A popular notion in many universities today is that smart students make for virtuous graduates, but the president of Catholic University of America is arguing that the "arrow between intellect and virtue travels in a different direction".
In an article penned for Our Sunday
Visitor, John Garvey draws upon the wisdom and arguments of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman to make the case for a Catholic higher education built upon the solid foundation of strong moral formation.
One of my favorite sermons, from his [Blessed Newman's] time in Ireland, he preached on the feast of St. Monica, the first Sunday of their school year. Like the Garveys, Monica watched her son Augustine go off to college in Carthage. There he fell into bad company and bad habits. Cardinal Newman says:
“Bad company creates a distaste for good; and hence it happens that, when a youth has gone the length I have been supposing, he is repelled ... from those places and scenes which would do him good. ... So he begins to form his own ideas of things, and these please and satisfy him for a time; then he ... tires of them, and he takes up others; and now he has begun that everlasting round of seeking and never finding; at length ... he gives up the search altogether, and decides that nothing can be known, and there is no such thing as truth.”
The problem arises, Newman observes, when we make the mistake of separating intellect and virtue. And returning to our subject, he concludes:
“Here, then, I conceive, is the object of the Holy See and the Catholic Church in setting up Universities; it is to reunite things which were in the beginning joined together by God, and have been put asunder by man. Some persons will say that I am thinking of confining, distorting, and stunting the growth of the intellect by ecclesiastical supervision. I have no such thought. Nor have I any thought of a compromise, as if religion must give up something, and science something. I wish the intellect to range with the utmost freedom, and religion to enjoy an equal freedom; but what I am stipulating for is, that they should be found in one and the same place, and exemplified in the same persons.” ...
Academics like to think that intellect is the key thing — that if we know the good we will cultivate and pursue it. This is not surprising. Academics are intellectuals. Thinking is what we are good at. Abraham Maslow once said if you only have a hammer, every problem begins to look like a nail. But there are two difficulties with the academics’ approach. One is that it fails to account for weakness of will. We all have the experience of knowing what is right or good, and failing to do it. The second is that it flattens the concept of knowing into something most of us wouldn’t recognize. We do not come to understand what is right, or good, or beautiful, through mental exercises conducted from an armchair. ...
We come to know virtue by seeing it, we learn virtue by practicing it, we become virtuous when our practice makes it habitual, a part of our character.
Anyone familiar with Catholic Universirty of America's decision to reinstate single-sex dorms last year will have picked up on Garvey's line of thought pretty quickly. Writing for the Wall Street Journal
in 2011, Garvey brought this argument to bear on actual University policy:
Here is one simple step colleges can take to reduce both binge drinking and hooking up: Go back to single-sex residences. ...
Next year all freshmen at The Catholic University of America will be assigned to single-sex residence halls. The year after, we will extend the change to the sophomore halls. It will take a few years to complete the transformation.
The change will probably cost more money. There are a few architectural adjustments. We won’t be able to let the ratio of men and women we admit into the freshman class vary from year to year with the size and quality of the pools. But our students will be better off.
President Garvey's case is clear and The Cardinal Newman Society fully supports it. If the Church teaches that faith and reason go hand-in-hand, then we must allow that faith to interact with University policy and improve the moral lives of students. Without this, Catholic colleges and universities are cheating students out of an authentically Catholic education.
The Cardinal Newman Society is proud to promote
The Catholic University of America in The Newman Guide
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