A Move toward Religion; Catholic Colleges Reassert Faith

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 9, 2008 | Go to article overview
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A Move toward Religion; Catholic Colleges Reassert Faith


Many of America's most-famous Catholic colleges have long been criticized for moving away from their historic identities. Pope Benedict XVI reminded a gathering of educators at Catholic University of America on April 17 about the importance of the church and the faith to their purpose.

The litany of complaints is familiar: "The Vagina Monologues" at the University of Notre Dame; crucifixes at Georgetown University; pro-choice speakers, such as Michelle Obama, at Villanova University; the furor over St. Louis University basketball coach Rick Majerus, ad infinitum.

However, some other Catholic colleges and academies are self-consciously going in the opposite direction, reasserting their religious identities and making that a part of their appeal. The Washington Times spoke with people at several such institutions about what makes them distinctive.

Thomas Aquinas College

Matthew Maxwell, 21, a senior at Thomas Aquinas, said the college's strong Catholic identity was instrumental in his choosing it.

"Thomas Aquinas College was not just a school that had courses, and Mass on the side," Mr. Maxwell said. "Catholicism was intertwined in everything we did here. You study St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine, we start off classes with prayer, and the college offers four Masses every day as well as daily confession."

The Santa Paula, Calif., college follows the tutor method, whereby the instructors lead the students in the reading and discussion of the central works in the Western and Christian traditions, rather than the usual "college textbooks," Mr. Maxwell said.

The college's Catholic culture also extends outside the classroom, in the planning of social events and with the expectation that students will address one another as "Mister" or "Miss," he said.

"Catholic identity was the main thing I was looking for in choosing a college," he said.

Belmont Abbey College

Asserting a strong Catholic identity can often lead to controversy, as recently discovered by Belmont Abbey, a 132-year-old Benedictine college outside of Charlotte, N.C.

The college came under fire recently when it removed contraception, abortion and voluntary sterilization from the services covered under its employee health care plan. Despite eight faculty members appealing the removal to the state's Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the college remains undeterred.

"As a Catholic college, you're always rubbing up against society in a different way," said Ken Davison, Belmont Abbey's vice president for college relations. "For example, when we first started during Reconstruction in 1876, we ran up against social norms and societal norms because we did not discriminate based on your race or your color."

The college's first students included Cherokee Indians and recently freed black slaves, who worshipped and studied alongside white students, Mr. Davison said.

Belmont Abbey boasts a strong adult-education program, and its programs in business and biology are among the college's most popular.

"In the past 30 years, we've had nearly 100 percent success in our biology students getting into pharmacy schools and medical schools," Mr. Davison said.

Nevertheless, Mr. Davison reminds students and potential faculty that while they are welcome to become part of the college's family, the Benedictine monks who run the college "are there to find God."

Christendom College

Virginia's Christendom College is another primarily four-year liberal-arts college that prides itself on its Catholic identity - both inside and outside of the classroom.

The college was founded during the turmoil within Catholic education that marked the late 1970s and early 1980s, said Tom McFadden, Christendom's director of admissions and marketing.

"For us, Catholic culture and identity is the whole reason for founding the college," Mr.

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