Tag Archives: cardinal newman society

Beware the brainwashing at Secular U

“Oh, it’s okay, he’s grounded in his faith. And besides, he signed up for a religion course!” 

I heard that reassurance from parents at my parish regarding their son, a solid Catholic kid being shipped off to Secular U. one autumn. I warned them about our universities, pleading that they send him to a serious Catholic college. 

When I asked around Thanksgiving how his college experience was going, they groaned. After listening to their litany about his thorough indoctrination on sexuality and gender, I asked how the “religion” course was going

“It’s awful!” they shouted. “It’s taught by an atheist!”

 Of course, it is. Who did they expect, Thomas Aquinas? 

I could go on and on.

A tearful Catholic mom told me about her six children: all products of Catholic schools, youth groups, and even one “Catholic” college (she put “Catholic” in quotes). All now vigorously support everything from Planned Parenthood to same-sex “marriage” to Facebook’s 71 gender options. “Much worse,” she added, “is that they’re all six clearly anti-Christian.” She notes the conventional wisdom that “things will change” as they get older and have kids. Hasn’t happened. 

She explained in a word where this permanent rebellion occurred: college.

 I could list those six colleges here, but there’s no point. They’re representative of any 600 or 6,000 colleges taking down the culture. If you’re not sending your children to a real Catholic/ Christian college, then you’re risking their souls. And paying for it. 

History’s worst radicals long looked to the universities to sow discord and implant destructive ideas.

“Give me four years to teach the children,” asserted Vladimir Lenin, “and the seed I have sown shall never be uprooted.”

The atheist philosopher/educator Richard Rorty candidly stated that the job of professors like him is “to arrange things so that students who enter as bigoted, homophobic religious fundamentalists will leave college with views more like our own” and “escape the grip of their frightening, vicious, dangerous parents.” Rorty’s message to parents: “We are going to go right on trying to discredit you in the eyes of your children, trying to strip your fundamentalist religious community of dignity, trying to make your views seem silly rather than discussable.” 

What a testimony to our universities, where impressionable freshmen are putty in the hands of fundamental transformers who teach them to redefine everything from unborn life to marriage to family to sexual orientation to gender. Those who resist are “bigots” who—in the name of “tolerance”—must not be tolerated.

Tragically, if these professors fail to get hold of these young minds in the K-12 years, they eventually get them in the universities, where the parents pay huge fees for a re-education completely contrary to what they inculcated at home for 18 years. Modern universities are hotbeds for courses like “Queer Citizenship” and “Exploring Homophobia” within programs like (to name just one) the University of Maryland’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies Program.

And it isn’t merely cultural extremism that students learn. I’m often asked where the sudden support of socialism among youth comes from. The answer is obvious: education, especially at the university level.

What’s the antidote to this? There’s no easy fix. The vast majority of Americans (Catholics included) will funnel their children into these universities, seduced by prestigious names or scholarships that, nonetheless, can do serious soul damage. But you can at least address your own family.

For recommended real Catholic colleges, see the crucial lists published by the National Catholic Register and Cardinal Newman Society. Think carefully. Ask hard questions. Do research. Don’t be duped by admissions people who insist their college isn’t hostile to your values.

This is serious business. The souls of your children are at stake. 

PAUL KENGOR is professor of political science at Grove City College in Grove City, PA. He is author of over a dozen books, including A Pope and a President: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Extraordinary Untold Story of the 20th Century

A new captain at the helm

Ave Maria School of Law emerges from turbulent waters

Kevin Cieply

Kevin Cieply

When Kevin Cieply became dean and president of Ave Maria School of Law a little more than a year ago, he knew he was assuming the helm of a ship that had passed through some rough waters.

But today, the retired U.S. Army Colonel and former Judge Advocate General Corps (JAG) Officer is convinced the school has emerged from the turbulence that followed its move from Ann Arbor, Mich., to Naples, FLA. Cieply believes it’s on the way to becoming an influential, significant law school in southwest Florida as well as the nation.

