In a article highlighting the work of the 1887 Trust—an organization reviving, preserving and promoting Gonzaga University’s Catholic identity—the president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities downplayed the importance of maintaining a majority Catholic faculty as a way of maintaining a college’s Catholic identity.
“What we’ve discovered is that lay people do a good job of making entities that are explicitly Catholic more effective,” said Fr. Michael Sheeran, S.J., according to The Spokesman Review.
“If a person says, ‘Look, I’m a practicing Jew, and I believe in the importance of looking for the meaning in life, that kind of person belongs in a Catholic school,” Sheeran reportedly said. “If a person says, ‘I’m an atheist, but at the same time I have to ask what makes life worthwhile,’ that kind of person belongs in a Catholic school as well.”
Many Jesuit colleges and universities in recent years have turned to lay presidents to lead their institutions. It is believed this is that this is due, in part, to a lack of Jesuit priests to fill those positions. The article points out that the number of Jesuits in the U.S. has decreased from 6,616 to 2,547 over the past forty years.
Ex corde Ecclesiae, one of Blessed John Paul II’s Apostolic constitutions, states clearly that, “In order not to endanger the Catholic identity of the University or Institute of Higher Studies, the number of non-Catholic teachers should not be allowed to constitute a majority within the Institution, which is and must remain Catholic.”
Gonzaga professor Dr. Eric Cunningham wrote recently on the 1887 Trust website that he believed Catholic faculty were most likely in the minority at the university. He added that his religious beliefs were never raised as an issue when he was hired and that over the last ten years he can’t recall it ever being raised as a critical issue, at all, in hires he’s been involved with.
Gonzaga is not alone. According to the Rev. Miscamble of the University of Notre Dame, the problem is nationwide.“Today at Notre Dame, however, few departments conscientiously and enthusiastically support the mission statement’s call for a predominant number of Catholic faculty,” he wrote in America Magazine in 2007. “In some departments, a person who tries to raise the issue in a serious way risks being marginalized.”
Another Jesuit-run college, Loyola Marymount University, not only has a lay president, but a lay, non-Catholic president.
Just weeks after attempting to remove abortion coverage from the university’s health insurance plan, LMU president David Burcham vowed during his recent presidential convocation address that the “pall of orthodoxy” would not “shackle” the Los Angeles-based Jesuit university.
The effect of not hiring for mission in colleges founded by Christian denominations can be witnessed in recent news from Butler University, which was founded by the Disciples of Christ Christian church in 1855. The faculty senate there recently voted unanimously to oppose an amendment affirming marriage as between a man and a woman.
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