Hiring for Mission at Catholic Colleges and Universities

Quite simply, in order to have a faithful Catholic college or university, you need to have a faculty that honors and respects the teachings of the Church both in their teaching and in their behaviors.

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In his Convocation Address at Ave Maria University earlier this academic year, San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone discussed the significance of Catholic higher education as a “modern solution to guide an age that has lost its way.” Reaffirming Ave Maria University’s commitment to faithful Catholic higher education and her dedication to teaching faith and reason, Archbishop Cordileone reminded those in attendance at the Convocation ceremony that the mission of Catholic education is to serve the Church’s mission of sanctification and evangelization.

Ave Maria University was the best place to provide such an important address. From its earliest days, the mission of its founder, Tom Monaghan, has been to “help as many people as possible get into heaven.” This salvific vision continues to guide the university through the university’s mission statement, which describes the school as:

Founded in fidelity to Christ and His Church…dedicated to the advancement of human culture, the promotion of dialogue between faith and reason, and the formation of men and women in the intellectual and moral virtues of the Catholic faith…”

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For Archbishop Cordileone, the goal of Catholic higher education—like the goal of a Catholic worldview—is the flourishing of the human person. Toward that goal, the archbishop identified the three pillars of Catholic education: faith and reason, virtue, and the sacramental principle. A truly Catholic college or university 

allows for a mutual penetration of the theological into the other sciences and vice versa, while still keeping their appropriate scientific methods separate. The thriving of both the properly secular and the theological means that both have a seat at the academic table. 

For Archbishop Cordileone, a truly Catholic college incorporates virtues like humility and chastity into the culture and curriculum of the campus: “indeed all the virtues—as the way in which the human person can flourish and achieve the ultimate graced end.” Finally, the archbishop concluded that “A truly Catholic education must hold out the sacramental principle not only as the center of religious sensibility, but also as the center of the understanding of all reality.” In the sacramental principle, there is the rejection of a purely material view of reality and, instead, the recognition of the spiritual. “In other words, we see both the search for truth and its fulfillment—a truth that moves the mind from the purely passing material reality to the eternality of the spiritual.” “A truly Catholic education must hold out the sacramental principle not only as the center of religious sensibility, but also as the center of the understanding of all reality.”

-Archbishop Cordileone
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It is this pursuit of Truth that characterizes the culture and curriculum of a faithful Catholic college or university—and differentiates the faithful few from those schools which have become secularized. The pursuit of Truth is a journey that must be led by the faculty and academic administration. It is a pursuit that is intellectually inquisitive and morally committed to upholding the teachings of the Catholic Church.    

As Fr. James T. Burtchaell, C.S.C., author of The Dying of the Light, suggested more than three decades ago in “Current Issues in Catholic Higher Education: Commitments and Communities”:

Every quality that a college or university desires as an institutional characteristic must be embodied in its faculty: they are what most make it what it is. To seek academic excellence would be in vain for instance, unless at every evaluation of faculty and in every personnel decision, this excellence were a quality openly sought after. If an institution professes to be Catholic, not just nominally but in ways that are intellectually inquisitive and morally committed, then it is simply imperative that faculty and administrators unabashedly pursue and articulate those interests and those commitments in the recruitment and the advancement of colleagues. Neither intellectual excellence nor religious commitment nor any other positive value will exist within an institution unless each of those qualities is candidly recruited and evaluated and preferred in the appointments of its faculty.

Quite simply, in order to have a faithful Catholic college or university, you need to have a faculty that honors and respects the teachings of the Church both in their teaching and in their behaviors. An advocate for reproductive choice or supporter of gender ideology would not be someone who honors and respects Catholic teachings.

Recruitment and hiring for mission is key to protecting the Catholic identity of the faithful Catholic college or university. Most of the more than 200 Catholic colleges and universities have no problem finding academically excellent faculty members, but far fewer of them have any idea whether their faculty is “morally committed” to the truth of Catholic teachings as they come to us through the magisterium. The reason for that is because the hiring process in most Catholic colleges and universities affords little opportunity to assess the moral views of potential job candidates. In fact, on some Catholic campuses, faculty members of hiring committees are forbidden from asking candidates about their support for Catholic teachings on life issues, marriage, and the current controversies surrounding gender ideology. 

This problem emerged recently at Providence College when two professors attempted to assess whether a potential job candidate for a faculty position in Healthcare Ethics would support Church teachings on gender ideology. This was a legitimate concern—especially since the potential colleague would be teaching ethics to students in the college’s newly founded Nursing School. While the secular culture has embraced the idea that a man can become a woman and a woman can become a man—and actually give birth to a child as a man or a “birthing person”—Catholic teachings condemn such a preposterous proposition.

