Denver, Colo., Jul 21, 2017 / 15:05 pm
The 50th anniversary of a historic statement that changed Catholic higher education in America represents both a cautionary tale and a chance to reflect on Catholic renewal, said Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska.
“The Land O’Lakes statement proposed to redefine the mission of the Catholic university. It rejected the authority of the Church, and of her doctrinal teaching,” Bishop Conley said. “It rejected the idea that faith and reason work best in communion with one another. It prioritized the standards and culture of secular universities over the authentic mission of Catholic education. It was a statement of self-importance, and self-assertion.”
Bishop Conley delivered his remarks July 5 in Denver to teachers and principals at the Regional Catholic Classical Schools Conference at the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education.
He said that the Land O’Lakes statement “declared that Catholic universities would become independent from the hierarchy of the Church, from any obligation to orthodoxy, and from the authentic spirituality of the Church.”
Fifty years ago, 26 Catholic university presidents and administrators gathered at the Land O’Lakes retreat center in Wisconsin for the North American summit for the International Federation of Catholic Universities. The University of Notre Dame’s influential president, Father Theodore Hesburgh, CSC, was president of the federation at the time.
The meeting aimed to help the federation develop a vision for Catholic higher education in light of the Second Vatican Council, produced a document called “Statement on the Nature of the Contemporary Catholic University,” signed July 23, 1967. Many observers consider the statement a watershed moment in Catholic education.
Bishop Conley cited historian Philip Gleason’s characterization of the statement as “a declaration of independence from the hierarchy,” then suggested it represented “the ‘non serviam’ moment of many of America’s Catholic universities.” The Latin phrase, meaning “I shall not serve,” is used by the Prophet Jeremiah to refer to the Hebrew people’s disobedience to God. The phrase is also used to characterize Satan’s rejection of God.
“Fifty years ago, a ‘declaration of independence’ in Catholic education transformed the Church,” the bishop told the Catholic educators gathered in Denver. “Today, may your humility, wonder, and dependence on the grace of God transform your schools, transform the Church, and transform hearts for Jesus Christ.”