It is no surprise that parents are increasingly worried about their children “losing the faith” at many Catholic colleges in the midst of growing Catholic identity concerns and scandals on campus. Even alumni of Catholic colleges, such as Charles LiMandri, a University of San Diego (USD) alumnus and father of five, feel their alma maters are no longer true to their Catholic mission.
“I have had too many parents tell me that their kids went to USD and lost their faith,” LiMandri told The Cardinal Newman Society. A graduate of the class of 1977, LiMandri removed his son from USD out of concern for the University’s dwindling Catholic identity. He now heads Alumni for a Catholic USD, a group dedicated to restoring the University’s Catholic identity and mission. “People need to know what has happened at USD in the hope of eventually changing it, and in the meantime avoiding its potential destructive impact on the spiritual lives of their sons and daughters.”
LiMandri’s eldest son, Joey, was a freshman at USD in 2012 when it was announced that the University would host its first “drag queen show.” The event, featuring students dressed as the opposite sex, was billed as a “celebration of gender expression.” Many parents and critics were concerned over the blatant disregard for the Church’s teaching on human sexuality, and wondered what it might signal for the future of the University.
“I felt that the Drag Queen contest was an egregious betrayal of [Catholic] identity,” said LiMandri. Not only was the University contradicting Church teaching without a second though, but LiMandri knew that the drag shows were just the tip of the iceberg, and that he needed to do something.
LiMandri wrote to the University chaplain. He wrote to the administration. He stated his concerns as a worried parent. He explained why embracing gender ideology could be harmful for students. But he received no response.
Drag shows were not the only issue either. LiMandri said the lack of concern for a strong Catholic identity was noticeable all over campus. Some examples he pointed to on his website included: the administration’s defense of pro-abortion student groups; offering LGBTQ courses; the University advertising for a Planned Parenthood job opening; officially recognizing numerous LGBTQ activist groups; and hosting “Queer Film Festivals” and National Coming Out Day events.
While no one is forced to attend such events, it is a completely different matter when students are subjected to the same indoctrination in the classroom. Every parent and student who cares about these issues should know that the Religious Studies Department at USD has become a “theological train wreck,” LiMandri continued.
“It is littered with tenured faculty whose professed beliefs stand in direct opposition to the teachings of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church,” he said. “For too many tenured USD faculty, their god is not our God of the Bible, but a secular liberalism. They are enthusiastically pro-abortion and push a radical homosexual agenda instead of Catholic values concerning human sexuality and marriage.”
At the prompting of other faithful USD alumni, LiMandri formed Alumni for a Catholic USD and protested the drag show on the group’s website, which keeps other alumni aware of the many growing Catholic identity concerns at their alma mater. “If I did not have the serious concerns for my son’s spiritual formation, as a dutiful parent, I would not have been so strongly motivated to launch the campaign against the USD Drag Queen contest in April 2012,” he said.
However, LiMandri also felt an obligation to get involved due to his more than ten years of service to the University. He served on the USD Board of Trustees’ Catholic Awareness Committee, then as president of USD’s Alumni Association and finally served as chairman of the USD Alumni Annual Fund, a position he eventually left to spend more time with his growing family. But his concern for the students, for alumni and for the University’s Catholic identity never wavered.
“I had encouraged potential donors to support the University because it was fulfilling the important role of instilling authentic Catholic values in its students — the future leaders of our community and nation,” he said, lamenting the University’s loss of Catholic identity. Even the life-sized bronze bust of Saint Thomas More that he donated to the USD Law School now seemed out of place.
In 2012, then-USD President Mary Lyons stated that the drag events were “intended to foster students’ understanding of, and empathy for, the complexities of gender non-conformity.” The administration again defended the drag show performance in 2013, stating, “The show as scheduled violates neither the university’s mission nor any university policies. The Celebration of Gender Expression supports the Church’s teaching on the dignity of the human person and does not promote either behavior or lifestyle that is contrary to the teachings of the Church.”
