Conference explores future of Catholic universities

The future of the Catholic university was the focus of a three-day conference at University of Notre Dame last week. "Joy in the Truth: The Catholic University in the New Millennium” was sponsored by the Center for Ethics and Culture and featured speakers from eight Catholic universities across the country.

Notre Dame professor emeritus Philip Gleason gave the keynote address Thursday on how Church authorities are acting to keep Catholic universities from suffering the secularization that obliterated the religious identity of Protestant colleges a century ago, reported the South Bend Tribune.

Gleason is the author of "Contending with Modernity: Catholic Higher Education in the Twentieth Century."

He traced the history of Catholic higher education in America in four stages, beginning with the founding of Georgetown University in 1789. Fewer than one-third of the 174 Catholic colleges founded during that century survive.

The schools were forced to reorganize due to social changes from 1890 until 1930, creating vocational courses and more schools for women. However, a rise in neo-Scholastic philosophy in the 1920s, Catholic education remained viable and distinctive.

Catholic education underwent another change after World War II with the emergence of a new Catholic liberalism, Gleason reportedly said. Catholics increasingly identified with values such as pluralism, tolerance and diversity brought more tensions, and critiqued the traditional approach.

It peaked in the 1960s, when Catholic universities took on the values of religious freedom, collegiality, ecumenism, pastoral approaches and openness to the modern world, spurred on by the social changes at the time, including the civil rights and anti-war movements and the “modernizing trends of the Second Vatican Council,” Gleason said. The neo-Scholastic approach was essentially abandoned.

Recently, some progressives have tried to recover Catholic identity by focusing on council teachings, such as the dignity of lay people, ecumenical openness and especially social consciousness, similar to the old liberal arts education. In addition, many universities have created Catholic studies programs. In 1990, Pope John Paul II's issued the apostolic constitution on Catholic universities, "Ex Corde Ecclesiae."

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