Revitalizing the Catholic University

(Reflections of Fr. Scanlan)

In June Fr. Jim Lee of Olympia and I had the opportunity to attend a five day retreat at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. Some 400 priests, deacons and seminarians participated in what was a wonderful, renewing spiritual experience. Part of what made it so powerful was the atmosphere at Franciscan University. The students were friendly, bright, respectful--everything you would want a young person to be. Fr. Lee and I were constantly impressed by them. It was great to see a deeply Catholic university in action.

Much of the credit goes to Franciscan University's president, Fr. Michael Scanlan, T.O.R. When he took over in 1974 it was a small community college (and "party school") with 175 students. Since then it has grown to over 2,000 and is known for "dynamic orthodoxy," complete fidelity to the Church's teaching authority, yet delivered with a positive, personal, evangelical zeal.

In the July 4 issue of Our Sunday Visitor Fr. Scanlan was interviewed. He said this about what he encountered when he took over:

"What I found on the faculty were people who had come here to teach in a Catholic environment, but then had lost that sense of things. Well, before long, those people began to rise up again and witness to their faith. Some couldn't be won over. We had one fellow who was a leader in the Communist Party, and woman who was teaching lesbianism, and a dramatist who was putting on plays that were borderline pornographic. We talked to them and laid out where the college was going. I said that if they chose a school that agreed with their values, I could recommend them as competent. And they all left."

Fr. Scanlan urges other Catholic universities to "celebrate what you have in common (with the wider culture) but clearly state your differences. Acknowledge what's good in the culture, but don't compromise your values. Don't believe that things don't make a difference when they really do. And never go along with cultural streams that are undermining life and family and Church."

Reflecting on the Vatican directive on higher education Ex Corde Ecclesiae ("From the Heart of the Church") Fr. Scanlan had this to say about the future of Catholic education:

"There's going to be a revitalization of Catholic universities. At the same time, a group will fall away and secularize in order to become what they are; they won't any longer be able to use the name Catholic. I hope that's a small number, but I think it's inevitable. It happened in other Christian denominations. Look at the Ivy League (Harvard, Yale, etc.) All those colleges were once affiliated with Christian churches. And their day came. A time comes when you either renew or you slip into secularism. That time is now. Empowered by Ex Corde, I believe many will change and renew."

You may be aware that at this time our U.S. bishops are struggling with the implementation of Ex Corde Ecclesiae. I urge you send up your prayers to God for them, as well as for the presidents of Catholic universities in this country. Here in Seattle we should especially pray for Archbishop Brunett and for Fr. Steve Sundborg, S.J. who is president of Seattle University.


The Catholic University (Integrity vs. Dissent)

Fourth of July Reflection

Catholic Politicians and Abortion

Living the Gospel of Life (U.S. Bishops statement on Catholic involvement in political life.)

Catholic Campaign for America

Political Involvement and Discipleship (Fourth of July Homily, 1998)



From Cardinal Newman's The Idea of a University:

"If the Catholic Faith is true, a University cannot exist externally to the Catholic pale, for it cannot teach Universal Knowledge if it does not teach Catholic theology. But still, though it had ever so many theological Chairs, that would not suffice to make it a Catholic University; for theology would be included in its teaching only as a branch of knowledge. Hence a direct and active jurisdiction of the Church over it and in it is necessary, lest it should become the rival of the Church with the community at large in those theological matters which to the Church are exclusively committed--acting a the representative of the intellect, as the Church is the representative of the religious principle."