The Annual Thomas More Lecture

"The Character and Role of Newman’s Studium Today: Catholic Universities and Catholics at Secular Universities"

Nov 3, 2011

Thank you [Fr. Robert L. Beloin], and good evening, everyone! As one who holds three degrees from Yale and was once a regular worshipper in this Chapel, it is a great honor to have been asked to deliver the annual More House Lecture, and I'd like to thank Fr. Beloin for the opportunity to share my thoughts with you this evening.

What I hope to do tonight is to raise some questions and areas of exploration concerning Catholic higher education. Specifically, what are the areas of relationship - or absence of relationship - first, between Catholic scholars in Catholic universities, and Catholic scholars in secular universities? Second, what is the relationship between Catholic universities, which are regulated by the apostolic constitution Ex Corde Ecclesia, and Catholic student centers like St. Thomas More, which receive their mandate for the religious care of students from the local bishop?

We don't have the time this evening to plumb fully all of the areas of inquiry that are possible here, but what I would like to try to do is talk a bit about some of the obvious issues that come to mind, as well as to put the matter in the context of a discussion that has been ongoing between the Catholic Church and Catholic universities for quite some time. So I would begin by offering two questions that Ex Corde has posed to Catholic universities that might also apply in places like this: first, what are the responsibilities of Catholic scholars in higher education to "think for the Church;" and second, what are responsibilities of Catholics involved in higher education for the religious and moral formation of Catholic students? These questions in their turn raise an issue that I hope we might begin to talk about tonight and continue to discuss in the future: and that is, how might we work together - Catholic universities in collaboration with Catholic centers like the Thomas More Center and Newman centers at secular and public institutions across the country - to address these matters in the future?

In thinking about these issues, I can't help but recall my own experience as an undergraduate at Princeton. As you probably know, Princeton was founded by the leaders of a religious movement known as the Great Awakening, a number of whom were Yale graduates, including Jonathan Edwards, who found the religious environment in New Haven religiously stifling and uninspiring.

When I was student at Princeton, there was in an alcove along one wall of the University Chapel - which is as large as many cathedrals - a small side chapel where the Catholics and the Episcopalians were allowed to hold a daily Eucharist: but never on a Sunday and not, of course, together! One communion service followed the other, and in a less ecumenical age - and at an all male Princeton - we Catholic boys claimed that we used live ammunition, while the Episcopalians only shot blanks! In more recent years, I can report to you with some astonishment that at recent reunions, I have noticed that there is now space in the Princeton Chapel where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved, and I have been informed by my nephew, a recent graduate, that the Sunday afternoon mass in the Chapel is the single best attended religious service of the day, far outnumbering the main Sunday Protestant service at 11 a.m.

I can only imagine that the founders of the college - who were fiercely anti-Papist - would be spinning in their graves were they to learn that the abomination of desolation had set up presence in their Presbyterian college. But, of course, there were Catholics at Princeton who needed to be attended to, and at some point, some enlightened figure had opened a small corner of the chapel for Roman Catholics.

The fact is that Catholics have attended non-Catholic universities for much of their history - a matter that the late George Pierson, the great historian of Yale, once had me research when I was a graduate student in history here. I believe we established that the first likely Catholic student at Yale was a Brazilian, Carlos Ferdinand Ribeiro, who matriculated in 1835. Of course, the Roman Catholic Church itself has not always been comfortable with having Catholics at a place like this, as we will discuss a bit later.

In any case, there are certainly many more Catholics attending public and secular universities in the United States than there are attending Catholic universities.

About 36 percent of all Catholics in the United States go to college, and most of them do not attend a Catholic institution. Today it is estimated by the Catholic Campus Ministry Association that 90 percent of Catholic student are at secular or public universities. I understand that of the 11,000 students at Yale, more than 25 percent of them are Catholics and that you would be the largest worshipping community on campus. Another story: as a graduate student here, I had Peter Gay, the great historian of the Enlightenment, as a professor. He was himself a man of the Enlightenment, and he knew that I was a Jesuit and was secretly pleased, I liked to think, to be teaching one who belonged to the same Order as those who taught Voltaire and Diderot. In any case, he was always very good to me. He asked me one day if it were true, as he had recently heard regarding attendance at Jewish services at Yale, that attendance by students at Catholic mass was on the up-swing as well. I replied that I believed this was, indeed, the case. He said to me, "I hope you will not be offended by my saying this, Jeff, but I find that disturbing, very disturbing!" "Yes, Mr. Gay," I answered, "I can understand that you would." I trust Mr. Gay would be disturbed still today.

