Discussing the 20th anniversary of “Ex Corde Ecclesiae,” John Garvey, the new president of the Catholic University of America, says the apostolic constitution invites Catholic higher education to be great “in a Catholic way,” focused on the example of Christ.
"Ex Corde Ecclesiae," issued by Pope John Paul II in 1990, marked its anniversary on August 15, the Feast of the Assumption.
CNA, in a Monday e-mail interview with Garvey, noted the anniversary of the apostolic constitution and asked about its implementation in the United States. Particularly noted was the document's statement that it is "the person and message of Christ which gives the Institution its distinctive character."
Garvey mentioned several ways Catholic colleges and universities can better foster this distinctive character.
“Catholic colleges and universities rest on a different philosophical foundation than many of their secular counterparts,” he explained. “They hope and believe that the 'search for truth' in which academics are engaged really has a point -- that Christ is the way, the life, and the truth.
“Philosophy and theology, science and law, psychology and literature, are not just games in which one move is as good as any other. The Incarnation, in which God was made man, tells us something profound about the value and purpose of human life.”
Catholic colleges and universities should concern themselves with forming character as well as forming minds, the CUA president noted.
“College students, and even graduate students, mature as young adults during their time in school. Part of our responsibility is to teach them to live good lives,” he continued. “In this, the person and message of Christ are the paramount example.”
Garvey said Catholic institutions of higher education should provide students and the entire university community “frequent opportunities” for Mass, the sacraments and prayer.
“The message of the gospel will not take root if we neglect the soil in which it should grow,” he commented.
Asked about the implementation of “Ex Corde Ecclesiae” in the United States, he said the U.S. bishops’ publication in June 2000 of their norms for implementation was the most important step.
The “greatest success” of “Ex Corde Ecclesiae,” in Garvey’s view, has been its ability to focus the attention of everyone in Catholic higher education on their task.
However, he underscored, the recruitment of Catholic professors is something Catholic academia needs to “take seriously.”
“I believe it is essential to the intellectual life of a university that there should be ferment, discussion, and disagreement,” he explained, saying it is “healthy” to include faculty who do not share Catholic beliefs. “But the university cannot be Catholic in its intellectual life unless it includes enough faculty whose teaching and research promote the Catholic intellectual tradition.”
The Catholic University of America has done “a great deal” to implement the apostolic constitution, Garvey reported. He also noted that the institution is the national university of the Catholic Church and was given its charter by Pope Leo XIII.
According to Garvey, the Catholic identity of the school is discussed in the hiring of faculty, while a candidate’s willingness to “respect and contribute to our mission” is a consideration in granting tenure.
“Our Office of Campus Ministry helps students follow Christ and live the values of the Gospel within the context of the Catholic faith,” he added.
In his view, “Ex Corde Ecclesiae” and the bishops’ norms are not “an effort on the part of the Church to recover some golden age of Catholic higher education.”
“There was never a time -- at least not in the past two centuries -- when Catholic colleges and universities were great and distinctively Catholic institutions of learning,” he continued, characterizing Catholic higher education in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as relatively attractive.
“There was little graduate instruction before the founding of The Catholic University of America in 1887,” he told CNA.
“In the latter half of the twentieth century, when universities like Georgetown, Boston College, Notre Dame, Fordham, St. John's, and others formed aspirations of greatness, faculties did not give enough thought to how American Catholic schools might be great in a Catholic way. This is the invitation that Ex Corde Ecclesiae sets before us.”