Growing success

Despite a successful start following its founding by Tom Monaghan in 1999, Ave Maria Law lost students and faculty with its 2009 move to Naples, and it slipped to the bottom of state bar exam passage rankings.

As a newcomer to the law school, Cieply said he brings “a fresh look at the school and a look that is not necessarily tethered to that experience.”

Indeed, a string of successes followed the new dean’s arrival in Naples, although he credits many others for their work preceding his appointment.

In October, for example, the school won a favorable federal court ruling in its challenge to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ contraception mandate. Cieply said the case was underway before he arrived and that his predecessor did a great deal of work on it.

“I came in at the end — right before the decision,” he said, adding that the school is now awaiting a ruling in a case involving EWTN. “Whatever is decided in the 11th Circuit in that case will dictate how our case eventually goes.”

Another indication that things are going well for Ave Maria School of Law is its move in February from the bottom to the top (83%) of Florida’s rankings for first-time passage of the state bar exam. Also, in March, the Diocese of Venice officially recognized the school as a Catholic institute of higher learning. Then, in April, Ave Maria Law announced a $1 million gift and purchase of the North Naples campus it had been renting from Ave Maria University.

A member of Legatus’ Naples Chapter, Cieply said these successes represent work by many people. “There’s no way I would say they’re my accomplishment, but the school’s. You just don’t accomplish those things by yourself.”

Mission-focused

Undergirding the school’s success is clarity about its mission, Cieply said.

“We know what our purpose is,” he explained. “We aren’t struggling to find our niche or our relevance. We know we’ve got a clearly defined mission, and I see us as the manifestation of Tom Monaghan’s dream to make Catholic education relevant and a change agent for society.”

Patrick Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society, which promotes and defends faithful Catholic education, said Ave Maria stands apart from other Catholic law schools with its strong emphasis on Catholic identity.

Reilly said he’s been encouraged by Cieply’s confident approach in recruiting students based on that identity. “Even some faithful Catholic institutions tend to downplay their character and he has made it a strong marketing point for the law school.”

Thomas Flickinger, a member of Legatus’ Grand Rapids Chapter, was in the law school’s first graduating class. Flickinger said he thinks the school’s greatest strength is its loyalty to the Church and its ability to train future lawyers to think not only of what can be accomplished legally, but what is ethical and morally permitted.

“Many people today figure ‘if it’s legal, it must be moral,’ but we were also trained to consider the ethics of the situation,” he explained.

Every class he took, Flickinger said, tied into the Catholic faith — whether it was reading encyclicals in property class or studying Thomistic philosopher Germain Grisez in professional liability class.

Besides infusing Church teachings into the curriculum, the school expresses its Catholic identity by opening classes with prayer and providing two Masses a day, a crucifix in every classroom, and a chaplain on campus.

To bolster its Catholic identity, Ave Maria Law has made an effort to recruit students from colleges and universities listed in the Cardinal Newman Society’s Newman Guide, which recommends schools committed to a faithful Catholic education.

Newman Guide schools, Reilly said, not only provide an outstanding liberal arts education that lends itself to a law degree, but have a strong mission fit with Ave Maria.

Last year, he said, with funding from Monaghan, the law school instituted a program offering full scholarships for students graduating from Newman Guide colleges and universities.

Twenty new students are entering the law school this fall on those scholarships. They, along with other students recruited from Newman Guide schools, will boost the Catholic student body, which last year was at 63%.

The school accepts students from all faiths without shying away from the fact that it’s Catholic, Cieply said.

“We pride ourselves on having a special fidelity to the Catholic Church and its teachings as well as the natural law,” he explained.

“We welcome anybody and everybody that will respect our mission.”

Challenges and priorities

In 2014, Ave Maria School of Law was named the best Catholic law school in the U.S. for the devout by National Jurist’s PreLaw Magazine.

