Catholic Colleges that are Actually Catholic

The Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College

The Catholic label is so frequently misleadingly applied anymore that it has unfortunately become just that – a label. And it’s often a very inaccurate one at that.

But despite a relativistic culture increasingly comfortable with pluralistic definitions, the word Catholic still means something objective to a lot of us.  And it most certainly still means something to the Cardinal Newman Society.

I’m sure that’s why they’ve come out with their latest edition of “The Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College.”  Any Catholics interested in a truly Catholic college experience should check it out.  There’s a forward by Fr. Benedict Groeschel, too, which is always a good thing.

If you click through to the list of colleges on the website, there are promo videos for many of the campuses.  Very cool.

And once you’ve picked your college, don’t forget to read and share my post, 15 Tips for Going Away to College!

P.S.  Also worth checking out is the best Catholic campus ministry in the country (turning out record vocations) which happens to be at my alma mater, Texas A&M University.

51 comments Add comment

Rachel September 16, 2009 at 8:08 am

I realize that of all years, 2009 is not the year for an ND alumna to pick on the Newman Guide, but I’m still gonna bite.

As an orthodox Catholic, I can safely say that I will never recommend the Newman Guide to an orthodox high schooler looking for a “good Catholic college”. Sure, one can use it as a handy list to get started, but it should NOT at all be considered the last word on the issue. Honestly, I’m not sure what the CNS guidelines were in determining whether or not a Catholic college/university would make their list, but it seemed to boil down to whether or not ALL of the faculty had asked for and received the mandatum, and whether or not Ex Corde was enthusiastically presented as part and parcel of the school’s mission.

These are both important aspects of determining whether or not a Catholic college is a good choice for a student, but they are not the end-all, be-all.

Most of the reason that I cannot take the Newman Guide seriously is that it seems to have NO concept of the importance of a strong Catholic intellectual life. Can Wyoming Catholic College, est. 2005, and which has not yet even received formal accreditation, yet really be considered to have a strong Catholic intellectual life or high academic standing?

In the previous edition, discussion of Notre Dame was relegated to an appendix; it looks like now ND has been eliminated altogether, without comment. Is this how we want a 150+ year tradition of excellence in Catholic higher education to END in this country–to send it down in flames after the Obama scandal?

As the massive student-organized demonstration in reaction to the Obama honor showed, there is a strong contingent of faithful students at Notre Dame. Many, many students share my love for Notre Dame because of what they have learned there and how the Faith has formed them. Notre Dame IS going to fail if good Catholics abandon it (or merely use it for promotion of their own ends, as the CNS did this past year), and its only hope now lies in a faithful student body who go and demand faithful faculty. Already the mandatum has been sought and received by the vast majority of ND’s theology department, and a good number of philosophy professors. There is an active, orthodox campus spiritual life, if only one looks for it. Yes, there are problems, especially as the university struggles with what it means to be authentically Catholic while still in dialogue with modern disciplines and developments…but ultimately how will Catholicism be helped if orthodox Catholics excuse themselves from Notre Dame altogether?

Notre Dame is the flagship Catholic university in America, like it or not. There is no other school in the top-20 list from US News that even claims to value an iota of its religious heritage. ND ought to be strengthened, constructively criticized, and fought for–not abandoned by Catholics who would rather say “Oh, you are not orthodox enough for me!”

Angela Santana September 16, 2009 at 8:40 am

I appreciate the efforts of the Newman Society. However, I have to speak for the students who attend “Catholic” universities that didn’t “make the cut.” I’m not sure what this book is supposed to do – get parents to discourage their children from going somewhere not in this book? Why? I understand the intentions of a person who wishes to support the honest-to-goodness orthodoxy in this day and age, but should we discourage our children from going somewhere not on the list? Should we get all the good Catholic kids to go to strictly orthodox, gung-ho Catholic universities?

I think that’s a bad idea. I’m one of those students who loves the Church and its Tradition. I have a fabulous group of friends who do, as well. We attend a school that didn’t make “the list,” and our freshman year, we were discouraged. We exchanged stories about wanting to attend Franciscan U and complaints about our own school.

But sophomore year, we decided to change things. We started a Catholic Student Group to bring together students who wanted to get the majority of students at the university (Catholics by name) to start living out and loving their faith. Since my freshman year, I’ve seen great strides in the right direction. We have more students going to daily Mass, pressured the right people to start Benediction and Adoration, and now we have a few students calling for Tridentine Mass.

What would happen if all of the Catholic kids went to a university where everyone else was at pretty much the same place in their faith – the same faith – and there weren’t missionaries at the other schools? The only way we will make change for the better is by educating ourselves and our young people about the faith, praying for them, and sending them WHEREVER God calls them, not where the Newman Society calls them.

Mark September 17, 2009 at 12:17 pm

Angela, I am so pleased by your response. As a parent whose children are out of college, I am gratified to read your most excellent response, your clear sense of your role as a member of the Body of Christ and the mission we all share to evangelize wherever we are in the world. For many of us, me included, that place is in my Catholic institutions. We are all called to witness to each other, to help each other and to be Christ for each other. You get that. I am so happy for you. Mark

Matthew Warner September 17, 2009 at 3:03 pm

Yeah, way to go Angela! More students like you are exactly what we need. And hopefully with continued work your university will be further recognized in other ways (in things like the Newman Guide).

The Newman Guide is definitely not the end all be all for which colleges are Catholic and which are not. And I don’t think it would claim that it is such. Nor do I think it is a “negative” tool that is trying to make a point that if you’re NOT on the list then you’re not Catholic or not a good university. I think it is a positive tool that recognizes Catholic colleges who actually and proactively support and foster orthodox Catholic culture on their campuses as a part of their college experience. Very arguably, schools like Notre Dame do not fall under this category anymore.

And I think there are a lot of parents that want their kids to have that kind of experience. This guide helps them.

Rachel – I agree that as Catholics we must give a lot of importance to the intellectual weight of our college experience, no doubt. And not to take anything away from any of those on the Newman List, but there are more prestigious schools to attend for many specialized disciplines…like, say, engineering.

But it’s fairly easy to find which colleges have the best engineering schools. On the other hand, it is extremely difficult to identify which ones (by any standard) are completely orthodox in their Catholicism. People can argue over the standard or method the Newman Guide uses, but at least it gives a measuring stick for people to use in honestly evaluating colleges.

And there are plenty of great schools out there who have outstanding Catholic communities (such as Texas A&M that I mentioned…and many others). Notre Dame is probably one such school as well. But a totally orthodox Catholic college (as a whole) it is not. Maybe one day it will be back there again. I sure hope so!

Either way, there is a particularly unique and complete catholic culture found at those colleges in the Newman guide…and I think that’s worth recognizing.

Ultimately, each student needs to decide what is right for them and where God is calling them. Are they called or do they need a college experience more like those found in the Newman Guide, or are they called elsewhere where God is going to use them in other ways and where they will perhaps be that light in a darkness.