There may have been a time when one could confidently assert that most of the important Catholic scholarship and theological inquiry going on in this country was in Catholic universities and seminaries and predominantly in the hands of clergy or religious. That is clearly no longer the case today. When Cardinal Henry Newman developed his lectures that mapped out his idea for a Catholic University in Dublin in 1852, he envisioned such a university as a Studium Generale, or school of universal learning, where theology would be taught as a discipline among other disciplines. Clearly, what Newman was imagining was a place where Catholic students would acquire that "habit of mind, which is free, equitable, moderate, calm and wise" that he believed was the proper outcome of a liberal education, without having to go to Oxford or Cambridge.

What distinguished his Catholic University was the emphasis placed on theology. While he insisted that theology would not be the overarching or dominant discipline it certainly held a critical position in Newman's "Idea" of a Catholic University. In Newman's view, since theology was a discipline with its own truths accessible to reason, it could not possibly be excluded from the university without undermining the universality of knowledge that a university should acknowledge and pursue.

Theology would have to fend for itself in such a university, jostling for its academic respect alongside the humanities and the hard sciences. But, critically, theology would provide the teleological thrust that would insure that all of the academic disciplines of inquiry - while maintaining their own integrity - would be in an informed dialogue with a specifically Roman Catholic theological vision of the ultimate destiny of humanity in relation to God, who is the unity of truth.

So, while Newman explicitly rejected the idea that theology would rule the roost, he rejected as well the opposite conviction that certainly would have been shared by most Catholic bishops in Ireland at the time - that "theology" stand "to other knowledge as the soul to the body." Newman affirmed that theology is essential to ensure that a University didn't just become a place to form "gentleman" - in our terms, a social finishing school - or that the university become, as he famously put it, "a sort of bazaar or pantechnicon in which wares of all kinds are heaped together for sale in stalls independent of each other." Theology would insure a vision of the unity of knowledge that would keep the university from becoming a technical school, or an intellectual cafeteria.

We sometimes say that Catholic universities are the place where the Church "does its thinking" and no doubt Newman in sketching out his model for University in Dublin, held precisely this aspiration for it in mind.

However, at the moment, thinking about the Church and for the Church is not confined to Catholic universities by any means. Catholic academics are being trained and making their careers in secular universities. Yale is an excellent example of a great secular university where a generation of Catholic scholars studied under such figures as Jim Gustafson, Sydney Ahlstrom, Hans Frei, George Lindbeck, David Kelsey, and Gene Outka. One of the most significant Catholic moral theologians today, Margaret Farley, taught here, and the present Dean of the Yale Divinity School, Harry Attridge, is a Roman Catholic. So, with so many Catholic students and Catholic scholars at work and at study at secular and public institutions, what kind of "studium" is evolving today where the Church is concerned?

I should say that in preparing to speak with you this evening I put a number of these questions to senior faculty at my own University, Fairfield University, which is one of the 28 Jesuit universities and colleges in the United States. The only consensus that we could reach in our informal discussions on the "future of Catholic higher education" is that we had more questions than answers.

Dr. Paul Lakeland, the Director of our Catholic Studies Center, responded with a number of theses - not exactly nailed to my door but sent via e-mail. I wanted to share some of them with you before I made what small inroads I could make myself this evening.

1) The great majority of Catholic students pursuing higher education do so in non Church-related schools - (as we have said).

2) The majority of Catholic faculty, staff and administrators who work in universities work in non-Church related schools

3) The majority of Catholic theologians work in Church-related schools - though more now in secular universities than has once been the case - and they are substantially lay and significantly female.

4) The administration of Catholic schools is deeply concerned with questions of Catholic mission and identity, but of course Catholic mission and identity is not an issue for the administration in non-sectarian schools.

5) Catholic faculty teaching in Catholic schools may have no more commitment to issues of mission and identity than do their Catholic academic colleagues teaching in non-Catholic schools. Some do and some don't.

6) Catholic students in Catholic higher education are no more or less likely to be involved in the Church than are their counterparts in non-Catholic higher education.

7) And finally, Catholic schools have no proactive responsibility to non-Catholic schools or to the Catholic students studying in them.

That might seem to more or less cover the ground, but I would begin my own reflections by disagreeing with two of the theses of Dr. Lakeland - first, that Catholic faculty at Catholic universities have no more commitment to mission than their counterparts at non-Catholic schools (on the contrary, I believe that most faculty - Catholic or not - come to a place like Fairfield because they resonate with the mission at some level, and we do practice "hiring for mission") and, second, that Catholic schools have no proactive responsibility to non-Catholic schools or their Catholic students. Let me turn to my disagreement on the second thesis, which is relevant to our discussion here.