To sustain and build on its high bar passage rate, Cieply said the school has hired a director of bar passage and made curriculum changes related to bar exam performance —including the addition of a one-credit course, Legal Case Analysis and Skills Enrichment. The new course, which will be offered for the first time during orientation week this fall, covers critical thinking and reading, how to brief cases, and how to structure answers for law school exams.

Cieply said his greatest challenge at this juncture is to improve the school’s financial position. The purchase of the North Naples campus was a step in that direction — in part because it will provide naming opportunities for buildings, attracting more substantial benefactors.

Among his top priorities is getting Ave Maria Law off a U.S. Department of Education financial watch list, where it has been for the last 11 years. Its presence on the list is unrelated to management of money, he said, but indicates that the school is tuition-dependent and without significant assets, endowments or equity. The school is slowly building a sound financial base, he said, adding he is hopeful that with some additional gifts, it can move off the list.

As Ave Maria approaches its 15th anniversary, Flickinger said he sees the biggest challenge as continuing to build its reputation in the legal community.

“Too many people still don’t know about the school and the many successful attorneys it has trained,” he said. “But the focus cannot simply be on the worldly view of success. The school was inspired by the encyclical Fides et Ratio; both faith and reason must flourish at AMSL for it to be truly successful.”

JUDY ROBERTS is a Legatus magazine staff writer.

Learn more: avemarialaw.edu

Ex Corde Ecclesiae: 20 years later

House reflects on the impact of John Paul II’s charge to Catholic colleges and universities . . .

Dr. David House

Dr. David House

When Pope John Paul II issued Ex Corde Ecclesiae in 1990, Dr. David House made a conscious career move to Catholic higher education. A member of Legatus’ Orange County Chapter, House served as president of St. Joseph’s College of Maine from 1995-2007.

With more than 30 years’ experience in higher education, he is the new executive director of the Cardinal Newman Society’s Center for the Advancement of Catholic Higher Education. He spoke with Legatus Magazine staff writer Sabrina Arena Ferrisi.

Tell me about the Center.

We advise academic and religious leaders in efforts to strengthen the Catholic identity and academic quality of Catholic colleges and universities. We do this by facilitating communication between Church leaders and faculty — and sharing information about the most critical issues. We also do this through our blog Renovo, conferences and The Bulletin of Catholic Higher Education. We share “best practices” in student life, curriculum, extra-curricular activities, campus ministry and leadership.

Right now we’re analyzing environments that foster the “hook-up” culture on Catholic campuses. We’re also conducting an analysis of the data available on Catholic higher education — including core curricula. Finally, we’re reviewing the impact of Ex Corde Ecclesiae in this 20th anniversary year.

How is the landscape changing in Catholic colleges?

Things aren’t as good as they should be, but they’re a lot better than they were 20 years ago. Positive change is developing slowly like a glacier moving across the landscape. In the past 20 years we’ve seen the creation of new colleges and universities and the revitalization of some on the brink of closing. Faithful schools have thrived overall. There is more receptivity among educators to approaching Catholic identity than two decades ago, and we are seeing the fruits of a 26-year papacy regarded as a major strengthening of the Church — followed by Pope Benedict, one of the great intellects of our time.

What about leadership at these colleges?

We have a changing of the guard. There is a new generation of leaders as the baby-boom generation retires. The new generation’s faith is shaped by John Paul II and Benedict. Just think: Archbishop José Gómez, coadjutor archbishop of Los Angeles, was in his mid-20s when John Paul became Pope. Father James Shea, president of the University of Mary, hadn’t even started kindergarten yet. The outgoing generation of academic leaders who fought Ex Corde Ecclesiae has not really produced an ideological second generation. This is going to make an enormous difference.

Are things better or worse regarding fidelity to Ex Corde?

Both. There is much to be optimistic about, but I don’t want to paint too rosy a picture.We are all aware of the lack of faithfulness at many Catholic colleges, and student activities at odds with Church teaching. However, these activities are often exaggerated in the media — getting more attention than they deserve.