I appreciate what the Newman Guide intends to do and I pray that the list there continues to grow each year with more faithful, Catholic colleges!

Chris Altieri September 17, 2009 at 4:09 pm

Dear Matthew,

Angela raises some excellent points, and I join in the general praise of her.

Rachel, however, raises the point that most directly regards the problem with the CNS guide, and with your presentation of it.

The problem is two-tiered, as it were: the CNS criteria are appallingly inadequate; they are so because the CNS does not have a proper idea of the university, owing in large part, it seems, to a deficient understanding of the pertinent ecclesiastical documents, i.e. Ex corde ecclesiae and Sapientia christiana

The issue is far too broad to address here, but an outline of a way toward a beginning might be made, nevertheless.

First, the idea of the Catholic university as being somehow “different” or “special” with respect to secular universities is historically false, and inconsistent with the plain sense of Ex corde, which begins with a recovery of the proper historical and theoretical vision of the matter: the universitas studiorum springs from the heart of the Church; it is a privileged place at which to live in search of truth.

The formation that Catholic universities provide is integral human formation, and is essentially the experience of living the intellectual life, itself.

Some theological basics are necessary to the project, thusly understood.

The purpose of a theology faculty, however, is always going to be to increase our knowledge and understanding of divine things.

Indeed, a famously radical envelope-pusher in theology currently sits in Peter’s chair.

Just as his work created tension in his day, so does theological investigation at the frontier create tension in our own.

The CNS finds the presence of envelope-pushers to be a sign of bad faith.

On its own, the presence of envelope-pushers is a good thing (who wouldn’t want Prof. Ratzinger in his dept.?), . How a university manages the inevitable tension is the true measure of institutional faithfulness – and tension-management at that level is a very complicated, delicate and fraught business.


Mark September 17, 2009 at 8:33 pm


Well said. The general outline you presented is wonderful and reminds me very happily of my experience at a non-listed Catholic University, Villanova, with a strong theology department including published ORTHODOX (to use the new parlance) theologians. My faith was enriched in the heart of that university and I continue to believe that there are many fine Catholic colleges and universities not listed with authentic teaching accordiong to the magisterium and which provide students with the skills to really know, love and defend their faith.


Matthew Warner September 17, 2009 at 10:12 pm

Chris and Mark – thanks for your thoughts and great points.

I still feel like people are getting defensive over something we shouldn’t be getting defensive over. Maybe I’m missing something though.

Chris, you say “First, the idea of the Catholic university as being somehow “different” or “special” with respect to secular universities is historically false”.

That’s not the issue. The truth is that some universities today offer different experiences. Is it not handy to have guides that might help us distinguish between them?

And there is a huge difference between theological “envelope pushing” and heresy. Some universities push the envelope. And some have thrown the envelope out the window.

Would either of you recommend some other resource for parents to use in determining which is the case for a particular university? I think that would be helpful.

Also, surely nobody is arguing that the distinctly Catholic experience provided at colleges like those on the CNS guide is not very different from that a 17-18 yr old would have at a college like Notre Dame or Villanova? Right? There is a significant difference here. And I think some parents and students find it helpful to be able to recognize that particular difference in making their decision.

It doesn’t mean those other schools are bad all around or that you can’t have a good Catholic experience there. But they are different and it’s worth recognizing.

Fr. Benedict Groeschel writes “And we have to look no farther than Our Lady’s University, Notre Dame, to see the epitome of what it means for a Catholic university to embrace the secular culture at the expense of the Church.”

You can agree or disagree with him. But I think we should all be able to agree that those colleges on the list (at least the ones I’m familiar with) are working to improve the state of Catholic universities. It seems to me that we should support them in their efforts.

Chris Altieri September 18, 2009 at 3:06 am

Dear Matthew,

There are, as far as I can see, two points of contention:

1. You write: “The truth is that some universities today offer different experiences.” You go on to ask, Is it not handy to have guides that might help us distinguish between them? I answer that it were, indeed, “handy” to have such a guide or guides. I do not think that the CNS guide does all the things you claim it does. Indeed, I think its deficiencies are such that it tends, as a matter of fact and most certainly not of intention, to mislead parents and prospective students on the one hand; on the other, it does not contribute constructively to our public discussion of the nature and purpose of the Catholic university.

2. You write: “It doesn’t mean those other schools are bad all around or that you can’t have a good Catholic experience there.” You go on to say, But they are different and it’s worth recognizing. I answer that the differences between, e.g. Notre Dame and FUS, are worth recognizing. The CNS guide, however, does not really, or does not merely illustrate the differences. It passes judgment on several institutions’ claims to be universities more catholica. I am unaware that any ecclesiastical structure has made the Cardinal Newman Society competent to pronounce such judgments.

Matthew Warner September 18, 2009 at 6:06 am


1. What did I claim the CNS does that you believe it does not do?

2. Are you suggesting that we are required to have an “ecclesiastical structure” in place in order for Catholics to try and make sense out of many of the differences between so called Catholic universities?

I understand your overall contention with the CNS guide. But do you have anything else to offer in its place in order for us to help us sort out which “catholic” universities are being faithful and which have allowed money, greed, intellectual arrogance, heresy or whatever to take precedence over the Church? That is my real desire in this exercise. So I’m thankful for anything you can offer in the way of reaching that goal.

Angela Santana September 18, 2009 at 7:55 am

If I may just add my two cents to answer your question about an “alternative” to the CNS guide:

Keep up with the news. If you don’t want to go to a school where, for instance, a faculty member complains about crucifixes in classrooms, or where the Vagina Monologues are given praise, then pay attention to were those things are taking place.

One example I have, though, to weigh that would be my own school. Al Kresta denounced my school on the air because a group of Democratic students arranged for Sen. Hilary Clinton to stop on campus and give a “town hall” meeting in the gym. Immediately, my entire school was evil place in the Catholic world. People assumed we supported abortion, that the school administration was giving an “anti-Catholic politician” a “place of honor,” etc. No one stopped to think about the process that allowed the Senator to speak – a facility reservation on the part of a single student group.

No one reported that the next week, Gov. Huckabee also held a town hall meeting in the gym, or that Archbishop Jose Gomez still sends his young seminarians to my school to receive their undergraduate degree, or that students are notorious in our city for their dedication to the 40 Days for Life campaign, etc. etc.

Moral of the story: Keep up with the news, visit a few colleges, do your research, don’t take a school at face-value. Take all of the resources you have into consideration, including but no limited to, the CNS book.

Matthew Warner September 18, 2009 at 8:10 am

Good advice, Angela. I agree.

And as Chris noted, “How a university manages the inevitable tension is the true measure of institutional faithfulness – and tension-management at that level is a very complicated, delicate and fraught business.”

It’s a complicated thing for an individual to analyze too, and unfortunately, relying on the media news to help us out is not very reliable. As you noted, Angela, they often blow things out of proportion, jump to conclusions, or report only one side.

