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Notre Dame Professor, Monsignor Swetland on ‘Heart and Soul of a Catholic University’

“The Heart and Soul of a Catholic University” was the topic of discussion on the Relevant Radio show “A Closer Look” with Sheila Liaugminas earlier this week.

The episode featured Fr. Wilson Miscamble, a longtime professor of history at the University of Notre Dame, and Monsignor Stuart Swetland, director of The Cardinal Newman Society’s Center for the Advancement of Catholic Higher Education.

Fr. Miscamble told Liagminas that there are “so many good things going on at Notre Dame,” but there is a debate taking place at the University and a “large part of where the battle is over who teaches and what gets taught.”  Fr. Miscamble explained:

…here is the great challenge that besets us: higher education has become a very secular enterprise… and so [in] much of higher education, people want to measure themselves and model themselves on so called ‘preferred peer institutions.’  And so as Notre Dame [has] gotten wealthier and more successful, [it] wants to measure itself over against the Ivy League schools…

The danger is if you don’t have self-confidence in your Catholic mission—this institutional sense of who you truly are— [then] you begin to hire like those schools do and you begin to offer the same offerings that those schools offer.  And this sadly is the sort of lesson that has happened.  When that takes place, the religious mission can be pushed into a rather peripheral place.

Fr. Miscamble was featured in an interview with the Cardinal Newman Society after the release of his book, For Notre Dame: Battling for the Heart and Soul of Catholic University.

Msgr. Swetland also discussed the culture and Catholic universities.  “There’s a sin of worldly respect where… If you compete in the worldly standards, you become worldly… We’re more fearful of the opinion of the world than we are of what we are doing in God’s mission.”  He later continued:

The secular world thinks that ‘Catholic University’ is an oxymoron.  I say, in fact, a University isn’t truly a University unless it’s fully Catholic because in ‘university’ is ‘uni’ bringing the university together and emphasizing the wholeness of truth.

Catholic universities’ role is to “to lead people into the fullness of the Truth which is found in Christ Jesus Our Lord,” said Msgr. Swetland. “It’s the integration of faith and reason, the discovery of one’s vocation, the living out of that vocation—it’s formation as well as education And that’s what makes Catholic universities distinct.”

In response to a question about how to prepare graduates to be able to explain his or her Catholic Faith after graduation, Msgr. Swetland offered one possible step that could be taken on Catholic campuses. He stated:

We do remedial work in everything—in foreign languages, in mathematics, in writing, in reading…We have to do remedial to get people up to speed to do college level work in every field. But we’re not yet humble enough to admit that many [students] coming to our universities and colleges need remedial work in formation of the Faith.

Catholic universities “must afford the opportunity for our Catholic students to appropriate their faith on an adult level, making a personal commitment to an intimate, passionate relationship with Jesus and his community, the Church,” wrote Monsignor Swetland in a recent article.

Catholic Education Daily is an online publication of The Cardinal Newman Society. Click here for email updates and free online membership with The Cardinal Newman Society.


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