I think that academic and Church leaders need to work closely to help create what sociologists call “moral communities” on our Catholic campuses or else the situation will get worse. There is actually a great deal of good will among many leaders of Catholic colleges and universities, but we need to find ways to help them confront those who would turn these schools away from the faith. This is no time to be intimidated by angry, unfaithful faculty or students, but rather to support faithful Catholics who care deeply about their college or university.

What are the most pressing issues?

First, for Church and academic leaders to develop strong relationships based on fidelity to Church teaching and a commitment to furthering Catholic higher education. Second, to use Ex Corde Ecclesiae’s 20th anniversary as a springboard. Third, to help people become well-formed in the faith. Fourth, for leaders to stand up in public and challenge those attacking the Church, individuals, and institutions faithful to Church teaching.

What about emerging issues?

We’re facing growing threats from government intrusion. Belmont Abbey College was told by the feds that it was guilty of discrimination by refusing to cover contraception in employee health plans. This is a brazen violation of religious liberty, and not likely to be the last such case. The government is slowly marginalizing faith-based institutions and requiring them to behave like secular, public institutions.

Any exciting developments?

One of the most exciting developments today is the role of students in the resurgence of faithful Catholicism. Through alternative student newspapers, student organizations, and faithful student activists, there is emerging a student-based vitality, the likes of which we haven’t seen in higher education for more than 40 years. I think we’ll see this develop even more over the next several years. It’s already making some academic leaders nervous, and faithful student organizations are increasingly difficult to ignore as they grow and begin to recognize their power. The alternative commencement ceremony at Notre Dame last year is evidence of this emerging student power. Young people in any society represent the future, so we should all be very encouraged by this.

Sabrina Arena Ferrisi is a Legatus Magazine staff writer.

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From the heart of the Church

Ex Corde Ecclesiae (ECE) is an apostolic constitution issued by Pope John Paul II in 1990. It literally means “From the heart of the Church,” recognizing that the first major European universities were established by the Catholic Church. ECE defines a Catholic university or college under Canon Law. It’s considered a rebuttal to the “Land O’ Lakes Statement” issued by a group of Catholic educators in 1967, which basically declared that Catholic universities were independent from the hierarchy.

“Because of the American situation — in which most Catholic colleges and universities have been legally independent of the bishops since the 1970s and many have been centers of dissent from Catholic teaching — it was necessary for the Vatican to clarify whether such institutions are truly Catholic,” said Patrick Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society.

ECE clarified that an institution could be considered Catholic by its institutional commitment to the Catholic faith in fidelity to the Magisterium. This fidelity must be evident in all policies, programs and commitments.

Many Catholic colleges and universities, however, have simply ignored the document’s teaching.

“At its root, the hesitancy to embrace Ex Corde Ecclesiae is a hesitancy to accept the teaching authority of the bishops in matters of faith and morals — and a rejection of the Catholic faith as truth,” said Reilly.

“The on-going issue is over autonomy,” said Monsignor Stuart Swetland of Mount St. Mary’s University and advisor to the Cardinal Newman Society. “Some believe that universities must have a ‘total’ or ‘complete’ autonomy from all ecclesial relationships to be truly free and adhere to the rigors of academic freedom. The solution to this tension is best grasped by the proper understanding of ecclesial communion where each person and institution has a specific role or vocation inside the communion of the Church.”

—Sabrina Arena Ferrisi

Thomas Aquinas College: Building on a legacy

TAC honors work of its late president, Legate Thomas Dillon, after his untimely death . . .

Dr. Thomas Dillon

Dr. Thomas Dillon

Thomas Aquinas College has faced numerous challenges over the last 40 years in its quest to become a solidly Catholic institution. But perhaps none has touched the tight-knit campus community as deeply as the death of its second president.

Dillon’s legacy

Just weeks after a stunning new $22 million chapel was dedicated on the 131-acre campus in Santa Paula, Calif., Thomas Dillon, the college’s president since 1991, was killed in an auto accident in Ireland on April 15.