Chris Altieri September 18, 2009 at 8:39 am

Dear Matthew,

In response to (1): You claim that the CNS guide is “helpful”. I have no doubt that it is meant to be so. I do not think it is helpful. I rather think it is unhelpful, at least, whether with respect to the service it purports to provide to parents and prospective students, or with respect to its possible usefulness in the broader cultural debate. It is unhelpful to prosepective students and their parents because it starts from a faulty understanding of what the Church considers a university to be, as I discuss above. It is unhelpful to the broader debate, not only nor even primarily because of its faulty point de depart, but owing to its more-or-less explicit indictment of all the schools it does not include in its list.

In response to (2): No, I do not think we need, “[A]n ‘ecclesiastical structure’ in place in order for Catholics to try and make sense out of many of the differences between so called Catholic universities[.]” I do think that the CNS pronounces judgments it is not competent to pronounce (the way they pay lip-service to local ordinaries in their introduction, and then go on to do just what they say they cannot, is particularly underhanded).

In regard to your query about possibly useful resources, I would reiterate what Angela said, with the following caveat: the CNS guide should be used only as a possible indicator of some schools, which might otherwise go unnoticed.


Mark September 18, 2009 at 8:57 am

Matthew, you make exceelent points in your response to Angela. I would also mention that it isn’t just the media. We faithful, we humans, we who have roles in the church or microphones or a soap box also do the same thing…provide a point of view and suggest strongly it is the “right” one. We Catholics, perhaps of a certain age (I’m 56) grew up in families where the role of primary teachers of the Faith was abrogated to parochial schools. Later, CCD became and continues to remain more the norm. In either case, a parent who fails to pray, study, explore, visit, question, pray more, talk, ponder, pray even more…all this along with their child as they prepare to select a college is, I submit, abrogating his/her responsibilty to teach the faith. It’s too easy for me or anyone else to simply pick from the “good Catholic College” list and stop my work.

Then there is the whole issue, completely unfair and unchristian, to accuse, by not listing them, those faithful Catholic educators at Catholic Universities like Villanova, ND and such that they are not in conformity to the magisterium. How arrogant we have become. How lacking in charity. The quote cited by Fr. Groeschel (who is Co-Chairman of CNS advisory board and not exactly impartial) regarding ND paints the entire university community with a brush that says the Catholic tradition has died. Really? Based on an Obama speech? So they made a mistake. Correct, forgive and build up. It is too easy to condemn all for the sins of a few. And that is how this strikes me. As a member of the body of Christ and enlivened by the Holy Spirit I am called to correct my brother quietly, not condemn him on the street corner. All this serves to do is to divide.

Sorry all for the rant. It just troubles me deeply in my soul that where we could be improving, I find many condemning, dividing and abandoning to the detriment of our church and the young people we desparately need to lead us.


Chris Altieri September 18, 2009 at 9:13 am

Dear Mark,

Allow me to thank you for your words, this time.

I cannot tell you how deeply disappointing, indeed disheartening, the Catholic response to ND this past Spring was to me.

When I defended ND’s bona fides, my own was called into question.

My efforts to put the best possible face on ND’s decision (something ND’s own response to the situation did not make easy), were met with accusations of contumaceous infidelity to the Magisterium, closeted predeliction for baby-killing, and, horribile dictu, Obama-supporting. Just for the record, all are false.

If that is the way we treat each other, then we cannot expect people to want to “join the family.” We all need to revisit John 13:35 from time to time, I suppose. I’m going to have a plaque made for my classroom.


Chris Altieri September 18, 2009 at 9:15 am
Rachel September 18, 2009 at 10:05 am

There have been some excellent responses to this post, and I wanted to respond to a few comments myself.

Matthew, I think that the problem Chris, Angela and I are all trying in our own ways to highlight is that the Newman Guide, by listing “faithful” Catholic colleges, paints a picture of any college NOT on the list as being totally unfaithful. You seem to subscribe to this yourself, as you said that a student must decide if they are going to go somewhere where their faith is going to be encouraged -OR- somewhere where they can be “a light in the darkness”.

In the realm of Catholic education, these are simply not the alternatives.

First of all, it is naive both for the readers of the CNS guide and those who compiled it to claim that the campus culture at *every* one of the schools on this list is going to be *completely Catholic* and will do nothing but encourage students’ faith. That somehow, a student who goes there is only going to be built up in their faith, never experience temptation by the sins of the world, and never encounter a tacitly accepted secular viewpoint. This is impossible, and from knowing students at some of the “big names” on the CNS list–CUA, Steubenville, Christendom–as well as hearing plenty about the goings-on at places like Ave Maria, it is clearly not the case. If the CNS Guide’s goal is to come up with a perfect Catholic university where parents can send their kids with nary a worry, it fails–simply because this ideal is impossible for any university to uphold.

Secondly, the viewpoint of many well-meaning orthodox Catholics, the CNS included, is that places like ND, Villanova, and Boston College are ALL completely secular, that students there are NOT going to be able to meaningfully encounter their faith nor study it in an orthodox setting. This is simply false, and undermines a great deal of hard work being done at each of these places by students and professors.

I was a theology major at Notre Dame. Ah, the horror! you say–a department with McBrien and Gutierrez on the faculty?!?! And yet, somehow, I received an orthodox Catholic theological formation from incredible faculty. Bishop D’Arcy was the guest of honor at our commencement morning brunch–and on the very same morning that President Obama was en route in Air Force One to podunk northern Indiana, Bishop D’Arcy was *praising* the Notre Dame theology department as one of the best, if not THE best, faculty in the country. I’d like to see the CNS wrap its mind around that one!

It is this vibrant Catholic intellectual life that the CNS and others should NOT allow to go down in flames at places like Notre Dame. Blame what is blameworthy–if you have the right motives–but be sure to PRAISE what is praiseworthy as well!

I would say that EVERY Catholic college has a unique Catholic culture. Even a place like Notre Dame. In the first edition of the Newman Guide, I was frustrated that this did not come out more. There is a STRONG Catholic student- and professor- led culture at ND, whatever might happen because of the administration or faculty or trustees. I am still convinced that a Catholic undergrad can go to ND, and with a little responsibility on their part, be formed in their faith by becoming part of an orthodox academic community. This is probably the case at ALL Catholic colleges–both those who make the CNS list and those who don’t.

Chris Altieri September 18, 2009 at 10:23 am

Hear! Hear! Rachel!

Especially this: “I am still convinced that a Catholic undergrad can go to ND, and with a little responsibility on their part, be formed in their faith by becoming part of an orthodox academic community.”

I share your conviction.

One of the things the CNS does not seem to understand is that learning theology is not a matter of being fed doctrine by the spoonful.


Mark September 18, 2009 at 10:42 am

Rachel, I second Chris’ statement…well said. And Chris, thank you for the phrase “theology is not a matter of being fed doctrine by the spoonful”. I was searching for a way to express that point but couldn’t come up with the words.

