in regards to morals, theology and the things that carry students through life.”

Tim Drake is based in St. Joseph, Minnesota.