Yet, at Providence College, faculty in the philosophy department are explicitly barred from questioning potential faculty members whether they personally support the Church’s teachings on these contested issues. In fact, in a recent attempt to avoid violating the college’s directive to refrain from asking potential faculty members about their personal views on contested issues, two faculty members asked job candidates about their professional philosophical views on the morality of gender reassignment surgery for minors. They were both formally disciplined by a senior academic administrator. In the letter to the offending faculty member, the senior administrator wrote: “Given that holding a specific set of personal beliefs is not a job requirement, direct questioning about those personal beliefs is inappropriate.”   

It is clear that at Providence College it is not a job requirement to personally support Catholic teachings on controversial issues including abortion, euthanasia, or gender reassignment surgery. One of the two offending professors had received a similar censure nine years earlier when he had asked a job candidate about the candidate’s willingness to present the prolife position on abortion. The offending faculty member has been prohibited from serving on search committees or interacting in any way with job candidates for a period of two years, renewable. After this two-year period, assuming that the suspension is lifted and he is once again allowed to question potential candidates, this faculty member will continue to live under a formal threat of termination—loss of employment—if any attempt through direct questioning is made to discern a potential faculty member’s personal support for Catholic teachings.

Justifying the harsh penalties the administrator has imposed, including his decision to suspend the offending professor from participating in future candidate searches, the administrator’s letter of discipline cited Federal Equal Employment laws governing job searches. But this administrator must know that religious corporations, associations, educational institutions, or societies are exempt from the federal laws that EEOC enforces when it comes to the employment of individuals based on their particular religion. This exception relieves Catholic colleges and universities from the ban on employment discrimination based on religion or personal religious beliefs.

Even accrediting agencies and the American Association of University Professors appear to exempt religious colleges and universities from the guidelines that constrain secular schools: 

Perhaps the most surprising experience for some candidates occurs when they are asked personal questions about faith and religious life. At religiously affiliated colleges, these kinds of questions are legally permitted, although inquiries about spouses, marital status, and children are off-limits. If religious faith is deemed an essential part of an institution’s mission, a right to raise questions of personal faith and practice [emphasis added] is recognized in law, by accrediting agencies, and even by the American Association of University Professors. It’s controversial but true; religious institutions are allowed to discriminate on the basis of religious faith.

Faculty and administrators at a Catholic college or university not only have the right to know whether a prospective faculty member holds views that are in keeping with the Catholic mission of the school, they have an obligation to do so. Gender ideology is contested terrain now in academia. But the Church’s teachings are clear on this, and Pope Francis has been harsh in his censure of those who would “erase differences between men and women.” Earlier this month, at an international conference titled “Man-Woman: Image of God. Towards an Anthropology of Vocations,” Pope Francis warned against the dangers of gender ideology—condemning it as a “threat to humanity.”

It is difficult to understand the hard line that the senior administration at Providence College has taken with regard to forbidding faculty from finding out whether a potential candidate is indeed an appropriate mission fit. If any of the service academies, including the United States Military Academy at West Point, or the Naval Academy, took the Providence College route of “don’t ask don’t tell” about one’s personal views on the military, the government, and support for the Constitution, they could inadvertently find themselves employing faculty who spend their “off hours” as members of subversive groups, including right-wing militia members or left-wing radicals. 

But that would never happen. The service academies are careful about mission fit—they know who they are hiring to teach their cadets and midshipmen. They understand the importance of the mission to help shape future leaders charged with protecting and defending the country.  

Likewise, faithful Catholic colleges like Ave Maria University and Franciscan University of Steubenville prioritize hiring for mission. Furthermore, these faithful Catholic colleges have fully implemented Pope St. John Paul II’s Ex Corde Ecclesiae Article 4, section 1, which states clearly that the responsibility for hiring is “shared in varying degrees by all members of the university community.” At these faithful Catholic schools, Theology and Philosophy professors are required to take the mandatum pledging to their presiding bishops that their teaching is within the full communion of the Catholic Church.Perhaps it is time for Providence College to begin again to consider the personal as well as the professional perspectives on Catholic teachings of all potential faculty members. It may help them recover their Catholic identity.


  • Anne Hendershott

    Anne Hendershott is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University of Steubenville, OH. She is the author of The Politics of Envy (Crisis Publications, 2020).

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