With Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation taking effect today, The Cardinal Newman Society asked a variety of Newman Guide Catholic college and university presidents to reflect on the Pope’s legacy with respect to Catholic higher education. Several responded. Their reflections follow.
Embracing Catholic Identity
John Garvey, President, The Catholic University of America
A theologian of the highest caliber, Pope Benedict XVI wrote eloquently on the role of Catholic education in the modern world. He emphasized the importance of engaging in the dialogue of faith and reason, and bringing the resources of the Catholic tradition to a world desperately in need of its wisdom. As leader of the church, he encouraged Catholic institutions to embrace their Catholic identity, and to appreciate the unique gifts Catholicism brings to higher education. He urged Catholic educators to consider the responsibility Catholic education has in encouraging a spirit of evangelization and bringing Jesus Christ to the world. As a spiritual father to the church, he reminded us that love for God must always remain at the center of all we do as educators. We are entrusted with responsibility for the intellectual, moral, and spiritual growth of those in our care. The Catholic University of America is profoundly grateful for the guidance and wisdom Pope Benedict XVI has brought to Catholic education.
Freedom is Seeking the Truth
Reverend Robert W. Cook, President, Wyoming Catholic College
Pope Benedict’s legacy in Catholic education must be acknowledged as seminal and vital. As he said recently to the Bishops of the United States, “… providing young people with a sound education in the faith represents the most urgent internal challenge facing the Catholic community in [the U.S.].” This connects with his April, 2008 address to Catholic educators in America when he said, “First and foremost every Catholic educational institution is a place to encounter the Living God who in Jesus Christ reveals his transforming love and truth.” He decried academic freedom when it amounts to license and when it fundamentally disregards the teaching authority of the Magisterium. He reminds us that freedom is for seeking the truth, as found by revelation and reason working together. Benedict XVI was a great pope who encouraged higher educational institutions, like Wyoming Catholic College, to do their part in the new evangelization.
A longer reflection from Fr. Cook is available at the Wyoming Catholic College website.
A Question of Conviction
Father Terence Henry, TOR, President, Franciscan University of Steubenville
As if it were yesterday, I remember being at Catholic University of America in 2008 when Pope Benedict XVI addressed a throng of Catholic educators. Our Holy Father delivered a clear yet gentle message to us all, outlining that which makes a Catholic institution Catholic. This thought in particular stood out to me: ‘A university or school’s Catholic identity is not simply a question of the number of Catholic students. It is a question of conviction.’
He went onto tell us the primary purpose of a Catholic university is to witness to Jesus Christ, and he called ‘fostering personal intimacy with Jesus Christ and communal witness to his loving truth’ in Catholic schools ‘indispensable.’
I am particularly grateful as a university president for the Holy Father’s guidance on the mission and identity of Catholic education and his call for Catholic educators to ensure that ‘every aspect of your learning communities reverberates within the ecclesial life of faith.’
Leading with Love
Stephen D. Minnis, President, Benedictine College
(Pictured with Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops)
Pope Benedict XVI’s pontificate has coincided with my presidency at Benedictine College.
In my first year as president, I witnessed how deeply our students mourned Blessed John Paul, and how dramatically their moods changed when Pope Benedict XVI was elected (and took the name of our college!).
They clearly loved him, and he loved them back.
Halfway through his pontificate, our paths crossed for the first time in Washington. He had simple advice for university presidents: “To lead the young to truth is nothing less than an act of love.” It’s a line I have repeated in countless interviews with prospective faculty.
Those of us who got to be with him at the Ecclesiae in America conference last December saw the frailty of this great man. But we also saw his great heart. I salute him for doing the hardest thing in leadership: Leading with love.
Pope Benedict’s Peace and Joy
Dr. Robert Ivany, President, University of St. Thomas Houston
The memory of Pope Benedict XVI that will always remain with me took place during his visit to the United States in 2008. He spoke to the leadership of Catholic higher education at the Catholic University of America.
His words were carefully chosen, his demeanor was warm and his impact was profound. He beautifully and deliberately described why Catholic universities had a unique mission and how the guidance in Ex Corde Ecclesiae was more critical to our future now than when it was published in 1991. He reminded me of the gentle and stalwart shepherd who knew his flock and understood the unique opportunities and challenges that we faced here in the United States.
Even more impressive than his speech was his smile. He exuded joy. Our son served as a deacon on the altar with him for the Mass in Nationals Park. He related to me the same impression after the Eucharistic celebration. “The Holy Father radiated peace and joy,” he said, and it is that peace and joy that I will remember. They both spring from a deep and faithful love of God.
