Can Pope Francis renew Jesuit education?
March 15, 2013, at 1:31 PM
By Patrick J. Reilly |
Habemus papam! We have a Jesuit pope! Pope Francis is a former educator with multiple degrees, and was a seminary rector. He’s been outspoken against abortion, euthanasia and homosexual marriage.
Could he help bring about a renewal of Jesuit education?
“Francis, rebuild my Church!” is the command that was given to the Holy Father’s patron, the great saint of Assisi.
And St. Francis Xavier, the Holy father’s other namesake who helped found the Society of Jesus, was reportedly inspired by Christ’s admonition: “What profits a man, if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?”
With those same words in mind, The Cardinal Newman Society asked this question two years ago: Will the American Jesuits… can they… reject the temptation of worldly prestige and restore the faithful, rigorous Catholic education that once made their colleges and universities among the best in the world?
Pope Benedict said that Catholic education must lead young people to Christ. Will every educator at a Jesuit institution fully embrace the new life in Christ that we will celebrate this Easter?
Pope Benedict also warned that Catholic education is the “most urgent internal challenge” facing the Church in the United States.
And now we have Pope Francis, a champion of the poor and marginalized. While in Argentina, Pope Francis proclaimed the great value of Catholic schools that are rooted in the truth of the Catholic faith. It is by the witness of faithful educators that young people will envision a more just and peaceful world.
But time and time again, The Cardinal Newman Society has reported on scandals at Jesuit universities: Georgetown, Boston College, Marquette, San Francisco, Seattle, Fordham, Santa Clara, Saint Louis, and many of the 20 others in the United States.
Looking back 20 years since the Newman Society first began tracking such scandals, possibly half have been related to Jesuit universities.
Underlying these scandals is the dismantling of the outstanding education that built the reputation of Jesuit universities:
Too often, today’s graduates from Jesuit universities identify as “Catholic” but have little regard for the Pope, the bishops, the Sacraments, or Catholic moral teaching—outside of social justice concerns.
The famed Jesuit core curriculum is today disjointed, pared down and often not very Catholic.
The Jesuit principle of cura personalis can be a cruel hoax—students largely fend for themselves on campus, with minimal moral guidance and a decadent culture.
And dissent is found in the classrooms, the lectures, the student advocacy groups, the residence staff, the campus ministries, etc.
So is it folly to hope for the renewal of Jesuit education?
We don’t think so, and many Jesuits would strongly agree. Now, with a Jesuit at the Vatican, Pope Francis could have an important influence.
And it has always been The Cardinal Newman Society’s mission to promote and defend faithful Catholic education—even with hope for the most troubled Jesuit institutions.
We have seen positive changes at many Jesuit colleges and universities, like “vice presidents for mission” who are tasked with upholding Catholic identity, better commencement speakers, and less radical dissent in theology departments. Yet other things have clearly worsened, especially the student culture and attitudes toward sexuality, marriage and the priesthood.
So why persist with our campaign for renewal? A few reasons:
As Catholics, we know that conversion is always possible, and the Prodigal Son can come home.
They belong to the Church: The Jesuits may have handed control over to independent trustees, but at their core, Jesuit colleges and universities belong to the Catholic Church (and so does the Society of Jesus).
Jesuit education was built on the backs of immigrants and the Church. It was a betrayal to secularize these institutions. It’s a matter of simple justice to turn them back to the Church.
Students’ souls are at stake: Catholic families remain attracted to the secular prestige of Jesuit colleges and universities, despite the dissent and scandal. Students need an advocate for their protection.
The conversation has changed: Two decades ago, the problems in Jesuit colleges and universities were not well known. Today the buzzwords among educators are “mission” and “Jesuit identity”—but sometimes they need to be reminded what those words really mean!
Time heals wounds: We’re starting to see a new generation of leaders and professors who weren’t swept up in the so-called “spirit of Vatican II” that has been so destructive to Catholic education. There are good people and new opportunities to keep planting the seeds of renewal at Jesuit institutions.
Competition brings innovation: Jesuit universities have become expensive, and students need compelling reasons to attend Catholic institutions.
Meanwhile—thanks to our Newman Guide and media efforts—Catholic families are increasingly aware of the growing number of faithfully Catholic colleges. If Jesuit colleges and universities want to remain relevant to the Church, they need to do a better job of attracting faithfully Catholic students.
There’s always hope: As Pope Benedict noted in his 2008 address to college leaders, the modern “crisis of truth” is rooted in a “crisis of faith.” The decline of Catholic identity at Jesuit institutions can be blamed on the lure of government funding or cultural change, but at its root it is a crisis of faith.
Which brings us to where lies the greatest hope of renewal in Jesuit education—prayer!
Would you in your charity please join us in prayer for our new Holy Father, Pope Francis, and that the Church’s Jesuit colleges and universities return home?
We ask for the intercession of Saint Francis of Assisi, that the New Evangelization will continue to build up the Church and Catholic education.
And we ask for the intercession of Saint Francis Xavier, that Catholic educators will share his desire “to be considered worthless and a fool for Christ, rather than to be esteemed as wise and prudent according to the standards of the world.”
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