End Notes: The International Catholic University

When Ex corde ecclesiae, the document on the nature of the Catholic university, appeared a few years ago, I was a member of a panel on a campus other than my own. The topic under discussion was, serendipitously, I thought, the Catholic character of the institution which hosted the discussion. By sheer accident, I had received an early copy of the document, and I made it the basis for my own remarks. If I had imagined a negative reaction it would have been to my being in possession of a document that was only officially issued on the day of the seminar. To my surprise, instant and implacable hostility to Ex corde ecclesiae was almost universal among members of the panel and, as far as I could tell, in the audience as well. What is one to make of this?

The sequel was hardly more encouraging. Our bishops eventually prepared some ordinances for the implementation of Ex corde ecclesiae. The reception of these was, if possible, more contemptuous than to the original document, though friends of the Magisterium found these ordinances somewhat toothless as laws and overly diffident as suggestions. So negative was the reaction that the bishops eventually withdrew the ordinances. By now it was clear that our Catholic institutions of higher learning were indisposed to take lessons from the Church and yet, by calling themselves Catholic, they implicated the Church in their efforts.

There is an old Scholastic adage, quidquid recipitur, ad modurn recipientis recipitur. It comes down to the opposite of “Consider the source.” The intended addresses of the statement on the Catholic university were, pretty obviously, the faculty, students, and administrators of Catholic universities. And it was pretty quickly obvious that almost nobody was home, out to lunch, perhaps, or at least indisposed to receive the message.

The dissenting attitude toward the Magisterium that the Magisterium chose for so long to ignore — it wasn’t until the 2nd Extraordinary Synod in 1985 (held in the wake of Messori’s famous interview with Cardinal Ratzinger) and, more recently, in Veritatis splendor, that the widespread dissent that has characterized so much of the educational establishment since 1968 has been formally[?] addressed. The results are fairly discouraging, as the case of Ex corde ecclesiae illustrates.

On any human reckoning, the slide toward secularization on our Catholic campuses is irreversible — certainly at the Jesuit institutions and at Notre Dame. Already perhaps faculties have reached a critical mass of tenured members indifferent or hostile to the question of the Catholic character of their institutions. This is my 40th year as a member of the faculty at Notre Dame, and it is sad to think that the robust and lively Catholicism that once characterized the intellectual and imaginative activities of my predecessors and contemporaries will soon be a dimming memory, although worship and social awareness continue to flourish. The Catholic intellectual is in diaspora in what should be his native habitat. Can anything be done?

Try this thought experiment. Think of all the great Catholic professors scattered over the country on the various campuses. They can be thought of, I suggest, as in diaspora, no longer part of a collective effort of their once Catholic institutions, but reduced to freelance status, each of them doing a lot of good, both intellectual and spiritual, but atoms freed from an organism. Now imagine them all brought together to form a new university, one meant to be what Ex corde ecclesiae says a Catholic university ought to be. Not that these professors have to be persuaded; it is their view as well. The result would be an institution sans pareil.

Unrealistic? Not at all. It is coming into actuality right now. On February 8, on ETWN’s Mother Angelica Live, the announcement was made. The International Catholic University came into being, its faculty to be united not in buildings or on a campus, but by electronic meetings. ICU will be up and running in the spring with an array of mini-courses which will cover the gamut of the Catholic intellectual and spiritual patrimony. By the fall, we should be moving into master’s programs in philosophy and theology. There is no limit to what this new university might become.

The technological means are at hand. An elite band of Catholic professors is signing on for the task. The passage from potency to act — or to virtuality, perhaps — is taking place thanks to two angels. First and foremost, the redoubtable Mother Angelica. Second, a financial angel from a city south of Los Angeles. Interested? In a few weeks a five part series, Out of the Heart of the Church, will be shown on EWTN and soon thereafter the first mini-courses will be aired. Meanwhile, for more information, call or write me.


  • Ralph McInerny

    Ralph McInerny was a popular writer, philosopher, and teacher, as well as the co-founder of Crisis Magazine. He passed away on January 29, 2010.

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