Do Catholic Universities Make the Grade? We All Love to Cheer for Catholic Colleges and Universities, but It Takes More Than One Way of Being a Catholic University to Educate Today's Students

By Yanikoski, Richard | U.S. Catholic, November 2007 | Go to article overview

Do Catholic Universities Make the Grade? We All Love to Cheer for Catholic Colleges and Universities, but It Takes More Than One Way of Being a Catholic University to Educate Today's Students


Yanikoski, Richard, U.S. Catholic


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HOW CATHOLIC SHOULD A CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY be? "As Catholic as possible" is the proper answer, but what that means will vary from institution to institution. Consider these different approaches: The Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in New Hampshire educates a small number of highly committed Catholics and requires everyone to spend a semester in Rome. In contrast, Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina, the most Protestant state in the nation, serves students from diverse religious backgrounds and seeks to educate all of them in the Catholic and Benedictine traditions. Christendom College in Virginia requires all professors to be Catholic, and each must make an annual profession of faith to the diocesan bishop. The University of Notre Dame in Indiana, on the other hand, requires all professors to be exceptional scholars in their field and strives for a predominant number of Catholic intellectuals, but it imposes no creedal tests.

As these examples reveal, Catholic colleges and universities manifest their Catholic identity in very different ways, depending upon their founding charism, mission, resources, sponsorship, size, and student body. Yet each is Catholic and adds to the church's mission in unique ways.

IN CATHOLIC HIGHER EDUCATION (OXFORD UNIVERSITY Press), Melanie M. Morey and Father John J. Piderit, S.J. identify four models of Catholic higher education, each representing distinctive rather than mutually exclusive points of emphasis.

Immersion colleges serve only staunchly Catholic students, who are required to take at least four courses in Catholic theology and philosophy. Campus life is infused with Catholic moral teaching, sacramental opportunities, and spiritual vitality. Faculty are all or overwhelmingly Catholic. Most institutions in this category are relatively small and located outside urban areas, such as Southern Catholic College in Georgia. With nearly 2,000 undergraduate students, Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio is considerably larger than the typical immersion college.

Persuasion schools seek to instill in all students, Catholics and others, "a certain religious maturity in knowledge of the Catholic faith." Required Catholic courses number about half of what is expected in immersion schools. Persuasion universities provide Catholic worship services and activities, but participation is encouraged rather than expected. Catholic professors are actively recruited but do not necessarily predominate. This type of institution is the most common and includes, for example, Villanova University in Pennsylvania and Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

Diaspora universities, often located in inner cities or in predominantly non-Catholic regions, serve a student body in which Catholics are a minority--although Catholics are actively recruited. These institutions encourage but seldom require students to take courses on Catholic teaching. Catholicism anchors the institution's character and provides a clear guide to activities and policies, while a predominantly non-Catholic faculty strives to blend Catholic teaching with interreligious sensitivity. DePaul University in Chicago is the most prominent of the diaspora institutions.

Cohort universities attract academically distinguished students who as graduates are expected to exercise considerable social influence in promoting viewpoints informed by Catholic teaching. Among an internationally distinguished faculty and student body, Catholics are well represented but typically are in a minority. Students usually are not required to take Catholic courses but may do so. Catholic students, who form a "cohort" at such institutions, are given generous resources to strengthen and express their Catholic faith outside the classroom. Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. is the most prominent of the cohort institutions.

There also are many other types of institutional distinctions. …

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