Catholic Identity at Colleges Cannot Be Ranked by Secular Benchmarks
December 18, 2015 | By Kimberly Scharfenberger | Cardinal Newman Society
A recent Newsmax list of “top” Catholic colleges illustrates the confusion that can arise when attempting to rank Catholic colleges by mixing matters of the faith with secular standards, such as academic statistics, and should serve as a reminder that a college’s Catholic identity must be of paramount concern, argued The Cardinal Newman Society’s Adam Wilson, managing editor of The Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College.
The Newsmax guide ranked 40 “traditional Catholic and Jesuit colleges in America,” and noted in the description of the guide that some students prioritize faith as “the defining factor in deciding where to earn an education.” However, the description goes on to list “subjective criteria” used in compiling the rankings “such as legacy and influence, along with quantifiable measurements like class size, student-to-faculty ratio, and student retention rates.”
While these aspects can be helpful in discerning which college to attend, Wilson warned that they could not accurately reveal a college’s Catholic identity.
“Any review that purports to take the Catholic faith into consideration when evaluating colleges must do so with the understanding of what the Church envisions for Catholic universities,” he said.
A Newsmax representative told The Cardinal Newman Society that special consideration was given to “institutions that allow students to give back or care for others while growing spiritually,” but that they ultimately “wanted the list to feature exceptional institutions that ‘strike the perfect balance between integrating faith and reason with a rigorous academic education.’”
But significant Catholic identity abuses have been reported by the Newman Society at nearly all of the 40 institutions listed. Only one of the universities that made the Newsmax rankings, The Catholic University of America, is recommended by the Newman Society for its commitment to a faithful Catholic education.
Georgetown University, listed as the number two top Catholic college by Newsmax, has actually had a canon law petition filed against it due to numerous Catholic identity abuses, demanding that the University remove its Catholic affiliation or take steps to restore its Catholic identity.
Six of the institutions on the Newsmax list have inspired organizations that are dedicated to exposing Catholic identity issues and calling for administrative action: Sycamore Trust for the University of Notre Dame (number one on the list); The Father King Society for Georgetown University; The Louis Joliet Society for Marquette University (number nine on the list); the 1887 Trust for Gonzaga University (number 14 on the list); RenewLMU for Loyola Marymount University (number 17 on the list); and Alumni for a Catholic USD for the University of San Diego (number 39 on the list).
The Newman Society has documented cases where many of the other institutions listed have diluted or removed theology requirements in their core curricula, provided platforms to pro-abortion speakers and espoused issues such as gender ideology, despite its incompatibility with Church teaching.
Wilson noted that the apostolic constitution on Catholic universities, Ex corde Ecclesiae, and the U.S. bishops’ application of that document are crucial elements in helping Catholic colleges bring their identity in line with the Church’s vision for Catholic universities.
“If the priorities and themes that the Church considers important are not valued when reviewing Catholic colleges, then why bother with Catholic colleges in the first place?” asked Wilson.
Ex corde Ecclesiae sets the guidelines for Catholic institutions in maintaining a strong faith life. These include ensuring a respect for Catholic doctrine and practice; ensuring Catholic teaching and discipline are present in all university activities; informing staff prior to hiring about their responsibility to maintain the university’s Catholic identity; and maintaining a majority of Catholic teachers.
ilson also pointed to Pope Benedict XVI address to Catholic educators in 2008 where the Holy Father stated that “Catholic identity is not dependent upon statistics.” Instead, Catholic identity “demands and inspires much more: namely that each and every aspect of your learning communities reverberates within the ecclesial life of faith.”
“In this way, our institutions make a vital contribution to the mission of the Church and truly serve society,” he continued. “They become places in which God’s active presence in human affairs is recognized and in which every young person discovers the joy of entering into Christ’s ‘being for others.’”
The Holy Father stipulated:
A university or school’s Catholic identity is not simply a question of the number of Catholic students. It is a question of conviction — do we really believe that only in the mystery of the Word made flesh does the mystery of man truly become clear (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 22)? Are we ready to commit our entire self — intellect and will, mind and heart — to God? Do we accept the truth Christ reveals? Is the faith tangible in our universities and schools? Is it given fervent expression liturgically, sacramentally, through prayer, acts of charity, a concern for justice, and respect for God’s creation?
“There isn’t one single area that by itself makes a Catholic college faithful,” Wilson noted. “As Pope Benedict said, Catholic identity demands that ‘each and every aspect’ of a Catholic college ‘reverberates within the ecclesial life of faith.’”
“That’s why we look at the Catholic identity of colleges from the top down, including core curriculum and theology, campus ministry and residence life, and percent of Catholic students and faculty,” Wilson continued. “The Newman Guide looks to the magisterium and the rich intellectual tradition of the Catholic Church when assessing Catholic colleges.”
“While looking at secular benchmarks of success has its place in the evaluation of Catholic colleges, it should never be divorced from the priorities set for education by the Church,” said Wilson. Statistics such as student retention and class size cannot convey a college’s Catholic identity or its ability to nourish a student’s faith while in attendance.