For all, this has been a lively debate and discussed with passion and civility and love, just as it should always be. Thank you, Matthew, for providing this forum. You provide a place for all of us to engage, challenge and debate because we all love our Church, our Faith and above all, our God. You, sir, are to be commended. And I mean THAT from the bottom of my heart.

Ben D. September 21, 2009 at 12:15 pm

As an alumnus of one of those colleges that made the CNS list, I’d like to express a bit of discomfort with some assumptions that appear to be lurking in this discussion.

being fed doctrine by the spoonful

perfect Catholic university where parents can send their kids with nary a worry

a university where everyone else was at pretty much the same place in their faith

Can Wyoming Catholic College … yet really be considered to have a strong Catholic intellectual life … ?


I hope I’m not being defensive here but I sense a bit of condescension. I can totally understand being frustrated with CNS’s methods and tone, but I don’t think that implicitly disparaging the schools that CNS does promote, is any part of an appropriate response. They are good schools, each in its own way — and, as with anything, none of them is right for everyone.

The list is pretty diverse, though, ranging from total upstarts like Wyoming, to the more-wizened CUA, Belmont Abbey, and Benedictine.

My sense is that CNS is trying, however ham-fistedly, to highlight the distinction between institutions that have vigorously and thoroughly embraced their Catholic identity at every level — including, perhaps most importantly, at the upper levels of the administration — and those that haven’t.

Seems like a reasonable distinction, because no matter how many faithful students and faculty there are at places like Notre Dame, and no matter how strong of a Catholic community you can find there if you try, it seems like there’s always going to be a bit (or a lot) of swimming against the tide if the senior administration isn’t quite there.

And that’s not to say that swimming against the tide is necessarily bad. But, like its opposite, it’s not for everyone.

Artie September 21, 2009 at 8:16 pm

Despite what others may say Matthew, I thought your post was excellent! I would love for my children to be able to attend Ave Maria or Franciscan University where the Catholic faith is not watered down.

Chris Altieri September 22, 2009 at 1:25 am

Dear Ben D,

No one disparaged the schools on the CNS list, whether by name or by implication.

Your suspicions are frankly unwarranted.


Dear Artie,

Both Franciscan and Ave Maria are places that take their Catholicism very seriously, and at the same time strive to be academically rigorous and intellectually curious.

I think you might want to revisit the conversation.


Artie September 22, 2009 at 6:47 am


I have been following the conversation. The problem I have is that sure, no doubt there are by the book Catholics at Notre Dame, Villanova, and Boston College, but there is a bigger problem and I like numerous Catholics feel the same way.

Would you not agree that western culture would not be in moral decline if Catholics lived their Christian faith in an integrated manner,in the words of Pope Benedict with “moral coherence”. John Paul II wanted us to respond to this challenge which he called for a “New Evangelization.” That call has borne fruit throughout the entire Church, including in the new Catholic Colleges and the renewed and restored Catholic Colleges. Notre Dame made great efforts and ruined it when they gave the most pro abortion president in U.S. history and honorary degree! This in and of itself is not “moral coherence” nor does it promote it, it merely causes confusion and doubt. Sure we are called to love even our enemies and those with different views considering we live in a pluralistic society, but to go a step further? Love and Truth must happen, not just the love part.

Abortion is an intrinsic evil. With that being said do you understand how giving a honorary doctorate to Obama (who voted four times against the Born Alive Protection Act, and votes and appoints ultra proabortion) makes Notre Dame lose its credibility as being a wholesome Catholic College.

I have protestant friends who asked about this, as I told them that Notre Dame was doing better in regards to their Catholic identity and then this happens!? Half secular / half Catholic? I mean the actions speak for themselves, I am a big fan of Catholic Universities but how in my right judgment could I say Notre Dame is orthodox after that?

It CONTINUES to mislead millions into not deeply understanding that “INTRINSIC EVILS” are nondebatible, and not just “ONE” of many “COMMON GOOD” issues. That is where our frustration should be!

Here is the thing Catholic Colleges must become the front line. Before Antioch, where the followers of Jesus were first called Christians, they were often referred to as “The Way”

With that being said Catholic Colleges have had an erosion of Catholic identity on many campuses. Catholic identity requires that the College community understand its ecclesial nature. In an institution, just as in persons, it begins from the inside and works its way throughout like leaven or yeast in a loaf.

Catholic identity must become the beating heart of a Catholic College and provide the infrastructure for its entire educational mission. When it does, the building of a Catholic culture on campus becomes a fruit.

I am part of the JP II generation, I am 29 years old and I will admit I am sick of watered down Catholicism, and hey if you went to one of the universities that I have doubts about, can you blame me especially with the events that took place this year? As Catholics we should desire truth and love.

When it comes to Catholic Colleges, Catholic Identity is not optional.

Mark September 22, 2009 at 8:47 pm


The points you raised about the general decline we see in Catholic society/civilization is indeed tragic and I am incredibly wounded, as i think we all are, by what we see. As an individual, I do what I can as prompted by the Spirit but there are still many moments of despair. My training and study has led me to believe that I must work within the system somehow (again, I am not sure how) to correct, improve, influence, teach, give example and do every other form of evangelism combined with prayer to make better what I see. Because the world is ruled by a cunning adversary and he likes nothing more than to sow division. We are armed by God and whatever boot camp you go to, the training had better be fantastic, because the enemy is strong. We have all sorts of Catholic Universities. The ones on CNS and ones that are not. But I am convinced that if we fight to make them better it benefits the next generation. If we fight to call some not on “our” side, then I fear the opponent has succeeded. I guess in a nutshell that is why I found the CNS article distressing. In my humble opinion, it somehow labeled these others as unworthy. I will not allow that to happen in my little chunk of the world. I can’t let that happen. If I do, I have abandoned all those kids to the world. Maybe I read to much into the CNS list. I did read Fr. Groeschel’s condemnation of ND as a whole and some of the other bits that go with the list. I admit it did form my opinion about what it was trying to do. I stand here (well, at least IMAGINE that I am standing) and declaring what I hold to be true. I don’t think we differ, any of us, in our love for the Faith. And we all love where we spent years of our lives in formation. For all their flaws, they did produce US, after all…lol.

BTW, thank you so much for your clear explanation and pointers to the question i asked about Catholic identity. It helped me greatly.

Artie September 22, 2009 at 9:09 pm

Mark my dearest brother in Christ,

Great post and my frustration needs to be put placed in the form of prayer! You didn’t say this, but profoundly this is what I got from your post.

You stated:

My training and study has led me to believe that I must work within the system somehow (again, I am not sure how) to correct, improve, influence, teach, give example and do every other form of evangelism combined with prayer to make better what I see.

We are all part of the body of Christ, and we cannot possibly do it all on our own, I think you realize that. I struggle with this at times, but I have to remember to be the person that God called me to be. I have to remember to be an instrument for Him. Unfortunately the instrument (me) can be out of tune too often, so I am asking God to tune me before he uses me as an instrument in the orchestra!

Anything we do we should do it for Him. I fail at times, but what matters is how fast we pick ourselves up and push forward.

