Some of the nation’s leading Catholic educators say a crisis in Catholic higher education can only be fully addressed when Catholic laity educate themselves in the teachings of the Church, and colleges and universities that call themselves “Catholic” actually live and teach the faith they claim to profess.
“We have a real crisis in Catholic higher education, where in far too many places, high school students are going off to colleges and universities that call themselves ‘Catholic,’ yet after four years they come out with no faith at all,” says Father Hezekias Carnazzo, founder and executive director of the McLean, Virginia-based Institute of Catholic Culture (ICC). “It is time for authentically Catholic schools to lead the way for a renaissance in Catholic education! When this happens, not only will it affect those colleges and universities with a weak Catholic identity, but it will redound to the level of our parishes as well.”
At a conference titled, “CRISIS: Catholic Higher Education and the Next Generation,” The Cardinal Newman Society and the ICC called together the presidents of faithful Catholic colleges to trace the secularist crisis in higher education since the release 50 years ago of what is known as the “Land O’ Lakes Statement.” The Catholic leaders are drawing more awareness to the statement and its effects on the culture of Catholic colleges, putting forward a way for parents who want their children to continue in the faith of the Church after high school.
In 1967, a group of administrators from some of America’s most prominent Catholic universities and colleges, led by Father Theodore Hesburgh, CSC, president of the University of Notre Dame, met in Land O’ Lakes, Wisconsin to begin the call for academic freedom and essentially liberate Catholic universities in the United States from the oversight of the Church’s bishops.
The participants at the Land O’ Lakes conference – most of them Jesuit priests – included Rev. Gerard J. Campbell, S.J., president of Georgetown University, Rev. Michael P. Walsh, S.J., president of Boston College, Rev. Leo McLaughlin, S.J., president of Fordham University, and Rev. Paul C. Reinert, S.J., president of Saint Louis University.
CatholicHistory.net describes the Land O’ Lakes statement:
The statement, drawn up and signed by a group of Catholic educators led by University of Notre Dame president Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, CSC, had as its purpose defining the relationship between the modern American university and the Church, and between the Catholic university and American intellectual life. Characterized by historian Philip Gleason as a “declaration of independence from the hierarchy,” the statement provoked a decades-long debate over the character of American Catholic higher education. For supporters, “The Idea of the Catholic University” was a long overdue statement of Catholic educators’ agreement with the tenets of American academia, such as academic freedom, and their willingness to contribute fully to the nation’s intellectual life. For critics, the manifesto dangerously divorced the Catholic university from the life of faith and set in motion a deplorable decline in the Catholic identity of American institutions of higher education.
Patrick Reilly, president of the Newman Society; John Garvey, president of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.; Father Sean Sheridan, president of Franciscan University of Steubenville;William Thierfelder, president of Belmont Abbey College; and George Harne, president of Northeast Catholic College – came together to discuss the crisis in Catholic education since the Land O’ Lakes statement’s release.
“Following ‘Land O’ Lakes,’ the quest for secular prestige and government funding at many Catholic colleges took precedence over the commitment to providing a faithful Catholic education,” says Reilly. “These institutions weakened their core curricula, adopted a radical notion of academic freedom, embraced relativism and political correctness, and largely abandoned their responsibilities to form young people in Christ.”
“I can’t imagine the harm caused by another 50 years down this wayward path,” asserts Reilly, whose organization publishes The Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College for Catholic families who want to know which Catholic colleges are actually witnessing to the faith on campus.
In an interview with Breitbart News, Carnazzo said the Newman Society and the faithful Catholic colleges represented at the Crisis conference are “at the forefront of a tide change in the Church.”
With his organization focused primarily on the education of the Catholic laity, Carnazzo says, “the education of parents and grandparents of children going off to college is critically important.”
“Actually, we should all be interested in higher education because the primary educator of the child is the parent, and, by extension, the grandparent,” he explains. “We have to be forming the parents and grandparents in the faith so they can give to the child what they need, so that when they go off to college, or to any schooling apart from the home, it’s a place where what has begun in the home is furthered.”
Carnazzo states that by joining together with the Newman Society and the presidents of faithful Catholic colleges, the educators can “highlight the crisis that is taking place in some of our colleges so the parents know what they’re facing when they send their kids off.”
He explains, likening children going off to a college to “a soldier going out to the battlefield”:
That soldier has to have gone through formation, and, if that child is properly prepared, then they’re ready at 18, 19, or 20-years-old to be going out into the world, whether it be into the workplace or college, and to be surely founded in the faith in such a way that – no matter where the winds blow – St. Paul says they’re not going to be pushed one way or the other.
Asked by Breitbart News about whether there is more optimism for the witness of faith on Catholic campuses with a new political climate in the United States, Carnazzo responds cautiously, “There’s a ‘yes’ and ‘no’ there – maybe there’s an optimism. But our faith is in the person of Jesus Christ, and that faith must be a personal faith. It can’t be something in the distance. Education can’t be something in the distance.”
“It’s very easy to sit here and say, ‘Oh, it’s been so bad for the last eight years,’ or ‘It’s been so bad for the last 50 years,’ we all hope for a better future,” he explains. “The facts are, though, that unless we make a difference in our own life, and in the lives of our children, then what’s going on in the classroom – whether it’s for the good or for the bad – is not going to matter.”
Carnazzo says the focus must be on personal faith and the development of that faith from childhood on, so that, regardless of the cultural or political climate, the faith continues and grows.
“It’s easy to point the finger at the Obama administration – I’ve done it myself,” he laughs, “or at this or that college, but it’s time to put up the mirror and ask, ‘Am I learning the faith and growing in the faith, and giving that faith to others I’m in contact with, whether they be my kids, grandkids, co-workers, friends?’”
“We all have to become educators for others, and that means, first of all, that I’m educated and I know the way,” he says. “So, this issue is not just my pointing my finger at a problem, but an opportunity for me to say, ‘My education is a life-long journey, and unless I do something about it, I have no right to point the finger at someone else.’”