The most up-to-date papal position on Catholic universities is, of course, Ex Corde Ecclesiae of 1990, in which Pope John Paul II articulated his vision for Catholic universities, and where he spelled out what he believed to be their obligations and responsibilities.

A curious fact about Ex Corde is that while it sets out what it sees as the mission and obligation of Catholic universities it has very little to say about the responsibility of Catholic scholars, or scholars who are Catholics, at secular or private institutions, and nothing to say about Catholic students at these institutions. There is just one brief paragraph where the Pope writes: "It is my desire to express my pleasure and gratitude to the very many Catholic scholars engaged in teaching and learning in non-Catholic universities. Their task as academics and scientists, lived out in the light of the Christian faith, is to be considered precious for the good of the Universities in which they teach." And again, as far as Catholic students in non-Catholic universities are concerned, who are the great majority of Catholics studying at universities and likely to be much of the future leadership of the Church, Ex Corde says nothing.

Recognizing implicitly that the Church has no formal relationship to secular and public universities , and that the pastoral care of Catholic students in these institutions is the responsibility of the diocesan bishops who authorize centers like this, the encyclical merely nods in their direction, and then moves on to where it does have authority.

The obligations that Ex Corde spells out for Catholic universities, on the other hand are quite daunting - and I say this as the President of a Catholic university who is obligated to meet them.

Here are the essential characteristics that a Catholic University must have, according to Ex Corde...

1) A Christian inspiration not only of individuals but of the university community as such.

2.) Continuing reflection in the light of the Catholic faith upon the growing treasury of human knowledge, to which it seeks to contribute by its own research.

3) Fidelity to the Christian message as it comes to us through the Church.

4) An institutional commitment to the service of the people of God and of the human family in their pilgrimage to the transcendental goal which gives meaning to life.

George Bernard Shaw once remarked that a Catholic university is a contradiction in terms. One can appreciate the humor there as well as the condescension. But I think it might be more accurate to say that a Catholic university is a virtually unattainable ideal - and incidentally, Henry Newman seems to have come to that conclusion himself.

On the one hand, it is to be a place of "research, where scholars scrutinize reality with the methods proper to each academic discipline" but, on the other hand, it must engage in a "constant effort to determine the relative place and meaning of each of the various disciplines within the context of a vision of the human person and the world that is enlightened by the Gospel, and therefore, by a faith in Christ, the Logos, as the centre of creation and human history."

As you can imagine, not all the faculty at a Catholic university are likely to accept that premise without demurral. And that's not all. A Catholic university is also supposed to be promoting a dialogue between faith and reason, it should be "convinced of the priority of the ethical over the technical, and the superiority of the spirit over matter." There's a vision of reality inherent in this mandate that all who teach at a Catholic university do not personally share.

While we are engaged in these practices, Ex Corde also expects that those engaged in the educational mission should be "witnesses and educators of authentic Christian life" - in other words, we should certainly be involved in the ongoing spiritual and religious formation of our students, while studying "serious contemporary problems in areas such as the dignity of human life, the promotion of justice for all, the quality of personal and family life, the protection of nature, the search for peace and political stability... and a new economic and political order that will better serve the human community at a national and international level."

There's some other things we should be doing, including pastoral ministry and intercultural dialogue, and while doing all of this we need to maintain our state and national accreditations as universities that meet impartial, public, peer-reviewed non-sectarian standards.

As much as this is a tall order, it is nevertheless what a University like Fairfield is trying to do - all of it. It can be a tremendous balancing act; particularly as we intend to be genuine in our pursuit of this ideal, while simultaneously creating an environment that embraces diversity of opinion and religious expression.

But I think the future for Catholic universities in the United States is that we will find that our identity as Catholic is profoundly tied up with our obligation to form young men and women as persons. And since Ex Corde says that a Catholic university has to have an "institutional commitment to the people of God," it follows that we do have some responsibility at the very least to make our institutions available as resources to Catholics in public and secular institutions, and assist in whatever way possible in a collaborative manner in the religious formation of students at all institutions - without, I hasten to add, stepping on anyone's toes.

When Cardinal Newman was sketching out his idea for a University in 1852, the one thing that he took for granted is that the students would be already well grounded in the tenets of their faith. In fact, responding to criticism that his vision for the university had not said enough about religious instruction, Newman inserted into the introduction of his sixth discourse that "Men are Catholics before they are students of the University."