You state,

If we fight to call some not on “our” side, then I fear the opponent has succeeded.

I am afraid that some maybe wolves in sheep clothing. I have a hard time discerning those who are on “our” side. I don’t know what is worse a secular school or a school that claims to be one thing, but the actions sometimes do not reflect the claims it makes.

I am also one of those Catholics who refuse to go to a parish where the crucifix is not present. So I may be too orthodox/conservative for some.

Mark September 23, 2009 at 7:48 am

Artie, you and I are probably much more alike than may come across in these interchanges. I too would not belong to a parish that denies the crucifix by not showing it. I take my role as a catechist in RCIA very seriously and try to pass on the foundations of our faith and practice to those entering the church. I admit I may be spoiled here in Philadelphia. The attention to the rubrics is outstanding throughout and I attribute that to the thorough attention paid to liturgical activity by the archdiocese as well as the presence of a seminary here. I am certain that we all pray that the church may be one, not just that our orthodox eastern and our protestant brothers and sisters but that we also who are of the Latin church. May the peace of God our Father, the Love of Jesus Christ and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be upon us all!

Mark September 23, 2009 at 7:55 am

Artie, I suspect you and I may be very much alike. I agree with your statement about the crucifix and as a catechis my role is to pass on the Faith and it’s practice as taught by the Church, not by the current fad or other influences. I may be spoiled here in Philadelphia where we have a very attentive Archbishop (Cardinal Rigali), a very active Liturgy office and a vibrant and growing seminary. I am saddened to think that we are all not one in the Latin church, let alone our brothers and sisters in the orthodox east and the protestant denominations. I know all of us pray that we become one and trust our frustrations to the Holy Spirit who guides, corrects and enlivens the Church. Grace to all of us here and peace, from our Lord Jesus Christ. He is our strength!

Chris Altieri September 22, 2009 at 7:13 am

Dear Artie,

I understand, and I sympathize with much of your frustration.

Please, revisit the conversation, and find where one of the participants suggests that Catholic identity is “optional”.


Mark September 22, 2009 at 7:21 am


I’m glad you weighed in with your comments. It enriches this forum. Could you describe how one would define Catholic Identity as it relates to Catholic Colleges? Is there a mission statement you would look to or perhaps a declaration of conformity to the Magisterium? I get lost in these discussions without some definitions. It appeared that CNS tried to make a list but I am not sure what they used as objective criteria. If I am going to lay out $100,000 plus for an education based on Catholic identity as one of the criteria, I would like to know what objectively it means. CNS didn’t do this that I saw but rather presented this as opinion and I am not sure I understand where they are coming from or if they have a particular point of view that is objective and rational. Unfortunately, what I did read seems to imply that the colleges on the list have “IT” and the ones not listed are lacking “IT”. What is “IT” and why should I trust them to get it right?

Artie September 22, 2009 at 7:18 pm

Could you describe how one would define Catholic Identity as it relates to Catholic Colleges?

I think a prerequisite question to this would be, “What does it mean to be Catholic?” If a University is going to make a claim to be a Catholic University are there some standards that need to be met? To me it is not that difficult, Catholic identity requires that the College community understand its ecclesial nature and mission.

Is there a mission statement you would look to or perhaps a declaration of conformity to the Magisterium?

Faithfulness is always a great start. The mission statement should be in line with what I said above, but what good are missions statements when they are directly neglected.

I will also quote the “Apostolic Constitution on Catholic Universities” ~

“By its very nature, each Catholic university makes an important contribution to the Church’s work of evangelization. It is a living institutional witness to Christ and his message, so vitally important in cultures marked by secularism, or where Christ and his message are still virtually unknown.”

I get lost in these discussions without some definitions. It appeared that CNS tried to make a list but I am not sure what they used as objective criteria.

In regards to objective criteria and the list it has. I believe you will find your answers here (

In short they looked for those who actively lived their catholic identity. They did not screen for size or locale or other extraneous criteria. Perhaps this is or is not objective enough for some or all.

Mark September 22, 2009 at 8:54 pm

I just finished replying above and thanking you for this most excellent response. I value the effort you put into these points and I understand much better where you are coming from. It is truly a shame that all of us could not be together in one room, sharing a meal, a bit to drink, and this most excellent debate and fellowship. Now THIS is Catholic identity. We differ not in belief, or dogma or God or the Church, just in some of the ways it is expressed in places we love. What a wonderful time we would have. Even typing this, I feel a bit of that rush, the joy of spirited, Spirit-filled discussion. Thank you and everyone else for enriching my soul with this conversation. I have grown from the gifts each has shared here.

Matthew Warner September 23, 2009 at 9:42 am

Amen to that!

Artie September 22, 2009 at 7:59 am

Please, revisit the conversation, and find where one of the participants suggests that Catholic identity is “optional”.

Please state where I said one of the participants suggested that Catholic Identity is “optional”. This was not my argument. You need to revisit past events, and you will find where some universities made Catholic identity “optional”.

Mark I will get back with you on that this evening.

Mark September 22, 2009 at 8:09 am

Thanks, Artie, I look forward to your response.

Chris Altieri September 22, 2009 at 8:44 am

Dear Artie,

Forgive me.

I was moved by the passion of your earlier post, though I had a very hard time getting a handle on your argument.

Just so that it is clear: I think that “Catholic Identity” is not just one important issue; it is the issue, upon which the health of our whole society depends.

I also think that the CNS guide tends to harm the debate over Catholic identity, and that is why I engaged Matthew.

Let me be absolutely crystal about this: I do not believe the people at the Cardinal Newman Society acted in bad faith; I am sure they had none but the best motives.

I am not sure what you mean about my revisiting past events.

Do you mean Notre Dame this past Spring?

If so, then I can tell you that ND is far from having “ruined” its Catholic identity.

The worst that can be said, is that the ND administration made a series of serious mistakes.

If you decide, on the other hand, to praise, e.g. the Notre Dame theology dept., you will find yourself in some very fine company, indeed. None finer than bishop D’Arcy.


Artie September 22, 2009 at 7:53 pm

Do you mean Notre Dame this past Spring?

If so, then I can tell you that ND is far from having “ruined” its Catholic identity.

The worst that can be said, is that the ND administration made a series of serious mistakes.

If you decide, on the other hand, to praise, e.g. the Notre Dame theology dept., you will find yourself in some very fine company, indeed. None finer than bishop D’Arcy.

Notre Dame will always have a Catholic identity, but an authentic Catholic identity, I am not so sure? My friend, I know that numerous of you who have gone to these universities and now alumni feel very apologetic about the situation. I probably would be to, if I had a very orthodox experience and saw first hand the good things that come out of a Catholic experience. I do not doubt any of you for being good and faithful Catholics or having a great sound Catholic education.

As an outsider looking at the events that took place at Notre Dame this spring, I can’t help but think to myself, “Are you kidding me? This is the Catholic identity they are representing?”

