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Ask the Register: Catholic colleges?

Q. My daughter is a senior in high school, and beginning the process of college applications. We’d like her to have a Catholic education. My pastor says “not all Catholic colleges are equally Catholic.” How can we help select where our daughter should apply?

A. The very idea of a university is a Catholic idea.  In the Middle Ages, universities were begun at Paris, and Bologna, and other European cities. 

They were begun by religious institutes and bishops, seeking to form priests and laity with a robust Catholic education. They started as faculties of theology, philosophy, and law. History was soon added, and, as they developed, natural sciences. Literature, fine arts, architecture, and music were added to the mission of Europe’s universities. At their very beginning, universities sought to form students in understanding the world in parts, and understanding it as a whole, seeing the totality of God’s creative and redemptive work in the world.

Since the Middle Ages, the idea of a university has changed considerably. In the United States, most universities are public, secular institutions. And the culture of a university’s work has become increasingly about specialization in particular fields, instead of formation in the whole of life. Secular universities are often oriented toward academic research, instead of intellectual and human formation. 

And, unfortunately, many Catholic universities have begun to imitate the model of secular universities— focused on specialization and research, instead of teaching and formation.

Since the late 1960s, unfortunately, many Catholic universities have also distanced themselves from the Church and her teachings — theology and philosophy departments sometimes teach ideas unfaithful to the Gospel, and dormitories and campus ministry departments fail to form students as missionary disciples of the Church. In some cases, Catholic universities have become scandalous, openly negating or defying the enduring truths of the Gospel.

Many Catholic universities have remained faithful to the Church — dynamically orthodox and joyfully alive in Jesus Christ. Many Catholic universities are committed to the formation of missionary disciples — men and women who desire to transform the world with the mission of the Gospel, and who desire to become saints. 

Catholics interested in discovering which universities are faithful to the Church can use the Cardinal Newman Society’s college guide, (cardinalnewmansociety.org) to find faithful Catholic colleges. They should look for universities with daily Mass and regular periods of adoration, with dormitory culture that promotes chastity and virtue, and with academic departments which profess their fidelity and promotion of the Church’s doctrine. 

Universities and colleges like Benedictine College, Christendom College, the Franciscan University of Steubenville, the University of Dallas, Thomas Aquinas College, the University of Mary, and Wyoming Catholic College, to name a few, are bold and enthusiastic in the promotion of the faith.

Of course, most Catholic students in the United States study at public universities.  Public universities are often affordable, and have the ability to offer more courses of study than do most Catholic universities. At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Catholic students receive serious spiritual formation at the St. Thomas Aquinas Newman Center.  They study Scripture with FOCUS. They join Catholic fraternities and sororities. And, the Newman Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture will allow students to study the humanities, from the perspective of faith, while earning academic credit. This kind of formation exceeds the opportunities available at many Catholic colleges. 

Choosing a college is an important decision. And it is one which must be made with prudence, discernment, and careful thought. Students, and parents, must be sure that education is preparing students not only to earn a living, but to live a good, abundant, and holy life.

Write to Ask the Register using our online form, or write to 3700 Sheridan Blvd, Lincoln NE 68506-6100. All questions are subject to editing. Editors decide which questions to publish. Personal questions cannot be answered. People with such questions are urged to take them to their nearest Catholic priest.

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