Newman was holding for a distinction between the theoretical task of university education, and the practical task of religious formation - assuming that religious formation was not the job of the university, but was the domain of the bishops who should be seeing to it before young men arrived at the university or providing for it apart from the university in church sponsored and church supervised halls of residence. And, in fact, Newman was also distinguishing between the intellectual community of a university, and what we would today call the "lifestyles" of the average university student. Newman expected and hoped that most of the students who would attend the University in Dublin would live in residential colleges and he said this: "The office of a Catholic university is to teach faith, and of the colleges to protect morals."

My point here is that there is an entire dimension to the lives of students that Newman is assuming will be dealt with outside of the "university" and that is the religious and moral formation of the students themselves - what we might call today "character formation." For Newman, the university will lead a student to a "cultivated intellect, a delicate taste, a candid, equitable, dispassionate mind, a noble and courteous bearing in the conduct of life," which he thought was a good thing, but he was quick to add that these attributes were no guarantee of "sanctity or even conscientiousness."

We no longer live in a time when we can assume that our secondary schools, churches, and families are working in harmony to create an environment that either educates our young people in the faith, or develops their capacity for reflection, or moral reasoning, or conscientiousness. What we see increasingly is that our students come to us as with great needs in these areas. I believe that Catholic universities - which for the second half of the 20th century were tacking into the mainstream of cultural life and downplaying their religious character - will in the future be increasingly involved in deepening their Catholic identity and mission, and will be dedicated increasingly to creating living and learning environments that are involved in "character formation" as an essential complement to the intellectual formation of their students. In other words, to use Newman's terms, we will be both "colleges" that are engaged in cura personalis - or care of the whole person, which is one of the hallmarks of Jesuit education - as well as universities, engaged in impartial pursuit of knowledge.

I think it is clear that today's students need a great deal from us as educators - much more personal attention and encouragement than they might have needed at another time.

A brief overview of some of what we know about today's students illustrates the depth of their needs when it comes to the formation of their character.

  • As reported as recently as Dec. 20, 2010 in the New York Times, 46 percent of college students said they felt "things were hopeless" at least once in the previous 12 months.
  • In the fall of 2009, 17 percent of college students were diagnosed with depression, almost twice as many as in 2000. About 1.4 percent of college students report that they have attempted suicide during the last year.
  • More than 100,000 students report every year that they have been "too intoxicated to know if they have consented to having sex."
  • According to the Higher Education Research Institute's survey of 2009 college freshmen, almost 80 percent of students said that "being well-off financially" was the reason that they were attending college, the highest number of students responding in this manner since the poll began in 1966. "Developing a meaningful philosophy of life," which used to be the reason most students said they attended college, has dropped to its lowest reported level. So obviously, students don't expect to develop a meaningful philosophy of life at college, nor do they think they need one.

What is missing in the lives of too many of our young people is a true sense of purpose, and whether we like it or not, it has fallen to us as university educators to address this absence of purpose.

If colleges and universities are not helping young people develop a sense of direction, experience themselves as whole, or leave them eager to engage with the future, then we are in trouble. We are not bringing the strands of our young people's lives - their hearts and their heads - together in an integrated manner so that they feel better about themselves and optimistic about the future.

At Fairfield we have taken some strides in addressing these enormous problems of our social and ecclesial moment. We have developed residential colleges for our sophomores - five of them in all, which are designed to encourage personal reflection and to encourage our students to ask themselves the big, meaning-of-life questions, like "Who Am I?" and "Whose Am I?" and "What am I called to be?" We also encourage our students to get involved in service learning - to go to Nicaragua or the Philippines or to impoverished areas of the United States, and to put their shoulders to the wheel to build houses, or dig ditches, or whatever is needed. We do this because we know for a fact that many of these students come to us with deficits in terms of their sense of self, and of their appreciation of their own dignity as human persons, an appreciation for their capacities, a sometimes poor sense of community, and a lack of perspective about their place in the world.

This explicit commitment to providing opportunities and structures to aid our students their formation of character as persons in the context of the truth of the Catholic tradition is what I see as the future for Catholic and Jesuit universities. I think the question for places like the Thomas More Center and for Catholic faculty at Yale who ally themselves with this Center and its work is what is your responsibility for the formation in character of the students who avail themselves of this Center, or whom you would like to attract here? Now, presumably, Yale University itself plays a role, intentional or not, in the character formation of students, to what effect I leave it up to you to say. But what is the role of Thomas More and its friends in the spiritual and moral development of students precisely in that place where their Catholic faith has something to offer? And, back to the question with which I started, how can we, at Catholic universities, best extend what we have to offer to those who with the responsibility of pastoral care at secular and public universities, while we go down this pathway ourselves?

