Professor Anne Hendershott, writing for Crisis Magazine, recaps the story of financial scandal and corruption at New York’s St. John’s University. The story of embezzlement, lavish gifts, unreported loans, and excessive compensation reaches to the University’s uppermost leadership positions. Hendershott ultimately concludes that the situation at the University demonstrates what happens when Catholic universities choose status over a strong Catholic identity.
Writing about University President Fr. Donald Harrington, Hendershott notes that he "used to boast that 'most of our student body is not Catholic,' bragging that St. John's students come from 122 countries."
The scandal at St. John’s will continue as long as questions about conflict of interest, undisclosed loans, and excessive compensation remain. Yet, the saddest part of this story is what can happen to a Catholic university when strivings for status through globalization, diversity, or inclusion trump the need to remain faithful to a strong Catholic identity. Fr. Harrington’s boastfulness over the fact that “most of our student body is not Catholic,” is actually the real scandal here because it is a betrayal of the commitment that Catholics — many of them Irish and Italian immigrants — made to build St. John’s University. These Catholics constitute a kind of “community of memory” that reminds us all that the lack of attention to the original mission of St. John’s as a Catholic university designed to provide a Catholic education opened the door to the rest.
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