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Alumni Urge Gonzaga to Focus on Catholic Identity amidst Quest for Top Rankings

Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., seems intent on becoming viewed as a “top 50” college by publications such as U.S. News and World Report, but the 1887 Trust, an alumni organization committed to promoting the Jesuit University’s Catholic identity, is urging the administration to focus on its Catholic identity.

“1887 Trust believes that the top 50 goal is laudable, but Gonzaga’s Catholic character must be prominent. We argue that the strength of Gonzaga’s Catholic character, were it to be mended and maintained, would assist Gonzaga in achieving its top 50 goal. Were Gonzaga to be one of the best universities in the country for rigorous academics, while cultivating a reputation as one of the most authentically Catholic universities in the Western United States, the University’s “unique selling proposition” would have great appeal to students and families.

Many faithful Catholics in America engaged in the college search are increasingly concerned with the strength of Catholic identity, or lack thereof, at Catholic colleges. A Catholic university in the Pacific Northwest that combined first-rate academics with faithful Catholicism would find itself with more Catholic student applications, and with generous and grateful Catholics more likely to contribute to the school’s endowment. As Gonzaga’s selectivity and alumni giving rates improved, the University would likely find itself ascending the ladder of U.S.News and World Report rankings.”

The alumni organization warns, however, that the University has not signaled any intent to return to fidelity. “Can Gonzaga be highly ranked in U.S. News and World Report and still be faithfully Catholic?” the groups asked. “We say yes, but not if the university stays on its current trajectory.”

The organization points to the lack of a plan to hire faithful Catholic faculty, the recent  reduction of the Catholic component of the core curriculum, on-campus performances of the lewd play Vagina Monologues, honors awarded to scandalous speakers such as the pro-abortion rights Desmond Tutu, as well as the University’s nearly immediate acquiescence to the HHS mandate.

The alumni group is urging the Jesuit University to formulate a plan much like the University of Notre Dame’s recently released strategic plan entitled, “A Legacy Expanded,” which seeks to affirm its Catholic identity. The Cardinal Newman Society reported on that plan earlier this year.

That plan states that the University’s Catholic character needs to “touch every aspect of our life and work.”

Earlier this year, Pope Francis urged Notre Dame to be an “uncompromising witness… to the Church’s moral teaching” and to resist “efforts, from whatever quarter, to dilute that indispensable witness.”

Notre Dame’s plan includes a number of goals including maintaining a predominance of Catholic faculty, ensuring a proportion of Catholic undergraduate students, and ensuring that all faculty respect the University’s mission.

The Trust wonders why Gonzaga “can’t, or won’t” adopt similar goals. “Gonzaga currently does not even count how many of its faculty are Catholic, let alone set a target for a predominantly Catholic faculty, even though Ex corde Ecclesiae clearly calls for just that approach,” they say. “This must change.”

Gonzaga alumni were critical of Father Theodore Hesburgh, longtime past president of Notre Dame, who once said, “A great Catholic university must begin by being a great university that is also Catholic.” But the Trust points out that this creates a tension between a university’s Catholicism and academic rigor.

Pope Francis has spoken many times about the important of Catholic identity. “Essential…is the uncompromising witness of Catholic universities to the Church’s moral teaching,” the Holy Father said, “and the defense of her freedom, precisely in and through her institutions, to uphold that teaching as authoritatively proclaimed by the magisterium of her pastors.” 

“Gonzaga University is to be applauded for its quest to become a ‘top 50’ university,” states the Trust, “but the school will achieve greatness to the extent that it mends and maintains its Catholic character.”

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