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On Helping Catholic Universities live up to their Catholic Ideals

By Bob Laird

Cardinal Newman Society founder explains how organization aims to promote Pope John Paul II's Ex Corde Ecclesaie and renew the Faith on campuses
By Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller ? OSV Newsweekly, 4/22/2012

Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller, in an interview the Patrick Reilly, the President and Founder of The Cardinal Newman Society (CNS), traces the history of Catholic higher education and the role that CNS in renewing the Catholic identity on the campuses of Catholic colleges and universities thorught the United States. Reilly noted that in his own education at the Jesuit-run Fordham University, "he had very little philosophy and minimal theology."

Eidemiller writes,

Before the Second Vatican Council, Catholic colleges were primarily staffed by Catholics, run by religious orders or dioceses, and the majority of students were Catholic. In 1967, several presidents of leading Catholic colleges and universities declared independence from all authority outside of the institution itself, including the Vatican and Catholic bishops.

One of the reasons was to compete with secular institutions. Another was the rapid expansion of federal funding that brought an influx of students under the GI bill who wanted a good education, but not necessarily a Catholic one.

The result was that Catholic Colleges and Universities became "Catholic" in name only.

"The Vatican had been clearly concerned since at least the early 1980s," Reilly said. "Pope John Paul II made it very clear that he wanted to see changes, beginning with his address at The Catholic University of America."

In 1990, Pope John Paul II issued Ex Corde Ecclesiae ("From the Heart of the Church"), in which he defined the identity and mission of a Catholic university and established norms "valid for all Catholic Universities and other Catholic Institutes of Higher Studies throughout the world"(Part II, Article 1).

There was initial opposition to Ex Corde Ecclesiae, but, Reilly said, "There is a clear improvement in Catholic higher education since 1993, when I founded the society. The biggest shift is in the conversation. When I first got involved with this, it was difficult to find many Catholic leaders who were willing to publicly acknowledge that Catholic higher education was suffering from an identity crisis. The real shift is the acknowledgement of the problem and a real desire to try to get beyond that."

"We are increasingly seeing Catholic colleges getting back to the strong focus on the core elements that build the great institutions," Reilly said. "Many of them have fully embraced Ex Corde Ecclesiae."

Today, the Cardinal Newman Society publishes The Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College as a resource to help link students and parents which Catholic Colleges and Universities which "are vibrant examples of strong and faithful Catholic edicatuion" (p. 15). You can also follow the Cardinal Newman Society via their blog.

This article has been reprinted here by permission of the author after original publication at the Cabrini Center for Catholic Health Care.

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