Then in 2014, the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education responded to a petition LiMandri organized, contradicting the University’s position and stating that the drag show constituted a harmful “scandal” for both students and the University. Despite alumni efforts and Vatican disapproval, the University took no significant action. USD recently celebrated its fifth annual drag show on April 14.
If USD was not going to offer the kind of Catholic education his children deserved from a Catholic university, what could LiMandri do next?
“When the drag show went forward, despite our protest, I removed my son from USD and sent him to the University of Dallas,” he said.
A Parent in Search of a Faithful Catholic College
Finding a faithful Catholic college that focuses on the formation of the entire person — morally, spiritually and intellectually — can be difficult for families. And it was no different for the LiMandris, who were eventually able to find one in the University of Dallas, recommended in The Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College.
The decision was a real sacrifice for the family, both financially and emotionally, as no parent wants to send their kids so far away for college. But the move has paid off, LiMandri shared.
His oldest, Joey, graduated from Dallas last year, where he also met his fiancee. The two plan to marry on July 2. Limandri’s second oldest, Marie, will graduate from the University of Dallas on Sunday, while his second son, Charles, just finished his freshman year. And not too far down the road, LiMandri’s two teenagers, Maddie and Sammy, will also be attending the University of Dallas instead of USD, “since Dallas still had the right to call itself an authentic Catholic university,” he said.
Parents should not be “deluded into thinking that their children can get a good Catholic education at USD” or just any college that calls itself Catholic, said LiMandri. Often times this means making that extra sacrifice to seek out the college that genuinely cares for the well-being of the students and is not ashamed of defending Catholic teaching and identity.
Alumni Must Show Catholic Identity Is Worth Protecting
“I would advise faithful alumni at other Catholic universities to also speak up in support of their university’s Catholic values and identity,” LiMandri told the Newman Society.
Alumni should voice their concerns when moral evils such as abortion and same-sex marriage receive support on campus, and when administrators allow speakers like Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards, as Georgetown University did last month, he continued.
Even if this means cutting off financial support, alumni should be ready to let the university know that promoting causes spiritually damaging and confusing to students has consequences, LiMandri said. If no progress is possible, alumni “should send their kids to authentic Catholic universities where they can be strengthened in their faith and can engage with students and faculty that share their core values.”
The goal of Alumni for a Catholic USD is not to defame the University, but to inform potential students, parents, alumni and other supporters of USD of the current state of affairs, LiMandri explained. “The hope is to get them to help put pressure on the University to get it back on the right track — one consistent with the vision of its founders and its professed Mission Statement,” he said. And he hopes that will change under the new president.
“The current President of USD, James Harris, did meet with me and Thomas McKenna of Catholic Action For Faith and Family a couple of months ago to discuss our concerns,” LiMandri recalled. In that meeting LiMandri shared his concerns for USD’s Catholic identity, and McKenna shared his eyewitness accounts of USD’s first four drag shows and “the anti-Catholic messaging and indoctrination” that occurred during the events. “We told him that is why our petition to the Vatican’s Congregation for Education resulted in their calling the USD drag show a scandal that needed to be addressed,” he added.
“Dr. Harris listened intently and seemed genuinely interested in what we had to say. I got the clear impression that he takes his Catholic faith seriously and that he wants to strengthen USD’s Catholic identity,” LiMandri said. “I applaud his desire to do so and will assist him in whatever way he might like us to do so. I realize, however, that he has a very difficult road ahead of him as the anti-Catholic forces at USD are now firmly entrenched and they will not give up without a fight.”
It seems that fight will be a long one, but that has not dissuaded LiMandri and the scores of other faithful alumni in their pursuit of a faithful college education for their children. Students “should not have to endure anti-Catholic indoctrination and persecution for four years at a [Catholic] university, especially when their parents are paying handsomely for that ‘privilege.’”