The Newman Center itself has been part of the planning process. According to Fr. Shea, its priests predict that student interest will be “through the roof.” Feasibility studies have also found strong demand for Catholic higher education in the region.
At the same time, the University of Mary has had to be “very clear” that it is not engaged in “proselytism” at a state university.
“That’s important to them, because they’re a public university, and there are tricky issues of church and state. For Arizona State to stick out their neck like this, and for the enterprise of Catholic higher education, that’s really a courageous thing to do. We don’t want them to get burned along the way,” Fr. Shea remarked.
The university has experience teaching non-Catholics, who make up about half of its students in Bismarck.
The priest reflected on the balance the Catholic institution must strike in its new project.
“On the one hand, the reason Catholic universities exist is to evangelize, to be a leaven in the culture, and to bring the truths of faith and reason to the wider world. At the same time we don’t evangelize in the way that a catechetical institute evangelizes. That’s really important.”
While on one level the goal might be to bring people to Jesus, the University of Mary classes do so “in the way that a university does it.”
“We offer programs which are widely open to truth in different manifestations. We educate the minds of our students, such that they’re able to get a taste for truth and seek it in all of its forms.”
Arizona State students who wish to take courses from the University of Mary may register as non-degree seeking students without a formal application or acceptance. Students then register for courses through the Catholic university and pay tuition and fees directly to the school.
Fr. Shea believes the project is without precedent.
He said every Catholic university should find a way to place itself at the service of the Church.
(Story continues below)
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“This is a new way for us to do this.”
“We really want this to be an endeavor that enriches all sorts of people and which is done for the glory of God,” he said. “We’re as interested as anybody to see how it’s going to work out.”
Kevin J. Jones is a senior staff writer with Catholic News Agency. He was a recipient of a 2014 Catholic Relief Services' Egan Journalism Fellowship.