Dillon, a Legatus member who joined the Thomas Aquinas faculty in 1972, shepherded the college through a period of growth that included the addition of nine buildings — among them the chapel, library and science building. He raised nearly $100 million and gained national recognition for the college’s Great Books program.

Although shaken by the loss, the college has had a process in place from its inception that should not only insure a smooth transition, but the continuation of the course Dillon set.

Under an unusual succession plan, the president is selected from among teaching faculty with permanent status. (Such status is typically granted after five years when faculty members are deemed to be committed to the college’s mission.)

The choice of a new president from the teaching faculty is tied to the college’s character and its understanding of Catholic liberal education, which would be difficult to find in an outside candidate, explained TAC’s interim president Peter DeLuca.

Central to the college is its conviction that the Catholic faith illuminates understanding and guides intellectual life. As the school’s website says, “A college dedicated to Catholic liberal education is responsible first and foremost for helping its students perfect their intellects under the light of the truths revealed by God through the Catholic Church.”

By providing a program that is firmly Catholic and academically superior, Thomas Aquinas is making a valuable contribution to Catholic higher education, said Patrick Reilly of the Cardinal Newman Society, an organization committed to renewing and strengthening Catholic identity at America’s Catholic colleges and universities.

“There is today a strong mindset among many Catholic academics at the larger universities that one can only have an authentically Catholic college if it is small and inferior in its academic program,” Reilly said. “But many of the smaller Catholic colleges that have been established in the last 40 years — and Thomas Aquinas College is a real leader in that movement — actually provide a much stronger curriculum. They focus on the liberal arts in the way the larger universities did decades ago.”

Catholic mission

Thomas Aquinas was founded at a time when American Catholic institutions of higher learning were becoming increasingly secularized and detached from the teaching Church, according to the college’s founding document, A Proposal for the Fulfillment of Catholic Liberal Education, known as the Blue Book.

DeLuca, a founder of the college and its first principal administrator, said many of these schools also had drifted from their original purpose. Hence, he added, “Right from the beginning, a major concern has been how to keep the college true to its mission.”

Selecting a new president from within is somewhat restrictive, but DeLuca acknowledged that “it’s more important to have someone who understands the mission of the college from the inside and who can maintain that mission and be true to it in the future.”

To insure that TAC remains on track, the president answers to the board of governors, and seven of the 30 board members are either founding members or faculty. In addition, the Blue Book is incorporated into the college’s bylaws. “It is to be read and defended by everyone in the college, including the board and faculty,” DeLuca said. “That’s been invaluable for the college in keeping it on mission.

“It’s been almost 40 years since we first opened an office, and the college is still doing exactly what we started out to do,” he said. “We credit much of that to the existence of that document.”

Another reason the college has been able to stay on mission is that it offers a single curriculum and degree in Liberal Arts with no majors and no departments.

“It’s a very finite, self-contained operation,” added Anne Forsyth, a 1981 Thomas Aquinas graduate who serves as director of college relations. “We don’t anticipate adding new departments or graduate programs, so we will remain what we are.”

The college also has stayed intentionally small, admitting only 102 freshmen each year for a total enrollment of about 350. This allows the college to provide classes in which students and faculty members (known as tutors) can discuss, evaluate and analyze together what they are reading in the classics.

“They’re trying to understand the truth,” DeLuca said. “People have to say what they really think, not what they think someone wants to hear, or the position of some group.”

This means students and tutors have to know each other, DeLuca added. “We try very hard to make this a community of friends, where it’s small enough that everyone can know everyone else.”

Moving forward

Everything that defines Thomas Aquinas College, combined with the leadership Dillon provided over the last 18 years, seems to indicate that the school will continue to flourish under a new president, Reilly said.

