Catholic identity in Kansas
Faith fuels Benedictine College’s renaissance as it embraces its Catholic identity . . .
Special to Legatus Magazine
When Princeton law professor Robert George opened the new academic year at Benedictine College on Aug. 30, he addressed a college that has been transformed.
The largest student body in the Atchison, Kan., college’s 153-year history sat before him. The new classically designed Academic Center is nearly completed in the center of campus, on the bluffs overlooking the Missouri River. And George’s words will soon be shared with readers nationwide through the school’s The Gregorian speech digest promoting Catholic identity in public life.
College president Stephen D. Minnis attributes the school’s growth to its Catholic identity. “We consider Benedictine College a primary example of the power of Ex Corde Ecclesiae,” he said. “The college traces its renaissance to our efforts to strengthen our Catholic identity.”
Earlier this year, First Things magazine named Benedictine as one of the top 20 colleges in America. And this year’s enrollment of about 1,600 full-time undergraduates nearly triples its enrollment in 1990 when Blessed John Paul II wrote Ex Corde Ecclesiae, his apostolic constitution on higher education.
Minnis said that the school is eager to pass on to others the lesson it has learned: There is no need to be afraid of Catholic identity. It’s a theme that permeates the school.
For example, the college’s new nursing program was inaugurated on Blessed Mother Teresa’s birthday and is housed in the Mother Teresa Center for Nursing and Health Education. Before allowing the college to use that name, the Missionaries of Charity sought assurances that the school fully assented to Church teachings.
In the end, two Missionaries of Charity sisters assisted at the building’s dedication.
Academic Dean Kimberly Shankman told the National Catholic Register that, as a Catholic college, Benedictine nursing “can focus much more clearly on the morality of health care and can focus on the spiritual needs that should be addressed as part of a holistic approach to health care. All human beings, no matter how weak, sick or helpless, are made in the image and likeness of God. Our students learn that explicitly; at a state school that can’t be part of the curriculum.”
Benedictine’s newest effort is the Gregorian Institute to promote Catholic identity in public life. It’s named after St. Gregory the Great, who combined the riches of the Church with a great practical mind.
“We want to give scholarly backing to important principles of Catholic identity in public life through lectures, conferences and white papers featuring top Catholic thinkers,” said Tom Hoopes, The Gregorian editor. “This year we begin forming select students through a Gregorian Fellows program that focuses on the classics and leadership principles.”
Kansas is in the center of America. With Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback — Benedictine’s most recent commencement speaker — promoting ground-breaking pro-life initiatives in the statehouse, and with the college promoting Catholic identity in academia, one can expect the “heart” of the country to beat strong in the days ahead.