The Center of All Things
Dr. Michael McLean, President, Thomas Aquinas College
Under the banner of his motto, Cooperatores Veritatis – Cooperators of the Truth – Pope Benedict XVI has strengthened the faithful in the conviction that the human mind can come to an understanding of reality -- to the truth about nature, man, and the God who made them. Through the holiness of his life and the rich treasure of his writings, he has taught us that the Truth – who is Christ, the Word of God made flesh – should be at the center of all our learning and all our endeavors. He has made a compelling case against the “dictatorship of relativism” which plagues our contemporary culture and impedes the work of the Church. May God grant our beloved pontiff every grace as he begins a new phase of his service to the Church, and may He bless the great work Benedict undertook during his pontificate.
Pope Benedict XVI’s Vision
Dr. Timothy T. O’Donnell, President, Christendom College
I will never forget Pope Benedict XVI, in his historic address to Catholic educators at the Catholic University of America in April of 2008. He gave a calmly reasoned presentation of the fundamental importance of the Catholic Faith to the mission of Catholic education at all levels.The Holy Father began his address by referring to those present as “bearers of wisdom,” immediately signifying the august nature of their calling and mission of service within the Church. Rather than seeing the college and university as something separate and distinct from the Church, he placed this educational mission right at the heart of the mission of the Church: “Education is integral to the mission of the Church to evangelize.” A Catholic school is first and foremost “a place to encounter the living God, who in Jesus Christ reveals His transforming love.”
Here, the Holy Father immediately pointed out the absolute centrality of faith in Catholic higher education. This encounter with the living God is meant to “elicit a desire to grow in knowledge and understanding of Jesus Christ.” Those who encounter Christ within the Catholic school are drawn by the Gospel to begin to live a new life and to seriously pursue the true, the good, and the beautiful.
Education in truth must guide both the teacher and the student toward objective truth which transcends the particular and the subjective and points the student out of his narrow world towards the universal and absolute. For it is only when the student comes into contact with universal and absolute truth that he will be able to proclaim the Christian message of hope. This is especially crucial, the Pope observed, when dealing with today’s secular mindset, which struggles constantly with moral confusion and the fragmentation of knowledge and lacks the unified vision that only the Catholic university can give.
Unfortunately, in the wake of the chaos of the ‘60s and ‘70s and the confusion following the Second Vatican Council, the uniqueness of Catholic higher education was compromised by an effort to imitate secular models. In the Land O’ Lakes decision in 1967 a number of influential Catholic educators proclaimed that, in the name of academic freedom, no Catholic institution of higher learning could acknowledge any authority outside itself. (In practice, however, the only authority from which the universities could claim independence was the Church herself, not accrediting agencies and the like.)
Tellingly, the Pope clearly pointed out that the Catholic identity of a university is “fundamentally . . . a question of conviction.” Pope Benedict then asked five radically fundamental questions:
1) Do we really believe that only in the mystery of the Word made flesh does the mystery of man become clear? (Gaudium et Spes, 22.)
2) Are we ready to commit our entire self—intellect, will, mind and heart—to God?
3) Do we accept the truth Christ reveals?
4) Is the faith tangible in our universities and schools?
5) Is it given fervent expression liturgically, sacramentally, through prayer, acts of charity, concern for justice, and respect for God’s creation?
Only when all these questions can be answered in the affirmative is a college or university truly Catholic: “Only in this way do we really bear witness to the meaning of who we are and what we uphold.” Those teaching in the Catholic university have a particular responsibility “to evoke among the young the desire for the act of faith,encouraging them to commit themselves to the ecclesial life that follows from belief.” It is precisely in making the act of faith and living that faith within the Church, the Pope stated, that “freedom reaches the certainty of truth.” Rejecting the relativism which portrays religious faith as a purely subjective matter, the Pope continues, “In choosing to live by that truth, we embrace the fullness of the life of faith which is given to us by the Church.”
The Holy Father then made what I believe is the central point of his address:
“Clearly, then, Catholic identity is not dependent upon statistics. Neither can it be equated simply with orthodoxy of course content. It demands and inspires much more: namely, that each and every aspect of your learning communities reverberates within the ecclesial life of faith. Only in faith can truth become incarnate and reason truly human, capable of directing the will along the path of freedom (Spe Salvi, 23). In this way our institutions make a vital contribution to the mission of the Church and truly serve society. They become places in which God’s active presence in human affairs is recognized and in which every young person discovers the joy of entering into Christ’s ‘being for others’ (ibid., 28).”
Addressing the false understanding of academic freedom, the Holy Father stated:
“I wish to reaffirm the great value of academic freedom. In virtue of this freedom you are called to search for the truth wherever careful analysis of evidence leads you. Yet it is also the case that any appeal to the principle of academic freedom in order to justify positions that contradict the faith and teaching of the Church would obstruct or even betray the university’s identity and mission, a mission at the heart of the Church’s munus operandi and not somehow autonomous or independent of it.”
I firmly believe that the inspiring message of this Pontiff and the radical challenge of this address will remain central to any future discussion concerning the purpose and direction of Catholic education in this country.
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