Notre Dame’s decision to confer an honorary Doctor of Law Degree upon a President who fails to recognize the Right to Life has a silver lining. Catholics in America like me are asking ourselves what is going on in South Bend, Indiana?

At least live up to the name sake of “Notre Dame”. Our Lady is ultimately pro life to the core, so much so that she gave birth to the Word Incarnate.

This U.S.President who calls us to care for our neighbor has a terrible double standard in his claims to compassion and solidarity. The man fails to hear the cry of the poor in the womb.

In the words of the Bishops of the United States: “The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.” In spite of the play on words of Fr. Jenkins and his apologists, Notre Dame has overtly disobeyed this clear instruction.

Your argument is that this doesn’t ruin its Catholic Identity…. perhaps you are right, all my protestant friends consider the majority of Catholics mislead in regards to pro life issues anyways. The way the majority of Catholics voted this election proves that point for my friends outside the Church.

So if Notre Dame is the Catholic Identity that some embrace…. count me out, I don’t want to be associated in anyway until the tide turns in a more faithful direction and some apologies are made.

Sorry, but me being a very pro life Catholic I am disgusted with Notre Dame, and I know many alumni who feel the same way as I do.

That being said, I agree with the Cardinal Newman Society and I will be making a donation to them because I think they serve a great cause within the Church.

Matthew 10:34-36

Chris Altieri September 23, 2009 at 12:59 am

Dear Artie,

Once again, I have no doubt that the CNS is trying to serve the greatest of causes in which the Church is engaged, this side of Jerusalem.

Once again, I have studied the matter and come to the conclusion that the CNS, despite its laudable intentions, has actually done a disservice.

So we have a disagreement.

Our disagreement, however, is not over CNS’ intentions; neither is our disagreement over the gravity of the crisis (whether inside the Church or whether within the larger society…culture…civilization); our disagreement is over the real usefulness of a single tool.

Perhaps this puts things into perspective.

For the record, I think that when Georgetown allowed the President’s people to cover the iota – eta – sigma (IHS), they betrayed their Catholic identity much more fully, and compromised their commitments far more profoundly, than did ND.

I dealt with ND extensively over at my place, especially here:

On G’town, I had this:

Can we now agree to disagree about the relative usefulness of the CNS guide and begin to talk constructively about how to strengthen Catholic identity on campus?

Best, C.

If all are agreed, I would be happy to put something up over at my place, so as not to hijack Matt’s com-box.

Ben D. September 22, 2009 at 1:53 pm


No one disparaged the schools on the CNS list, whether by name or by implication.

Actually Rachel disparaged Wyoming Catholic by name — suggesting that because it is a very young school it almost certainly doesn’t have a strong Catholic intellectual life.

And if the following comment of yours, which was quoted several times, did not implicitly disparage the schools on the list — i.e., by implying that at the schools CNS names, students are fed doctrine by the spoonful — then I’d really appreciate it if you could clarify what you meant:

One of the things the CNS does not seem to understand is that learning theology is not a matter of being fed doctrine by the spoonful.

Thanks, Ben

Rachel September 22, 2009 at 4:37 pm

Ben, and others –

I did not mean for my comments to be taken disparagingly towards Wyoming Catholic College or any of the others on the list.

What I was instead trying to highlight is that there are vast differences between Catholic colleges both on and off the CNS list, which makes making the comparisons which the CNS seems to be making, very difficult.

It’s my opinion that comparing a college founded less than five years ago and which has fewer than 100 undergraduates alongside a university which was founded over 150 years ago and which has 8,000 undergraduates in several different colleges just can’t be done. I’m not saying here that WCC is then obviously vastly inferior to a place like ND–not at all. What I am saying is that we need to realize that both WCC and ND offer very unique experiences to the students who choose to go there, and that they carry very different histories with them.

I think that the Church here in the USA can only benefit with the flourishing of new, faithful, orthodox Catholic colleges in America. I sincerely hope that they can be something which Notre Dame currently is not.

But, at the same time, we have to realistically admit that they are far from where ND is in terms of academic rigor and the opportunities it can offer its students. That’s just honesty. Notre Dame has a world-class theology department, and an excellent philosophy department as well, with such minds as Ralph McInerny, Alasdair MacIntyre, David Solomon, and Fred Freddoso on the faculty. Notre Dame’s law school is well-known as a center for Catholic legal thought and I’d guess is probably the only highly-ranked school of law in the country where Catholicism is taken seriously in the legal thought of most of the faculty (Cathleen Kaveny excluded). In addition to these departments, ND has a number of academic institutes and programs which offer much to the university as well as to the Church, such as the Center for Ethics and Culture (which holds a fall conference each year that draws international scholars to discuss issues such as the Culture of Life, the Family, the Dialogue of Cultures, etc.), the Institute for Church Life, the Alliance for Catholic Education (which sends recent graduates to teach at Catholic schools across the country), the ECHO Program (which sends recent graduates to serve in Catholic parishes nationwide as catechists and other ministers).

As far as “being fed doctrine by the spoonful,” I think this is an accurate depiction of what I was NOT looking for when I was seeking a Catholic college five years ago. The truth of Catholicism is SO convincing, as I have studied it, that orthodoxy when taught by a professor who does not have the CCC in hand is beautiful, living, and compelling. I own the CCC (and you can easily find it online, anyway), and find its summaries helpful. But reading the original sources, or reading the documents of Vatican II, is a much more appropriate manner for a theologian to study the Church’s teaching than reading the CCC. The Church desperately needs scholarly theologians, people who can excel at secular divinity schools just the same as at Catholic ones, and you don’t get to that level when you only read the CCC, or even when your curriculum is mostly based upon it, I don’t think. Then again, I’m not sure that any of the schools on the CNS list do such a thing, but a department is only as good as its faculty, and I really question the types of professors that young start-up universities can draw.

Yes, the Obama scandal is a black eye on all of the developments that have been made at ND in the last decade. It shouldn’t have happened…but we can’t relive it, and we also can’t give up on Notre Dame.

As an alum who went through the worst of recent years at ND, culminating in Obama taking over the last few months of my time there, I am both intensely critical of AND fiercely loyal to Notre Dame. I apologize if any of my comments seem offensive, but I am trying to show you my perspective as someone familiar with the situation from the inside. And it’s not all as bad as most would make it out to be.


Ben D. September 22, 2009 at 6:23 pm


Thanks for your thoughtful response. No offense taken and I tend to hold Notre Dame in high regard for both the typical obvious reasons (flagship and all that) and for more personal ones. My absolute favorite teacher, and I think objectively the best teacher, at my own, upstartish alma mater, is a Notre Dame alumnus, for one thing — not to mention two wonderful cousins of my wife who recently graduated.

So I was pained by the Obama snafu but not put off of Notre Dame by any means.

I can’t deny that Notre Dame is more prestigious, in the world at large, than any other Catholic college in the US, and that a degree from Notre Dame provides a great deal of opportunity. But neither of these facts necessarily bears on the relative quality of the intellectual life at any other institution, as compared to ND.

