.- Most people have never heard of Front Royal, Virginia or Steubenville, Ohio, but for throngs of faithful Catholics, these places are like small icons.
Both towns are home to colleges who boast both faithfulness to the teaching Magisterium of the Catholic Church and record enrollments for this year’s incoming freshman classes.
Speaking to Franciscan University of Steubenville’s 390-member freshman class--the largest in the school’s 59 year history, Steubenville Bishop Daniel Conlon told the group that, “Mom and Dad have their faith. They have shared it with you. Praise God. But it now must become your faith. This is your chance to come face-to-face with Jesus Christ who wants to have a loving relationship with you.”
Likewise, he called Franciscan University “a particularly holy place that can help you discern the call to religious life, to married life,” an important component, he said, of the university experience.
The bishop encouraged students to use their time in college “to grow intellectually to understand the mysteries of God. Use theology and philosophy to enter into the mystery of God’s truth.”
At the same time, down in Front Royal, VA, Christendom College announced last week that it too, recently welcomed its largest freshman class--379 students--to its rural campus near the Shenandoah National Park.
Tom McFadden, Director of Admissions for the school also added that they still have a large waiting list of students wanting to get in.
Schools like Franciscan, Christendom, and others like Florida’s Ave Maria University and Kansas’s Benedictine College are all bursting at the seams with students wanting to study in the light of the 2,000 year old Catholic faith.
Professors of Theology and religious studies at these institutions, along with only a handful of others across the country, all pledge fidelity to the Magisterium and teaching authority of the Catholic Church--and students and parents love it.
Joel Recznik, Franciscan University’s dean of Enrollment Management said that he attributes the enrollment boom, in part, to the university’s vibrant teen summer conference series, but also to the fact that “the word is getting out about Franciscan University’s commitment to integrate the Catholic faith into the daily university experience; classroom, residence hall life, campus ministry.”
He added that today’s parents are more closely involved in their son or daughter’s college picks than in past generations.
“It’s not unusual”, he said, “for parents to tour 3 to 4 schools along with their son or daughter…For Catholic parents, these tours become an opportunity to observe the faith environment and spiritual and moral values their child will be exposed to and to examine to what degree it is infused into the total university experience.”
Canon Law number 812 reads: "It is necessary that those who teach theological disciplines in any institute of higher studies have a mandatum from the competent ecclesiastical authority."
While this controversial requirement has been a source of contention for numerous Catholic institutions who fear a loss of academic freedom, many of the colleges whose professors have the mandatum (recognition from the local bishop of the instructor’s pledge to teach in line with the Church) have seen dramatic increases in their enrollments since implementation.
At this year’s convocation and opening of the school year Mass at Franciscan University last Monday, Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dr. Max Bonilla told students that because only a small fraction of Americans hold degrees from Catholic institutions, that the students have a rare privilege to be given “a vision of the world that is drastically different from what the world offers.”
Noting the plight of the human condition today, Bonilla said that “The mandate of a Catholic university is to instill in its students an entire vision of the world and of humanity that is grounded on a Christian anthropology that is able to respond to humanity’s darkest hour with hope and truth.”
Franciscan University was the first Catholic university in the country to support a 1989 decree by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, asking all theology professors to pledge fidelity to the Church. The faculty voted unanimously that same year to pledge their commitment.
Tom Sofio, associate director of public relations for the university told CNA that “For over 30 years the trend at Catholic colleges and universities was to relegate the Catholicity of a University to a few corners of the campus, usually campus ministry which sponsors liturgies, retreats and mission work.”
“Good as those are,” he said, “they are not enough to inculcate Catholic values into the total academic experience—from the classroom to residence halls, to sports, clubs and other activities. By the grace of God we are seeing a reversal of that trend among a handful of Catholic colleges and universities.”