Catholic Identity: More Than a Mandatum

Article excerpt

Almost two decades after Pope John Paul II demanded that Catholic colleges stand "at the heart of the church," observers say that despite causing some heartburn, the late pope's call also generated a healthy ferment around how colleges and universities relate to the wider Catholic community.

As one example, the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities and the National Catholic Education Association in mid-October released a first-0 ever survey of the United States' 245 Catholic colleges, designed to identify ways in which they promote K-12 Catholic education.

According to the survey, almost half of all Catholic colleges and universities offer academic programs specifically crafted for Catholic educators at the K12 level, and a similar number provide pro bono services for Catholic schools--ranging from in-service workshops for teachers, to consulting services for development and finance officers. Given that some institutions that didn't respond probably offer similar programs, researchers believe the actual level of activity, both formal and informal, is even higher.

Immaculate Heart of Mary Sr. Andrea Lee, president of the nation's largest college for women, the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minn., told NCR the survey reflects a "renewed energy" in Catholic higher education about service to the church.

"For all the angst we went through, one really good outcome has been more serious thought about what it means for a college to be Catholic, and what our leadership responsibility is within the church," Lee said.

John Paul's 1990 document Ex Corde Ecclesiae, "From the Heart of the Church," was designed to promote the Catholic .identity of institutions of higher education. Many observers say that in the United States, that conversation was sidetracked by a painful, decade-long debate over whether Catholic theologians require a license, or mandatum, from the bishop. Today, however, the mandatum controversy has been relegated to a back burner in most places, allowing the bigger picture to come more clearly into focus.

The joint Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities/National Catholic Education Association survey, designed not so much to collect statistics as to identify promising models, highlighted dozens of examples of how Catholic colleges are lending a hand to K-12 education, many of recent vintage:

* A largely online master's of education in Catholic school leadership offered by Marymount University in Arlington, Va., now draws students from 26 states and abroad.

* "Magis Catholic Teacher Corps" of Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., places recent graduates in underserved urban and rural Catholic schools while they live in community and earn a master's degree in education.

* Workshops on athletics from a Catholic school perspective are offered by St. Mary's University in San Antonio.

* In a "Social Justice 101" program run by the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., undergraduates teach eighth-graders from local Catholic schools about Catholic social teaching.

* Marquette University's "K-12 Endowment Fund Planning Team" designs the process by which tuition assistance money raised by the archdiocese is allocated to K-12 students in the Milwaukee area.

Alongside Ex Corde, observers say, there's a more practical reality driving this new sense of partnership: the ongoing transition from schools in which most teachers and administrators were priests and religious, to staffs composed almost entirely of laity.

Immaculate Heart Sr. Patricia Earl, who directs Marymount's program in Catholic school leadership, said that in 2002 the National Catholic Education Association compiled statistics showing that in the 1950s and '60s, some 95 percent of teachers and administrators in K-12 Catholic schools in America were priests and religious. By 2002, the situation was exactly the reverse--95 percent of the staff was laity. …