Whoever wants to know what the intellectual life is like at Wyoming, or Thomas Aquinas College, or any of the others, should go visit for a week. Sit in on classes, talk with students and faculty, read some of the texts that the students are reading — and then begin to form a judgment.

And I agree entirely with what you said about the CCC vis a vis theology curriculum:

But reading the original sources, or reading the documents of Vatican II, is a much more appropriate manner for a theologian to study the Church’s teaching than reading the CCC

Which is exactly the way students at Wyoming, for one, approach theology: by reading lots and lots of Scripture and the original texts of the Fathers, the Doctors, and the great opponents of the Faith.

I’m still wondering where the idea came from that theology is taught “catechism in hand” at these places. Maybe at some, it is. Not my experience though. Perhaps TAC (where I went) and Wyoming (where I might have gone if it had existed then) are less common in that regard.

Ben D. September 22, 2009 at 6:38 pm

One last quibble:

we have to realistically admit that they are far from where ND is in terms of academic rigor

I just don’t think that has to be admitted. Academic rigor is a function of curriculum, faculty dedication and expectations, and the overall intellectual aptitude and interest of the students. I would think that any school can be as rigorous as any other.

I also suspect that having world-famous scholars in the classroom could be as much an impediment to academic rigor as an aid — in every case it would have to depend on the individual teacher. Seems to me that a teacher who is often on the lecture/book-flogging circuit and is a minor celebrity in the academic world, would have to be an extraordinary human being to also be a world-class teacher. I suspect that some of them are, and some of them aren’t.

Mark September 22, 2009 at 2:59 pm

Ben, I’ll not speak for Chris but I myself agreed with the shorthand comment “students are fed doctrine by the spoonful ” so I will respond for myself using the my context. First, in reading the line in isolation, it does appear a trifle judgemental in a negative way, as though this were completely inappropriate for everyone. For that, I must apologize. There may be students for whom a program containing a theology program which is configured like, say, Wyoming Catholic (as an example in a diferent context that you mentioned) is just what they want and need. Again, each student is individual but to be honest the listing for the four years in theology has nothing which appears to be much beyond what is presented in the Catechism. For instance, in my somewhat ancient college career (Villanove BS Biology 1975) I was exposed in classwork to much of what is listed here pages 46-53 (though not in the Catechism format for obvious reasons) plus reformation and counter-reformation issues team taught by catholic and protestant theologians, catholic social teaching focusing on Rerum Novarum, the Torah and Talmud taught by a rabbi whose name I have forgotten on the theology faculty, Catholic moral theology focusing on sexuality, end of life and bioethics issues taught by published authors and accredited theologians along with the origins of Catholic philosophy, Catholic influences on Science (I was a biology major) and Catholicism in Western Civilization. We had daily mass, daily confession, eucharistic adoration and availability of a pastoral staff of three priests to visit for spiritual direction or to just talk to when life suddenly got hard and God felt distant. Wow, lol…wish I had the chance to get back there. Anyway, perhaps “fed doctrine by the spoonful” sounds harsh but it kind of makes me wonder where all the other stuff I studied is in some of these smaller schools. And I wasn’t a theology major.

Ben D. September 22, 2009 at 4:02 pm


Thanks — although I’m wondering what you mean by “Catechism format”. As I read the catalog, the theology program at WCC is a fairly broad and direct immersion in the original texts of many of the Fathers and Doctors, as well as most, if not all, of Scripture — not to mention some of the major “opposition” texts (I saw Arius, Pelagius, and Nestorius mentioned).

It draws on the CCC for thematic and other inspiration, but those themes are pretty universal (“Incarnation” and “Salvation”, etc.). I can’t really see “four years reading the Fathers and Doctors and the entire Bible” as being spoon-fed doctrine, no matter how the readings are organized.

Now if you got all that and more at Villanova as a biology major in the early 70s, that’s wonderful, but that might be more of a commentary on the general decline of academic rigor at all levels of American education, than anything else. Did you by any chance attend a Catholic prep school in the late 60s?

I only ask because I attended a Catholic prep school in the late 90s and got one of the more rigorous high-school educations one could get in the area — but compared to what I would have got there in the 60s (and what my dad did get) — well, I’m tempted to nostalgia-by-proxy.

Here’s a simple example: In the early 60s at least, at the same prep school that I attended in the 90s, everyone studied Latin, period. The brightest students also studied Greek, the average students French, and the less-academically-inclined, Spanish.

I don’t know how good of an idea this sort of intellectual segregation was, but the point is that everyone studied two languages, and Latin was taken for granted.

Can you imagine doing something like that in high school today? And don’t even get me started on the theology (a word that’s not even used in much of the academy any more). I’m just glad the CCC existed and we had a copy of it at home, or I wouldn’t have learned much at all about my faith in high school. Learned a bit about Sikhism, though.

So I’m wondering how far it goes, to compare 1970s Villanova with any college in 2009. I’d be more interested to know how much theology, and of what sort, the typical non-theology-major at Villanova gets now, having been prepared for college by today’s high schools.

Mark September 22, 2009 at 8:34 pm

Ben, Thanks for your note. You raise good questions and point to some excellent courses at WCC. For me, personally, it sounds like a nice place but I wanted a different experience. At a truly Catholic university.

Since you asked, I went to a parochial high school, took French and Latin (though not well, lol). As a point of comparison, my daughter graduated from Villanova in 2001 with a major in psychology and a minor in theology. The theology was obviously more rigorous than what I had experienced. Her background was public hs where she took french and latin (very well indeed). It kinda reminds me of my original reason for getting into this discussion now that I ponder it. It seems to me that you basically get out of the college what you put in. If you are engaged and want a certain type of experience, you will likely get what you aim for, big or small college, catholic, secular, whatever. A catholic identity is what the person brings and what the person causes to happen and what the college nurtures. I believe strongly in the working of the Holy Spirit in each of us, even when we are late teens…lol. Villanova helped form me into the Catholic I am today, however one sees me, a sinner but a son of the Father…and I helped form Villanova into what it is, positives and negatives together. In a place with 20,000 students, a small city such as Villanova, the Catholic identity is there but may feel different that that at another smaller school or one with a hospital or a seminary as part of it. In the end, I am responsible for my Catholic identity. I chose Villanova myself for what it was at the time, a true Catholic University that would help develop MY Catholic identity. 25 years later, my daughter, with my input, made the same choice, was affected I think positively and clearly felt she had a role on campus to make that Catholic identity shine and grow. So, I guess it all comes down to each person praying and then acting.

Angela Santana September 22, 2009 at 5:09 pm

I hope Rachel and the rest of the world will be happy to hear about St. Mary’s University School of Law, one of the nation’s best law schools, and is home to the U.S.’ Center for Terrorism Law. St. Mary’s provides students with clinical experience through a unique program where individuals living in the “underprivileged” area around campus and throughout the city are represented.

