“Truth, beauty, and goodness have their being together,” said the late spiritual writer Father Thomas Dubay, S.M. “By truth we are put in touch with reality, which we find is good for us and beautiful to behold.”
The vision of the university in the classical Catholic intellectual tradition is to encourage students to seek truth, goodness, and beauty. Attention to these three elements, or transcendentals, ultimately will direct students toward a deeper knowledge of God, because what is true, good, and beautiful in creation “reflects the infinite perfection of God” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 41).
Franciscan University of Steubenville, Wyoming Catholic College, and John Paul the Great Catholic University are among the institutes of Catholic higher education that understand this vision. It’s a philosophy that shapes their Catholic identity and permeates their curricula, campus life, and mission.
Here’s how they do it.
“A Catholic university presents itself as separate and distinct from other universities,” said Fr. Sean Sheridan, TOR, president of Franciscan University of Steubenville. A key difference “is its Catholic identity, which should pervade every aspect of the University’s operations.
“ Catholic character must be evident in more than name. Visitors to Franciscan University often comment there is something “special” about the campus that goes beyond its physical beauty, said Fr. Sheridan.
The entire Franciscan University family, he explained, “is well aware of the presence of Christ and, as a result, lives the joy of the Gospel in their daily lives through the manner in which they engage each other, embrace the truth of our faith, proclaim the Good News of the Gospel, and value the beauty of living lives focused on developing their relationship with Christ.”
Those transcendentals are incorporated into the core curriculum, particularly in Franciscan’s fine arts offerings and Austrian program. Through these, “our students come to a deeper appreciation of the beautiful along with the true and the good,” he said.
The campus itself reflects beauty. At the heart of campus adjacent to Christ the King Chapel is the Rosary Circle, which envelops the cross.
“Our Catholic identity is not merely etched in our flowers or our architecture. It is at the heart of our mission,” said Fr. Sheridan, “which in turn is the basis for the decisions we make here, including hiring decisions and curriculum choices that are made consistent with the mission of the University.”
Theology, philosophy, and sacred music faculty publicly take the profession of faith and oath of fidelity to magisterial teaching. “People who witness this event each year have told me that it brings tears to their eyes to know that they or their child are part of a university that is truly Catholic,” he said.
The university’s rich sacramental life includes daily Mass, Confessions, and Eucharistic adoration. The student body is overwhelmingly Catholic, and there’s an evangelistic spirit, too: more than 450 students annually volunteer on mission trips to impoverished areas, often where the faith is not fully embraced.
“The witness of the lives of our students and their zeal for living the Gospel life, however, very frequently have a profound impact” on those they serve, Fr. Sheridan said.
Creativity and innovation
“At John Paul the Great Catholic University, we believe in the power of truth, goodness and beauty to transform culture,” said Derry Connolly, president and founder of the institution located in Escondido, Calif. “Students are formed in an environment that cultivates creativity and inspires innovation, values academic excellence and applied learning, and fosters an encounter with the transforming love and truth of Jesus Christ in an authentic Catholic community.”
At JPCatholic, as the university is also known, “Our confidence comes from our identity in Christ, our fidelity to his Church, and our unwavering commitment to one another,” Connolly said.
Great art comes “from the heart,” he said, and so the college forms students by connecting their deep intellectual knowledge of Christ with the creative process inspired by the great works of art.
All students take rigorous Catholic core classes to obtain an in-depth understanding of Scripture. They study theology and philosophy, including the Church’s social, moral, and ethical teachings. A Humanities focus includes the renowned works of literature, art, and music.
John Paul the Great welcomes students of all faith traditions or none, but “Catholic identity is paramount. It is our raison d’etre,” Connolly said.
JPCatholic offers a Catholic learning environment where students can grow both professionally and spiritually. “Outside of the classroom, our unique community of artists and innovators live lives largely centered on their Catholic faith,” Connolly affirmed. Daily Mass and rosary are offered, and there are frequent opportunities for Confession, adoration, retreats, service projects, and spiritual growth.
That’s the true and the good. As for the beautiful, Escondido lies just northeast of San Diego, so students are surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, mountains, and wide-open spaces for recreation.
The beautiful is reflected also in the creative emphasis. “The culture of creating art on-campus is pervasive,” Connolly said. “Students are constantly filming, drawing, editing, acting, and ideating. The ongoing productions contribute greatly to large-scale collaboration among the student body and provide major opportunities for developing deep and lasting friendships with like-minded creative students, who are brought together by their shared values based on their deep love for and knowledge of Jesus Christ.”
High plains Catholicism
Glenn Arbery, a Denver Chapter Legate, presides over Wyoming Catholic College, among the newest and smallest entries to Catholic higher education. Having opened in 2007, its enrollment last year of 175 set an all-time high.
“Unique” describes WCC well. In keeping with its rural Wyoming environment, all students learn horsemanship. They study the likes of Aquinas and Aristotle, lyric poetry, Latin, Euclidean mathematics, Western literature, and field science. A Catholic Outdoor Renewal program goes beyond horsemanship to include kayaking, rock climbing, and a 21-day mountain backpacking expedition.
Also unusual is that students cannot keep cell phones on campus, “a deprivation that soon turns into the rare contemporary phenomenon of actually being present to others,” Arbery said.
That all adds up to a powerful way for students to appreciate truth, goodness, and beauty.
“We are very much a college of the Mountain West, but also of the Great Books tradition and the central current of orthodox Catholicism faithful to the Magisterium,” Arbery explained. “All of our students begin to experience the good, first of all, in their experience of their leaders and of each other, and they come to know the beautiful both in the majesty of the Rocky Mountains and in the sublimity of what they study. And everywhere, every day, they seek out what is true, knowing that the wrong path is a matter of life and death, just as it is in the wilderness.”
Rather than offer multiple majors, WCC has every student take the same courses all four years. There is a sequence of 12 courses each in theology and humanities, along with studies in
subjects including philosophy, fine arts, and experiential leadership. “Our Catholic identity takes shape through the very way the curriculum unfolds,” said Arbery.
Every Catholic professor takes the oath of fidelity, and nonCatholic professors pledge not to undermine the Faith. “But even an oath would not ensure a strong Catholic identity if every course did not support it,” he said.
WCC offers daily Mass and Confession, and many opportunities for spiritual direction and prayer. The Mass is celebrated in the Extraordinary Form “about half the time,” said Arbery.
The student body is predominantly Catholic, but other faiths are welcome.
“We are not what the great English poet John Milton calls ‘forcers of conscience,’” he noted. “At WCC, we trust that truth, goodness, and beauty have their own appeal.
“Besides,” he added, “the real work is always God’s.”
GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine staff writer.