“It’s a tightly developed program,” he said. “The college has very clear traditions, not just in terms of the campus life, but with its academic functions, its curriculum, its operation. It’s simply a matter of the right person coming in and picking up where [Dillon] left off.”

This is not to say, however, that Dillon’s loss isn’t felt deeply.

As well as being a great leader, “Tom Dillon had the additional ability of being a great fundraiser,” added Legatus member Nick Healy, president of Ave Maria University. “It’s a rare president that can embody the full academic vision and also be a talented fundraiser. God will inspire them to choose a worthy successor.”

TAC’s nominating committee is made up of board of governors members and a faculty committee. The latter will interview the teaching faculty and choose two candidates, to be voted on by faculty members with permanent status. Ballots are then sent to the nominating committee so the panel can assess the faculty’s preferences. The nominating committee may consider both candidates or dismiss them and ask for additional names. Finally, the panel chooses a candidate and forwards the name to the full board for consideration.

DeLuca expects that if all goes smoothly, the new president will be named at the Oct. 24 board meeting and assume office at the end of December with a formal inauguration tentatively planned for April 2010.

Judy Roberts is a Legatus Magazine staff writer.


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From humble beginnings

Formed out of the conversations that a group of philosophy professors had been having about the future of Catholic liberal education in the late 1960s, Thomas Aquinas College began offering classes to 33 students in 1971.

The college met for seven years in leased facilities in Calabasas, Calif., in what had been the Claretian order’s novitiate and college seminary, before moving in 1978 to its current location near Santa Paula, 65 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

There, development of a master plan began with construction of St. Joseph Commons and continues today with the recent completion of a new chapel. Still to be built are a lecture and concert hall, a second classroom building and a gymnasium.

Today, the college is recognized as a leader in higher education nationally and is consistently listed in “top 10” rankings by the National Catholic Register, Crisis and Insight magazines.

In August, two national organizations ranked TAC among the nation’s top colleges. U.S. News & World Report’s annual college guide, America’s Best Colleges 2010, put Thomas Aquinas in the top tier among the nation’s liberal arts colleges. TAC is ranked No. 68 out of 112 schools in Tier 1.  The Princeton Review ranked TAC No. 1 in the country for “most religious students.” The Review also features TAC in the 2010 edition of its popular guidebook The Best 371 Colleges.  The Cardinal Newman Society consistently features the college in its annual publication The Newman Guide to Choosing  Catholic College.

—Roberts

Cardinal Newman and Notre Dame

Patrick Reilly writes that Catholic higher education is in urgent need of renewal . . .

Patrick Reilly

Patrick Reilly

The 19th-century convert, theologian and scholar John Henry Cardinal Newman is on the road to sainthood. The Vatican announced on July 3 that Pope Benedict XVI had recognized the miraculous healing of an American deacon through Newman’s intercession. That completes the final step toward his beatification, which is expected to occur next spring.

Newman’s beatification carries great significance for the Church as Catholic higher education faces a difficult crossroads. Newman’s celebrated work, The Idea of a University, declared principles that resonate clearly today: the primacy of theology, the integration of knowledge, and the certainty that all truth comes from God.

Newman was critical of his fellow Oxford intellectuals, many of whom were enthralled with science and had come to distrust any religious truth that could not be proven by observation.

In his Essays Critical and Historical he wrote: “The Rationalist makes himself his own center, not his Maker; he does not go to God, but he implies that God must come to him…. Instead of looking out of ourselves and trying to catch glimpses of God’s workings … we sit at home bringing everything to ourselves, enthroning ourselves in our own views and refusing to believe anything that does not force itself upon us as true.”

Strikingly, Newman’s words written about 150 years ago paint an accurate portrait of contemporary America and American education. For the most part, teachers, professors and students — as well as politicians, physicians and others — sit on the thrones of their own expertise, their own ideas, their own causes with minimal regard for the Truth revealed by God.

Teaching and knowledge have become increasingly fragmented, with emphasis not on understanding reality, but on building expertise in marketable skills and knowledge. Genuine academic discourse and rational debate have given way to issue advocacy and political correctness.

Consider last spring’s spectacle at the University of Notre Dame, which claimed to engage in “dialogue” by publicly honoring the nation’s pro-abortion president. The leaders of the most-celebrated Catholic university in America don’t seem to have a clue anymore as to the meaning and practice of genuine intellectual dialogue, academic freedom or Catholic mission. But they were willing to thumb their noses at the U.S. bishops for a spot on the evening news.

So it’s not surprising that what alarmed Newman in the 19th century also alarms Pope Benedict today. Secularism has overtaken the West, with our schools and colleges leading the charge. During his April 2008 address to Catholic educators at The Catholic University of America, Pope Benedict said “the contemporary ‘crisis of truth’ is rooted in a ‘crisis of faith.’ Only through faith can we freely give our assent to God’s testimony and acknowledge Him as the transcendent guarantor of the truth He reveals.”

But for too many educators, faith is viewed as contrary to reason and truth. “In the United States, Catholic universities have been very apologetic, almost embarrassed by their obligation to adhere to the faith of the Church,” Cardinal Avery Dulles noted in a 2001 address to The Cardinal Newman Society. “For Newman … any university that lacks the guidance of Christian revelation and the oversight of the Catholic Magisterium is, by that very fact, impeded in its mission to find and transmit truth.”

Pope Benedict challenged American educators last year “to evoke among the young the desire for the act of faith, encouraging them to commit themselves to the ecclesial life that follows from this belief.” Is that what we find at Notre Dame? At Georgetown? At the University of San Francisco?

Catholic higher education is in urgent need of renewal — and of a growing cadre of leaders of that renewal. We need the witness of those who — like the 367,000 Catholics who signed our petition opposing Notre Dame’s honor to President Obama — refuse simply to give up on the Catholic colleges and universities that were founded, funded and attended by faithful Catholics for decades and even centuries.

“Now is the time for a ‘second spring’ in Catholic university education in the United States,” Fr. C. John McCloskey wrote in a paper last year for the Center for the Study of Catholic Higher Education. “This reform and renewal will have consequences far beyond our borders — into the universal Church. It is our moment to evangelize and engage and apply the saving balm of the heart and mind of Christ to our society, which suffers much more from internal decay than it ever will from outside terrorists.”

All this will come about by prayer — and the Church would greatly benefit from a modern patron of Catholic colleges and universities, sharing the title with St. Thomas Aquinas. Perhaps it is no small matter that Newman’s approved miracle healed a spine. Cardinal Newman, ora pro nobis!

Patrick J. Reilly is president and founder of The Cardinal Newman Society, a national organization to help renew and strengthen Catholic higher education.

The Notre Dame moment

What honoring President Obama means for Catholic higher education in America . . .

President Obama receives honors from Notre Dame on May 17

President Obama receives honors from Notre Dame on May 17

Faithful Catholics were almost universally outraged when President Barack Obama received an honorary degree from Notre Dame University last spring. Catholic college and university leaders across the country watched closely as the event put a spotlight on the increasingly problematic consequences for Catholic schools honoring pro-abortion politicians.

“This was the perfect storm,” said Patrick Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society, an organization committed to renewing and strengthening Catholic identity at America’s Catholic colleges and universities.

“The most notable Catholic university in the country invites the high-profile president of the U.S. who had just taken some very disturbing actions with the federal funding of stem-cell research and abortion overseas,” he said.

Catholic identity

Catholics were initially angered by Notre Dame’s invitation to have Obama speak at its May 17 commencement. But discontent turned to outrage when they learned that the university would also award the president an honorary doctorate of laws.

Notre Dame president Fr. John Jenkins said the honor didn’t mean the university endorsed all of Obama’s positions. Yet critics questioned whether the same award would have been given to someone who endorsed slavery, supported racial segregation or practiced polygamy.

“There was great disappointment in Notre Dame for failing to act in conformity with its Catholic identity,” Reilly said.

