What would JFK teach? Ave Maria U story continues

textThe last time we checked in on Thomas Monaghan, the former czar of Domino’s Pizza, his newborn Ave Maria University was rolling out ambitious Phase 1 plans for a campus and surrounding town near Naples, Fla. The headline grabber was a 60,000-square-foot, 150-foot tall sanctuary for 3,300 worshippers that looked like a stack of gigantic metal-and-glass mitres for bishops.

I mentioned that Ave Maria was causing a heated debate between mainstream, that is progressive, Catholic educators and a new tribe of conservative, pro-Rome educators who are starting a small wave of highly traditional Catholic schools. I like to call these institutions the “new old Catholic colleges” as opposed to the mainstream “old new Catholic colleges.”

Reporter Burton Bollag of the Chronicle of Higher Education recently dug into this side of the story. Here is one of the money paragraphs from his feature story:

Dissatisfied with existing Catholic higher education, the new colleges aspire to train graduates who will raise a strong and orthodox Catholic intellectual voice in the debates over stem-cell research, gay marriage, and other social issues. They strive to maintain a conservative campus life, where students and faculty members attend Mass frequently, premarital sex is strictly forbidden, and gay support groups have no place.

The assumption, of course, is that the mainstream Catholic campuses — to one degree or another — represent an agenda that is the mirror opposite of this one. Either that, or they are environments in which people may practice this older, more orthodox, brand of Catholicism in private. But surely few would be so bold as to stand up in public and loudly proclaim this faith, let alone say that Rome has declared it to be the faith once delivered to the saints.

There is more to this story than millions and millions of dollars worth of education assets. In the end, this debate starts to sound very, very familiar to anyone who has covered the battles over the faith status of politicos such as Sen. John “Call me JFK” Kerry.

There is that question again. Who are the true Roman Catholics? The Catholics who support the teachings of Rome or those who oppose them or, at least, do not want to see those teachings advocated or enforced?

Mainstream Catholic educators are often peeved by perceptions that Ave Maria and the other new institutions set themselves apart not just from secular colleges, but from most Catholic ones, too. “What bothers us,” says Monika K. Hellwig, a former professor of theology who is president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, “is that they think we’re not properly Catholic.”

That would seem to be the issue. Those who support Ave Maria and the other “new old Catholic colleges” would, of course, state the issue differently. They would say the key is whether the Vatican thinks the progressive American Catholic schools are “properly Catholic.” And there is the rub. Once again, the American bishops stand in the line of fire. Who will advocate the teachings and policies of the Vatican? Does anyone dare do that? As Bollag’s article notes:

In 1990 the Vatican attempted to restore a degree of the church’s authority over Catholic higher education when Pope John Paul II issued Ex corde Ecclesiae — literally: from the heart of the church. After its release, American bishops said Catholic theologians had to seek a mandatum certifying that they were teaching “authentic Catholic doctrine.” The controversial order appears to have been largely ignored.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Phil Blackburn

    I wonder about the strategy of concentrating orthodox/conservative believers in one place. I suppose it does give them the critical mass to ensure that things are done their way in that one place, but it also weakens the orthodox voice in the other colleges.

    To put it another way: how does the salt/yeast metaphor balance against the political realities of having a significant impact on an institution’s policy?

  • Frank Gibbons

    I find that Providence College is one “mainstream” Catholic school where a student won’t be subjected to either rampant heterodoxy on the one hand, or be stuck in an orthodox fortress on the other. While there may be liberals on the faculty at Providence, they do not dominate. The school has a wonderful two-year Development Of Western Civilization program that starts with the Greeks and ends up with Pope John Paul II. Every student, no matter what their major is, must go through the program. “The Vagina Monologues” has never played at PC. I wouldn’t say the PC is a bastion of orthodoxy, but I have no qualms about sending my kid there.

  • http://www.isi.org Tom Harmon

    Phil,

    I once had my doubts, as well. I graduated from Gonzaga University, an old new Catholic college and thought that I was doing the nobler thing by being salt and light at a place that sees little of that. It turns out that, while doing a lot of salting and lighting, I didn’t really get a terrific education.

    In my opinion, students at Catholic colleges should be able to be, well, students at Catholic colleges. I ended up needing to find a Catholic education on my own while forking over $100,000 in tuition for a mostly weak education. I’d advise any prospoective students to go to a school like Ave Maria, with its coherent curriculum and a faculty that can actually agree what education is, what Catholicism is, and why we would want to have a Catholic education in the first place.

  • Kate

    I’d say that the salt/yeast metaphor works its way out on a larger scale. A bastion of orthodoxy educates and equips youth catholics during the most vulnerable years of their faith/intellectual life. It’s not that at AMC we don’t rebel or try to differentiate ourselves from our parents, the way every other college student does. It’s just that we have access to great examples of Christian living and good books which can answer our questions. We have students who come here because their parents wanted them too, and who are fairly secularised – but since the majority of us wanted to be here and care about our faith, we are able to influence them more than they influence us. Positive peer pressure and all that.

    Now, I oppose a fortress mentality, and think that students at Catholic colleges need to understand what it is that mainstream academia is pushing, because that is part of hwta is pushing the society. You cannot combat what you do no understand, and you really cannot dialogue with a society that you are afraid of.

    On the other hand, I’m a little worried about AMU, because I think the push to grow faster and recruit (students and professors) faster poses a real danger to the coherence and unity of the curriculum. If they try to evangelise the culture (by recruiting from secular schools, for example) before they have their own house in order, they will have real difficulty maintaining a Catholic environment. They are stilll trying to figure out whether they want to be a new Steubenville (Steubie South, we call it) or a “Catholic Princeton” or just the “Orthodox Notre Dame.”

  • Kate

    I’d say that the salt/yeast metaphor works its way out on a larger scale. A bastion of orthodoxy educates and equips youth catholics during the most vulnerable years of their faith/intellectual life. It’s not that at AMC we don’t rebel or try to differentiate ourselves from our parents, the way every other college student does. It’s just that we have access to great examples of Christian living and good books which can answer our questions. We have students who come here because their parents wanted them too, and who are fairly secularised – but since the majority of us wanted to be here and care about our faith, we are able to influence them more than they influence us. Positive peer pressure and all that.

    Now, I oppose a fortress mentality, and think that students at Catholic colleges need to understand what it is that mainstream academia is pushing, because that is part of hwta is pushing the society. You cannot combat what you do no understand, and you really cannot dialogue with a society that you are afraid of.

    On the other hand, I’m a little worried about AMU, because I think the push to grow faster and recruit (students and professors) faster poses a real danger to the coherence and unity of the curriculum. If they try to evangelise the culture (by recruiting from secular schools, for example) before they have their own house in order, they will have real difficulty maintaining a Catholic environment. They are stilll trying to figure out whether they want to be a new Steubenville (Steubie South, we call it) or a “Catholic Princeton” or just the “Orthodox Notre Dame.”


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