The beginning of an answer lies, perhaps, in the conversations that we in Catholic higher education might be able to have with the St. Thomas More Center here at Yale or with Newman Centers in other colleges and universities. What I am envisioning as a first step is a conversation in which we can begin to explore how what we are doing at Fairfield - and what other Catholic universities are doing - might be of value to Catholic students and those charged with their care at secular and public universities. There are at least two broad groups of questions to explore. The first is the one on which I have spent the most time this evening regarding the formation of our students. The second, which would be equally fruitful and fascinating, would be discussions between Catholic scholars at Catholic universities, and Catholic scholars at public and secular universities, about how we can think about the "studium" at this point in our history. How can scholars outside and inside Catholic universities think about and for the Church together?

I should add, as an historical context to this discussion and as a reason why there has hitherto not been much conversation between Catholic universities and places like this, that the Church in the United States, and especially Catholic universities and their supporters, have not always been that keen on Newman Centers, Catholic chaplaincies, and other islands of Catholic intellectual life at public and secular universities. In fact it was the Jesuits and in particular the distinguished civil rights activist and editor of America magazine, John LaFarge who were the most vociferous critics of Newman Centers and what they represented.

As an undergraduate at Harvard in 1904, Lafarge was one of those who pushed for a more robust Roman Catholic presence at Harvard and he pushed for a Jesuit presence at Harvard to minister to students there. For a while, there was burst of enthusiasm for Catholic chaplaincies and Newman centers, particularly in the wake of Pope Pius X's encyclical Acerbo Nimis in 1905, in which he encouraged Catholic authorities to meet the needs of Catholic students who, for whatever reason, found themselves in non-Catholic institutions.

But within a few years, there was a phenomenal growth in the number of Catholic colleges and universities, and increasingly bishops and other prominent figures in the Church began to see Newman Centers and Catholic chaplaincies as competition with their own, exclusively Catholic, educational programs, as well as a capitulation to the secularizing tendencies in the culture. In other words, they were concerned that Catholics would think it just fine to send their offspring to a secular school because they had a Newman Center rather than to a Catholic college. The politics of the issue became further complicated as anti-Catholic sentiment expanded in the wake of increased immigration of Catholics from Europe to the United States.

The issue got quite heated. Father John Conway of Georgetown called the growth of the Newman halls the "death-knell to Catholic education at all levels."

John Lafarge switched his earlier position and joined the voices of criticism, asserting in the pages of the Jesuit magazine America that Newman Centers at secular universities would create Catholic ghettos within those institutions, and arguing further that only Catholic educators were in a position to, in effect, teach the truth truthfully. The core of his argument was that "one who is a follower of Christ in his heart will throw a light on human utterance and history that no worldly minded teacher can ever quite attain, and so will give a culture that is the key to this world, because its origin is in the world above."

Well, LaFarge himself softened his view, and after the Second World War and the GI Bill sent thousands of young men to university for the first time, the Church and individual bishops fully embraced the Newman movement. We have come a long way from the days when we were concerned about Catholic ghettos, or were concerned that only Catholic teachers could "throw" the right kind of "light on a human utterance." As I've suggested, the much more difficult problem in our day is that the challenges of contemporary culture and the poverty of Catholic formation make it incumbent of Catholic colleges and universities to widen their educational goals, mission and structures in extraordinary ways.

Today, as I have said, the "studium" is a shared phenomenon, a rich interpenetration of scholarship and questioning from a number of sources.  This evening, I've proposed that the responsibility for the religious and moral formation of Catholic students falls equally upon Catholic universities and institutions like this one.

So where does that leave us? Well, with a lot of unanswered questions and still very much in need of dialogue, as I have said. Here are some of the questions: What does the Catholic intellectual community, the "studium," now spread over Catholic and secular universities, have to say to its responsibility for forming and informing the next generation of Catholic leaders? Does it even acknowledge such a responsibility, and, if it does, how does it go about fulfilling it across two such different contexts? How do institutions like the Thomas More Center involve committed Catholics on faculty and staff, especially when those Catholics have special interest/expertise in things Catholic? What can Catholic universities like my own share from their own struggles to come to terms with their responsibilities for student formation with institutions like Thomas More? Or are you, in the minds of your bishops and your boards doing very well, indeed, on your own, thank you very much, and in no need of our assistance! If we did look for areas of collaboration, what could I fairly expect from my own faculty in terms of their engagement with a place like this, and what do you need? Finally, since this must of necessity be a two-way street, what does an institution like yours have to teach us at Catholic universities as we try to come to come to terms with a more pluralistic faculty and a post-modern intellectual world?

I'm sorry to end by leaving you with so many unanswered questions, but for better or worse, I think that's where we are, and so it's not just convention when I say that I welcome your comments and questions!

Thank you for listening.