Learning From Notre Dame: Catholic Identity is Not Optional
the Professor in the classroom, first view themselves as disciples, lifelong learners, followers of the Teacher, Jesus Christ.
This response is lived within His Body, the Church, into which they have been incorporated through Baptism. That Church is by its very nature, a teacher, and they participate in her educational mission. In speaking of herself, the Church often notes that she is an “expert in humanity” who “walks the way of the person”. The Church is, both “Mater et Magister” “Mother and Teacher.” Education is not something the Church adds something to, as though the process of educating were some kind of nakedly secular pursuit which the Church somehow makes “religious”. Rather, education is at the core of the Churches’ saving mission.
The Catholic College President
The articulation and sustenance of this vision and mission are the primary responsibility of the Catholic College President. Such a President must understand his/her task as pedagogical, pastoral, catechetical and developmental. All leadership within the Catholic College is a part of the Catholic ecclesial community and participates in the leadership of the Church. Catholic College Presidents need to understand the uniqueness of Catholic leadership, believe it, and live it. Catholic identity should be the first criterion considered in choosing Presidents and the measuring stick for their regular performance review. It should motivate their service, and inform everything that they do in discharging their office. The Catholic College President is at the service of the Catholic Church and then through her called to prepare leaders for the world. He or she should understand the implications of the faith on the entirety of the educational mission. They are not simply secular professionals offering their skills in a Catholic College. They participate in the saving mission of the Catholic Church. The students entrusted to their care are “living stones being built into a spiritual household” (I Peter 2:5) who have been called to build the future. Their call as Catholic College Presidents is to articulate a compelling vision and mission in word and deed and help the academic community placed in their care along the Catholic way.
I have seen how clear vision and leadership can transform a Catholic College. I will end by sharing a brief part of my personal experience. The full story can be found in several books. As a young man, after almost two years in a Benedictine monastery, I finished my College education in a little College in Ohio. I followed a priest friend there. He had been invited to save the school from impending disaster through becoming its President. It was already morally and spiritually bankrupt and would soon be financially so without a rescue plan. He prayed intensely about the invitation and offered to accept upon a condition. The Board had to give him freedom to rededicate the school as a Catholic school to Jesus Christ as the Way, the Truth and the Life with full adherence to the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church. The Trustees agreed.
When I arrived on campus three of the four dormitories on campus were empty. The theology major had been cancelled for lack of interest and there was talk of discontinuing daily Mass due to lack of attendance. I moved into an empty dorm and led one of the first “faith households”, the nucleus of a new model of student life implemented as a part of the vision of this Catholic College President. Students were to live a common Christian life in the wing of a dorm which included attending Mass, studying the faith together, engaging in mission and supporting one another to live full Catholic lives within a College environment. That wonderful little College became the Franciscan University of Steubenville. Under the leadership of Fr. Michael Scanlan the College of Steubenville was built into a dynamically orthodox global Catholic University. Now it is only one of many jewels in the growing Crown that is the recovery of Catholic higher education. What happened at Steubenville is not an isolated story. It is happening in other Catholic Colleges. It requires a rediscovery of and full commitment to Catholic identity. We need to learn from Notre Dame: Catholic Identity is Not Optional
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
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