I’m proud to say that although I’m not a Law student, the Law School has taught me a lot by their example, with programs championing Catholic concerns i.e. against the death penalty, pro-social justice, supporting young mothers, etc.

Learning about what others are doing excites and challenges me. I wish only the best to every Catholic youth looking for schools that will shape their whole being for the better.

Chris Altieri September 22, 2009 at 6:24 pm

Dear Ben D,

You ask what I meant by the following: “One of the things the CNS does not seem to understand is that learning theology is not a matter of being fed doctrine by the spoonful.”

Said shortly, I meant what I said.

That is too short, though.

If I were to draw the thought out a little bit, I would do it thus:

1. The Cardinal Newman Society (CNS) seems to believe that getting an education in theology is a matter of being fed doctrine by the spoonful.

2. Where the CNS sees what it understands to be didactic activity that corresponds to such a program, it will deem the place praiseworthy.

3. Thus, CNS praises a school (by, e.g., making it appear in the CNS Guide to Catholic Colleges and Universities) inasmuch as CNS understands a school’s didactic program to be in accord with its vision of what theological education is.

I hope that in this breakdown the emphasis falls sufficiently on CNS’ deficient understanding of that, in which real theological education consists. I also hope it is sufficiently clear that I do not think the schools on the CNS list necessarily fit the CNS bill. To the extent that I am familiar with the schools on the list, I can say they do not fit that bill.

Rachel has spoken eloquently in response to your indictment of her use of the Wyoming example. The discussion requires nothing further from me in that direction.

Looking back over the discussion, it is curious to find you you, Ben, and a few other late-comers, particularly concerned to take umbrage at certain pithy turns of phrase that appear within a lengthy and wide-ranging discussion of a thorny issue, and then establish the righteousness of your indignation.

None of us is unfeeling. None of us is immune to the emotional concomitants involved in the issues we are discussing here. We are trying to deal with each other gracefully, and we are willing to give each other the benefit of the doubt.

I think we ought, all of us, to continue to assume the very best in our interlocutors. The debate, and all our souls, will doubtless benefit from the practice of such graciousness.


Matthew Warner September 23, 2009 at 9:56 am

Just wanted to thank everyone for their thoughts and a good discussion on all of this. You’re always welcome to continue discussing…it’s a blessing to the community here at Fallible Blogma.

Comment box discussions are challenging for many reasons and it’s easy to get caught up on specific ways things are worded that stick out to you personally, but may not have been intended in that way by the writer. I know that’s the case with the way some interpreted or over simplified a few of the things I wrote. It’s easy to end up spending too much time defending the way we worded something or the way somebody took offense or the way we didn’t really mean it like that, etc. All the while, as Mark said, if we were all discussing over a meal we’d probably most all be nodding our head in agreement, learning from each other and building some solid friendships.

I think it’s safe to say that we’re all much more interested in how we help solve the bigger problem of improving the true Catholic identity of our many imperfect Catholic colleges.

Here is something that was written even way back in 1999 (i think)….what do you all think?

Mark September 23, 2009 at 10:10 am


I agree with everything expressed in this piece and do know that college presidents and faculties, secular and religious, have this almost medieval approach to the university being priveleged ground. Seems to me, on top of all this that the times are indeed changing, from the bottom up at the gigger schools and “outside-in” with the advent of new Catholic colleges that this 1999 document has traction. We do, however, need to remember that everything in our beloved church happens in God’s good time, not ours. So as one who prays constantly for patience it is important to remember that today’s young Catholic has more together with regard to her/his faith than I did when I was that age. I am encouraged.

Matthew Warner September 24, 2009 at 9:54 am

I agree, Mark. But certainly one of the reasons things may be beginning to change is because of pressure being put on many of these colleges to “shape up.” And that pressure comes from the protests, out-cry (perhaps we could be more loving when we do so), and from organizations like CNS who try to develop a discerning standard where there is none (even though some may not like it) to actively hold colleges up to.

I guess that’s why I see the merits of having something like the CNS. And perhaps instead of attacking it as saying some schools aren’t “catholic”…which I don’t think it does, perhaps we should give them some constructive suggestions on how they could improve their criteria?

If we were to do such a thing…what do you guys/gals think would be something constructive to add to their criteria in order to improve their list in your view?

I wrote to them and asked what their specific criteria were for their list and they said the primary factor is “Catholic Identity.” Their Q&A section reveals a little more. Here’s a clip from it:

This Guide represents the Catholic colleges that we were able to identify as placing a premium on their Catholic identity in all aspects of campus life. They also provide a good education. Among those colleges not included in the Guide are some with strong academic credentials but that do not have, in our opinion, the same commitment to Catholic identity. The opportunity for strengthening spiritual formation during the college years is enhanced where Catholic teachings are constantly reinforced. We believe that the best combination of spiritual and academic commitment is reflected in the colleges recommended in this Guide.

They also say:

What is Ex corde Ecclesiae?
It is the Apostolic Constitution on Catholic higher education issued by Pope John Paul II in 1990. The document, which is available at, identifes what constitutes Catholic identity at Catholic colleges and universities and specifies General Norms
to achieve a Catholic mission. These Norms are binding on Catholic colleges as an application of Canon Law. In 1999 the U.S. bishops approved guide-lines to implement Ex corde Ecclesiae in the
United States; these became effective in 2001.

Compliance by the U.S. Catholic colleges and universities varies widely. Clearly, a Catholic institution that minimizes or subverts Ex corde Ecclesiae, which has the force of Canon Law, has serious problems with its Catholic identity. All colleges recommended in this Guide
enthusiastically support and abide by Ex corde Ecclesiae.

What are you all’s thoughts on that and how their criteria process could be improved to better reflect what you feel the list should be?

Thomas January 10, 2012 at 8:25 pm

Holy Spirit College is a fantastic small, independent college in Atlanta, Ga. I’ve studied there for 3 years and the character of the institution within identifying to the Catholic perspective within teachings and academics makes a strong impact.

Julie November 26, 2012 at 8:57 am

As I’ve read through the comments, I find it disturbing that one “Catholic” would declare themselves better, or more “authentic” than another. Doesn’t Catholicism teach us to be non-judgemental? When did it become okay for you to cast the first stone???

As far as your guide for choosing a Catholic higher education. . . someone who is strong and rooted in their faithfulness would not allow their “identity” to be compromised by attending a less than “authentic” Catholic university or college. And should this young student not have their “catholic identity” in place yet, then perhaps they need to find it on their own before landing somewhere that will teach you to “be” what they want you to be.

Shame on those of you who profess to be better than any of us who follow the Catholic faith, attend mass, pray, live good & decent lives, provide assistance to those in need, etc. . . .I’m proud to call myself Catholic and to stand for all that I’ve been taught and all that I believe. I would be ashamed having thoughts as many of you do. No wonder why there’s been such a call for Catholics to return home, to the church. I’m sure there are so many who have been turned off by such rejection and ignorance.

51 comments Add comment

Previous post:

Next post: