Theology for Citizenship: How a Catholic College in the Augustinian Tradition Prepares Citizens to Transform Society

Article excerpt

Abstract: Uses Vatican and papal documents to reflect on the distinctive mission of Catholic colleges and universities in light of their responsibility to prepare students for virtuous citizenship in a religiously and ethnically pluralistic society. Shows how one Catholic college understands its academic community in light of such a mission.

Introduction

After vigorous debate the early Americans amended their four-year old Constitution by adding a list of citizen rights and protections, a "Bill of Rights". The First Amendment in this Bill of Rights prohibits the establishment of a state religion. This explicit prohibition is followed immediately by an assertion of every citizen's right to the free exercise of religion. (1) In addition to shaping the religious history of the new United States, the First Amendment's directives regarding religion also made American society fertile for and friendly to the growth of religiously affiliated colleges.

The purpose of this article is twofold. It will explore the distinctive mission of one kind of religiously affiliated American college or university, namely Catholic institutions. It will demonstrate how American Catholic colleges and universities understand and elaborate their missions in light of Vatican documents that address higher education and the Church's interaction with culture, and will show how the educational mission of these Catholic institutions contributes to the well-being of American democracy through the values inculcated in their students. Finally, it will illustrate how one American Catholic college has expressed its educational vision for the twenty-first century in light of the founding religious tradition of the Order of St. Augustine.

Religiously Affiliated American Colleges and Universities

There are about 3,200 colleges and universities in the United States that grant post-secondary degrees, from the associate to the doctorate. (2) About half of these 3,200 are public or state institutions funded by taxpayer dollars. The rest are private, independent institutions. These private schools include liberal arts colleges, major research universities, comprehensive universities, historically black colleges and universities, single-sex institutions, as well as schools of law, engineering, art, business and other professions. (3)

About one thousand of these 1,600 private schools are faith-related, the vast majority being Christian. (4) Each of these religiously affiliated schools by its founding and mission is an institutional expression of the free exercise of religion. Americans have wedded the second phrase in the First Amendment--the "free exercise of religion"--to their creative penchant to form private associations, a tendency noted by Alexis de Tocqueville in the early 1800's. (5) The constitutional prohibition against a state sponsored religion, the protected free exercise of religion, and American social initiative and ingenuity have all helped to produce this impressive collection of religiously affiliated colleges and universities unique in the world.

There is great variety in the nature of the religious affiliation of these American colleges and universities. The affiliation of most Christian evangelical and fundamentalist colleges with their church or faith community is typically one of close cooperation and doctrinal congruity. In such cases the clear purpose of the college can be expressed in such phrases as "to advance the cause of Christ-centered higher education and ... to transform lives by faithfully relating scholarship and service to biblical truth". (6) Typically in such schools students, faculty and staff are expected to pledge and often to sign statements of faith and morals.

On the other hand many private colleges have only a nominal relationship with the original founding church. In such cases the contemporary religious affiliation is an historical footnote in the course catalog. …