Legatus member Timothy O’Donnell, president of Christendom College, agreed.

“It’s not that people should only focus on one issue,” he said. “But when a person is opposed to a fundamental Catholic teaching, you don’t invite that person if that college is trying to strengthen its Catholic identity.”

Obama’s Notre Dame moment has led some Catholic college leaders to reflect on their identity and where they want to go. “Generally, President Obama’s speech brought a heightened sense of importance to the Catholic identity of our institutions,” said Daniel Elsener, president of Marian University and member of Legatus’ Indianapolis Chapter.

“It’s clear that the Church does not want its institutions used as a platform for politicians to mislead or confuse the faithful,” he said. “The importance the Church places on key matters of faith — such as the enviable responsibility of leaders to protect life, especially the most innocent and vulnerable — must be clearly articulated and supported.”

Bishops’ role

Bishop John D’Arcy, whose diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend encompasses Notre Dame, vehemently opposed the Obama invitation, but the university’s leadership ignored him.

A total of 83 bishops —including five cardinals — opposed to Notre Dame’s decision to honor Obama. Though the university refused to budge, the bishops’ combined voice brought the issue to every kitchen table in the country.

Reilly noted that the faithful rallied behind the bishops with an unprecedented 367,000 people signing a petition protesting the Notre Dame invitation.

“The bishops are on record as finding this offensive,” he said. “They have stepped up.”

The bishops pointed out that Notre Dame was in direct violation of their 2004 document Catholics in Political Life which says, “Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.”

The left-leaning Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU) — which represents 245 Catholic colleges and universities — echoed Notre Dame’s talking point that “the bishops’ document is unclear.”

“The 2004 statement was not directed at Catholic colleges,” ACCU president Richard Yanikoski told Legatus Magazine. “It was more concerned with whether or not a pro-abortion politician should receive communion. Catholic education is not explicitly mentioned.”

Yanikoski said the ACCU is currently working with the bishops’ education committee to revise the document. But Reilly said the ACCU wants to scuttle the guidelines.

O’Donnell says that although the policy is not perfect, Catholic colleges are still free to invite speakers who disagree with Church teachings. However, colleges may not honor such speakers.

Some bishops are taking measures a step further by enacting stronger diocesan policies. Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie, Pa., enacted such a policy in his diocese in 1997. Catholic facilities cannot invite or give an award to a politician whose voting record is against Church teaching.

“When Hillary Clinton was honored at Mercy Hearst College last year during graduation, I objected strongly to her being invited,” said Bishop Trautman. “I declined to attend the graduation last year. This year we built bridges with the college and I attended.”

When a Catholic college invites pro-abortion politicians year after year, he said, local bishops should take action and question the college’s Catholic identity.

“Bishops have the authority to take away the title of ‘Catholic’ from a college,” he said. “To my knowledge it has never been done thus far.”

Overall, analysts say, the Notre Dame episode was a net positive for the Church.

“We’ve seen a real change in the conversation about Catholic higher education,” Reilly said. “Fifteen years ago it was difficult to talk about these kinds of problems. Now it’s conventional wisdom. It has brought U.S. bishops toward real action to correct real abuses. Notre Dame will be viewed as a watershed moment towards the strengthening of Catholic education.”

Sabrina Arena Ferrisi is a Legatus Magazine staff writer.

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On that day …

Complaints began to flood Fr. John Jenkins’ office within hours of his March 20 announcement that President Obama would be this year’s commencement speaker. The national outcry continued until graduation day.

Obama told the 12,000-member audience at the May 17 commencement that in the abortion debate, “on some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable.” Although Obama pledged in the speech “to reduce abortions,” his policies are having the opposite effect.

Across campus, Priests for Life’s Fr. Frank Pavone offered an “alternate commencement” at the invitation of pro-life graduating students. Outside the university, police arrested at least 27 of the approximately 300 protestors.

—Ferrisi